This season marks 85 years of lift-served skiing on Mount Mansfield! Stowe Mountain Resort will hold a community event celebrating its 85th anniversary on March 26 from 12 – 4 p.m. at Midway Lodge.

This season also marks the 90th anniversary of Stowe as a destination ski resort. Roland Palmedo and the Amateur Ski Club of New York “discovered” Stowe in the 1931-32 ski season. Palmedo was the scout for the ski club, exploring possible skiing terrain further and further from the metropolitan New York area. Palmedo came to Stowe in February of 1932 and found a kindred spirit in Stowe local Craig Burt who was more than willing to have his son Craig Burt, Jr., show Palmedo the skiing terrain on Mount Mansfield.

The first lift was actually a rope tow located on the Toll House slopes. The tow was installed in the Fall of 1936, but due to a bad snow year it didn’t operate until February of 1937. (Yeah, they had bad snow years back then as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the festivities for the 85th celebration will be at Midway on Saturday, March 26th. The centerpiece for that celebration is one of Stowe’s original gondolas that has been completely restored. In fact I’m not sure the original gondolas ever looked that good! It’s been on display at Midway for a couple of weeks and if you haven’t checked it out already, plan on swinging over.

That gondola car probably feels right at home since the Midway Lodge was the base station for the old gondola. The main cafeteria area was where you loaded into the gondola with a line that wrapped around inside the building. Granted on busy days that line extended well out of and around the building! What served as a cafeteria was where the Midway Bar and Pizza is now. Hey, wait a minute what ever happened to Los Amigos or whatever it was called?

Gary Tomlinson and Peter Sakash had the answer to last week’s trivia that the old gondola began operation in 1968 for the 1968-69 season. An accident early in that season shut it down for a period. My first ski days at Stowe were in the Spring of 1969 and I don’t think we ever went near the gondola. I was being “guided” by a couple of UVMers who knew their way around so I’m not sure our neglect of the gondola was because of the accident or just sticking to the familiar. In subsequent years, we definitely incorporated the gondola into our Stowe skiing routine.

The gondola development was a big expansion for Stowe. If you take a look at Stowe’s timeline, there have been 4 major upgrades. First of course was the single chair in 1940. At that time the longest chairlift in the world! Second was the expansion to the Spruce side of Route 108 in 1954. Third was the gondola in 1968. And the fourth was the recent upgrade of the Spruce side.

The idea for the gondola and trails is attributed to Charlie Lord. Who else, you might say! There were already ski trails under the Chin. Rimrocks, Perry Merrill, and Chin Clip appear on trail maps long before the gondola, but with perhaps the exception of Rimrocks, today’s versions take different routes down the mountain.

The gondola project started in 1967. Trails had to be laid out and cut, two complete lodges were built. The Cliff House would have rest rooms and a restaurant which meant water and sewage systems had to be built. I mention that because the 1954 Spruce project never involved indoor plumbing at the top … and for that matter still doesn’t! And of course the gondola had to be installed.

A four person gondola was chosen because at that time it could get more people up the mountain quicker than any available chairlift. Those who remember riding the old gondola in its later years are probably surprised to hear that, particularly after their first high-speed Quad experience.

The old gondola was replaced by the current high-speed, 8-passenger gondola in 1991. The former gondola base was converted to be the Midway Lodge we see today. Whenever I have lunch at Midway, I marvel at that upgrade. It’s hard to picture where the old bullwheel was. where the cars were stored, and  how it was open to the outside on the uphill end.