Last updated: January 17, 2023
Located on a 2,006 foot tall mountain, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area is one of the most popular ski areas in the Northeastern United States.|
Wachusett Mountain Reservation
The Wachusett Mountain Reservation was created in 1899 with A. G. Bullock, Harold Parker, and Theodore L Harlow serving as the first commissioners with Guy Chase as superintendent. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts appropriated $50,000 for the acquisition of land with Worcester County agreeing to cover the ongoing expenses associated with the property. The features of the reservation included a summit observation tower, a summit hotel, a carriage road, and a "double bowlder" [sic] on the northern slope. Tentative plans were developed for a railroad or "cable road" to the summit.
Coverage of Wachusett Mountain Reservation in a July 1902 Boston Globe
The origins of skiing on Wachusett Mountain date back to at least the early 1930s, when the Lancaster Outing Club organized ski races on the park's carriage road.
In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps cut two ski trails, including what would become known as the Balance Rock ski trail. The other trail, Pine Hill, hosted numerous ski races for over a quarter of a century. One year later, a stone lodge was constructed near the base of the Balance Rock ski trail, soon becoming the headquarters for the Worcester Ski Club's annual winter carnival.
In 1939, the WPA built a lodge on top of the mountain, using stone, as well as timber from trees knocked down from the recent hurricane. Designed by Adolph Johnson, the new structure was said to be hurricane-proof.
A rope tow may have been constructed near the base of Wachusett Mountain in 1939, complete with lights for night skiing. A second tow may have been added within a year or two. It is possible that the area was also known as Speedway, and was reportedly developed by six brothers in the Soucy family. This operation may have been abandoned in 1942, as the brothers joined the war effort.
Skiing on Wachusett Mountain continued during World War II, though crowds decreased due to a ban on "pleasure driving." State-wide races were cancelled by the Worcester Ski Club due to the inability of competitors to reach the mountain due to the ban.
As the end of World War II approached, the state legislature proposed constructing lifts on Wachusett Mountain. Meanwhile, there are sporadic references to a rope tow being located at Wachusett in the late 1940s and the mid 1950s.
Development of a Commercial Ski Area
In 1958, the Worcester Ski Club, Scandinavian Ski Club, Heald Company Sno-Mads, and Norton Ski and Mountaineering Club organized "Operation Snowball," which consisted of outreach to local legislators to develop Wachusett Mountain as a ski area.
Trail clearing at Wachusett
In January 1959, Representative J. Phillip Howard of Westminster filed legislation for a feasibility study of building a ski area and ski jump on Wachusett Mountain. One of the supporters of the effort was Wachusett Mountain Reservation superintendent Earle Vickery, who estimated a $250,000 development could become self-supporting.
In November 1960, Governor Foster Furcolo signed a bill funding a $250,000 ski development on Wachusett Mountain by the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation Commission, with a December 1961 opening announced soon thereafter. At the time, supporters of the bill hoped the outlay would be repaid by either lift ticket sales or a federal grant, and that sales would be strong enough to fund future expansion. Other supporters of the bill advocated for leasing the area to private entities due to concerns over efficient operations and the liability posed to county taxpayers.
Work started in the spring of 1961, as two trails and two lift lines were cleared. Sel Hannah designed the trail layout, which spanned some 550 vertical feet. Commenting on controversy from the clearing, the Fitchburg Sentinel noted that "it is pointed out that sixty years ago the slope where the cutting has just been completed was an open pasture."
Initial plans called for two Hall T-Bars serving eight ski trails geared toward families, rather than experts. Original plans of ski jumps were abandoned, but cross country skiing remained a consideration. The CCC lodge was to be converted into a ski patrol hut, however no new base lodge was planned for 1961. A snowmaking system was also planned, as Vickery noted that there was often inadequate snow until late December. The projected ski season was expected to be twelve to seventeen weeks long.
Unfortunately, as December 1961 arrived, Wachusett was nowhere near ready to open. By February 1962, trail clearing was still the only milestone achieved, with management reportedly blaming bureaucracy and inexperienced contractors for the delays.
Lift Served Skiing
Despite fresh natural snow, the December 15, 1962 opening date was also missed, as construction was still in progress for the lifts and "approximately a foot and a half of packed snow" was needed to ski the rough trails. In addition, the area's snowmaking system was incomplete (only the pond had been constructed), and there was no base lodge.
Loading a T-Bar circa the 1960s
Skiing finally got underway after Christmas, as the shorter T-Bar went into operation. The longer West T-Bar was likely completed in January. Ross Amico directed the ski patrol, Normand Letarte operated the ski school, and former Chickley Alp ski school director Strand Mikkelsen operated the ski shop.
