“If you like to ski Vermont and want to save the hour it takes to drive north to the larger resorts, Dutch Hill in Heartwellville, Vt., 39 miles from Pittsfield, Mass., offers worthwhile terrain.”
That’s an excerpt from the February 25th, 1957 issue of Sports Illustrated. If you’re like me, you have never heard of Heartwellville, Vermont! Well, that is until I had to do some research about Dutch Hill for the new “Searching for Vermont’s Lost Ski Areas” exhibit at the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.
In the 1930s skiing in the Massachusetts Berkshires became popular. Small ski areas started even before lift-served skiing was offered. One of the driving forces was the North Adams Ski Club. Webster Ottman was one of the leaders of that club and by the early 1940s, Ottman was looking for new skiing terrain to handle the growing demand. His search brought him across the border into Vermont where he found a hill that showed promise. It was called Dutch Hill, named for the Dutch who settled there in the 1700s.
The hill had a base elevation of 1900 feet which meant more snowfall and longer seasons. The slopes and trails would be on the favorable north and northwest facing sides of the hill. And the terrain would support everything from beginner slopes to expert trails.
Ottman purchased 46 acres in 1943 and cleared some trails. The following season a 1000 foot rope tow was added and opened on Ottman’s birthday December 22, 1944. A base lodge warming hut eventually known as “The Dutch Boot” was built for the 1945-46 season.
Ottman oversaw a steady growth for the area eventually acquiring a total of 380 acres. A 2000 foot T-Bar opened on January 1, 1947. Parking lots were enlarged and improved. More base facilities were added including equipment rentals and a ski school was established. Every summer, slopes and trails were widened and improved.
The 1950s were Dutch Hill’s “hay days!” Ski trains to North Adams brought skiers and Dutch Hill’s proximity made it a popular choice. Dutch Hill was ahead of its time promoting ski vacations. They provided films of the area to ski clubs as well as distributing brochures to ski shops throughout the northeast. In 1955 a New Jersey journalist dubbed Dutch Hill as “Little Stowe!” Celebrities such as Lowell Thomas, actress Celeste Holm, and Doris Day came to Dutch Hill. Its popularity forced the State of Vermont to extend Route 100 to provide better access by 1960.
John Thurgood had done his homework to answer last week’s trivia question and identified Dutch Hill as the “Little Stowe’.
By the late 1960s Dutch Hill’s popularity began to wane as skiers moved toward bigger and more challenging areas. The Ottmans sold the area in 1968 and the buyers subsequently only operated the area on weekends and Holiday weeks. In 1977 the name was changed to Dutch Mountain. The area would go through several ownership changes and after three bad snow winters in a row, Dutch Mountain/Hill closed after the 1984-85 season.
However Dutch Hill still lives! In 2016, the Green Mountain National Forest approved a plan to clear backcountry ski slopes and trails at Dutch Hill. The Dutch Hill Alliance of Skiers and Hikers, Ltd. (“DHASH”) was formed as a Vermont Non-Profit organization. The group began clearing some of the former ski trails in 2017, resulting in the reopening of Dutch Hill as a backcountry ski area in the winter of 2017-18. For those willing to earn their turns, you can take advantage of DHASH’s work. You’ll find information on the Dutch Hill Recreation Area under the Backcountry Zones on the Catamount Trail’s website. (catamounttrail.org)