By March, Vickery announced Wachusett was "in the black." Trouble was brewing, however. As the 1963-64 season approached, funds for the snowmaking system were diverted to a contingency fund for base lodge construction. State Senator Joseph Ward sought an investigation of the ski area, citing numerous complaints from constituents about obstructions on the slopes and unsatisfactory operations. Worcester County residents then sent a twelve-point petition to Senator Ward, claiming false advertising relating to the incomplete lodge and snowmaking equipment, poor trail maintenance, staffing, and no running water in the rest rooms.
A new beginner slope was cut for the 1963-64 season. Later that season, Wachusett made regional headlines when Governor Endicott hit the slopes. A woman approached the gaggle of reporters and photographers covering the Governor and asked, "Why isn't he working?"
Former ski shop operator Strand Mikkelsen passed away in February 1964 at the age of 59. A race was dedicated in his honor in 1967.
The $45,000 base lodge was completed for the 1964-65 season, as Governor Endicott Peabody attended a ceremony in late November. Designed by Caolo Associates, the A-frame building was 70 feet by 48 feet in size. The ceremony also marked the dedication of the Smith-Walton Trail, which was named after Stephen Smith and David Walton. The young locals had died in separate incidents helping fellow climbers in the Grand Teton Mountains in the summer of 1962.
The troubled 1964-65 season got underway in late January, as the snowmaking system finally went into service on the lower half of the west trail. Meanwhile, criticism of the ski area increased with Governor's Councilor Walter Kelley and County Commissioner Edward Bird joining Senator Ward in his efforts. After learning the area had run a deficit despite claims of being in the black, Commissioner Bird stated, "I am convinced we should seek different management," suggesting a long term lease instead. Vickery countered, alleging that Bird was affiliated with an effort by ski school director Normand Letarte to lease the area.
Following the 1964-65 season, Ollie Manninen took over as ski school director. An accomplished marathon runner, Manninen received a Silver Star while serving in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. Decades later, Senator Bob Dole revealed that Manninen had saved his life, as Manninen had dragged a wounded Dole to safety during an intense battle in northern Italy.
On April 1, 1967, the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources took control of the Wachusett Mountain Reservation. Surveying and planning quickly got underway with improvement projects soon following, such as repairing a T-Bar, removing boulders on trails, and fixing roads. In addition to the improvements, 1967 also saw the cutting of a new trail, the development of a ski school slope, and the construction of a ski patrol building.
The Crowleys Begin Operating Wachusett
Following the 1967-68 season, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sought to lease the ski area for a term of five years. Bidders included Philip Brideau, John Karchelles, Francis Lambert, Robert Anderson, and Wachusett Mountain Associates. Formed as a business entity by Ralph Crowley and Normand Letarte on August 16, 1968, Wachusett Mountain Associates won the five-year lease with a bid of $16,002. As President of Polar Corporation, Crowley had recently acquired the Tater Beverage Company plant and the vending business of the Phoenix Spring Beverage Company. His interest in the ski industry piqued after taking his kids skiing at Mt. Snow one day in 1961. Prior to settling on Wachsett, Crowley had reportedly considered leasing Blue Hills.
A December 1968 Wachusett advertisement
Robert Mignonie was hired from Otis Ridge as manager of the ski area and Paul George as ski school director, while Ross Amico remained on board as ski patrol director. Normand Letarte operated a Ski Barn ski shop at the area. Investments in the ski area included doubling snowmaking capabilities, acquiring a new grooming machine, and opening a new snack bar (featuring Polar beverages). The season was a success, as Wachusett operated into April for a record of 105 consecutive days. Division of Forest and Parks director Bruce Gullion stated the Crowley operation was "far superior to what the Department of Natural Resources has been able to do."
Toward the end of the 1968-69 season, Senator Ward and Representatives LaFontaine and Wetmore promoted a five-step improvement program at Wachusett, including lighting the West Slope and installing a chairlift to the summit. Portending eventual expansion, management began towing skiers to the summit via snowcat.
Sel Hannah returned in Wachusett during the summer of 1969 to help plan further improvements at the ski area. A new novice slope was developed for the 1969-70 season, complete with snowmaking and an O'Connor rope tow.
The 1971 off season saw the clearing of a new trail off a rebuilt West T-Bar.
Joseph O'Brien took over as general manager for the 1973-74 season, as Normand Letarte assumed that position at Crotched Mountain.
After years of studies, in early 1974, the Wachusett Mountain Advisory Council recommended an expansion plan prepared by Sel Hannah's Sno-Engineering, which included a new base lodge and replacing the T-Bars with double chairlifts, one of which would terminate just below the summit. The source of the $3 million project had not yet been determined, as some state officials were still open to fully funding and operating the ski area. Other state officials supported offering a long term lease for the area, which could enable private funding. Some local officials raised objections to the expansion plan, claiming it would increase property values, cause more traffic, and increase the burden on public safety departments.
Stuck in a quandary of annual lease renewals and an on-going debate about expansion, smaller investment continued on the existing ski area. Lighting was installed on nine acres of slopes for the 1976-77 season, providing night skiing operations for the first time. In addition, the base lodge was expanded and the snowmaking system improved. A liquor license was procured for apres ski for the 1977-78 season.
After over a decade of wrangling, upper mountain expansion was finally green-lighted and a long-term lease awarded.
A $7 million expansion project kicked off in 1982, initially with the installation of two double chairlifts. Further improvements took place for the 1983-84 season, as the Summit Area was finally opened, served by a double chairlift. In addition, the Nor'Easter double chairlift was upgraded to a triple chairlift, and a 24,000 square foot base lodge was opened, making Wachusett the largest ski area east of the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The expansion was perhaps a knockout blow to nearby rival Mt. Watatic.
Construction of the base lodge (1982)
Alford International designed the improved snowmaking system for the dramatic expansion. Ralph Crowley told the Boston Globe at the time, "We make snow every time the temperature is right. You can never have too much of the stuff at an Eastern ski area."
Night skiing was likely expanded to the summit for the 1986-87 season.
While the 1989-90 season likely came to a close before the end of calendar winter, Wachusett notched its earliest opening to date when it kicked off the 1990-91 season in mid-November. A pre-Christmas warm spell ceased operations, with David Crowley noting, "We're basically farmers. Right now, it's time to pull in the crop."
The 1991-92 season was another struggle, with David Crowley remarking, "It just simply doesn't snow any more. We wouldn't have operated one day, probably, in the last three years if we had to rely on natural snow." Nevertheless, leveraging its snowmaking abilities, Wachusett had one of its strongest seasons to date.
Improvements for the 1992-93 season included the installation of 40 new tower snowguns and construction of a new beginner slope and tow next to Ralph Run's. The slope was named Ollie's Area in honor of former ski school director Ollie Manninen. Meanwhile, planning was underway for terrain expansion and lift upgrades. Plentiful natural snowfall and a $275,000 advertising budget resulted in record January, February, and March business.
As the 1993-94 season progressed, Wachusett pushed forward with its expansion plans, requesting to cut two new trails, widen Balance Rock, install a second chairlift to the summit, expand the base lodge, and add 375 parking spots. The plans were met with environmental, archaeological, and water quality concerns.
Wachusett was able to move forward with the installation of Massachusetts' first high speed quad in 1994. Named the Polar Express, the lift cut the 10-minute summit triple ride time in half. Unfortunately, 1994-95 featured a wet, warm January, knocking sales down 30% by the middle of the month.
The new Polar Express Quad circa the mid 1990s
In August 1995, environmentalists located a stand of 295-year-old oak trees where Wachusett had planned to cut a new expert trail. Though the Crowleys quickly offered to adjust plans to minimize impact, opposition mounted. Plans for the new trail were abandoned a few months later.
The base lodge was expanded for the 1995-96 season, which featured a strong start. Wachusett posted its best December to date, even turning away 900 vehicles on one day during Christmas week. In March, Wachusett hosted the Women's Pro Ski Tour Championship, which was won by Olympian Julie Parisien. A large storm spring storm pushed the season into mid-April.
Improvements for the 1996-97 season included 100 new tower snowguns and a terrain park on the Upper Look Ma trail.
Ralph Crowley passed away on December 14, 1996 at the age of 71. By this point, three of his children were managing the ski area.
Looking beyond Wachusett, the Crowleys lent support to struggling Jericho Ski Area in the late 1990s, but declined to lease it in 1997. Instead, they focused on Wachusett and bidding on Mt. Sunapee. A snowboard halfpipe was constructed on the Look Ma trail for the 1997-98 season, complemented with a Pipe Dragon.
In the spring of 1998, Wachusett proposed a scaled back expansion that avoided the old growth forest and instead called for the construction of a snowboard park consisting of two trails and a lift. Around this time, environmentalists announced the discovery of bootleg ski trails on the mountain. The Sierra Club quickly called for the state to terminate Wachusett Mountain Associates' ski area lease, despite not knowing who did the cutting.
The ski shop was expanded for the 1998-99 season. Due to dry, mild conditions, Wachusett missed its traditional November opening and did not go into operation until mid-December.
The state approved Wachusett's downsized expansion plans in the spring of 1999, which was immediately followed by a lawsuit from the Sierra Club.
Skiing at Wachusett circa the late 1990s or early 2000s
Wachusett constructed the state's second detachable quad for the 1999-00 season, replacing the Nor'Easter Triple. As part of the project, the triple chairlift was installed on the Indian Summer trail, replacing the double. The new Minuteman Express name was selected from twelve entries, others of which included "Moxie Express," "Hawk Ridge Express," and "Skyscraper Express." Meanwhile, in the midst of a string of poor winters (including a record stretch of days without measurable snowfall at Logan Airport), Wachusett entered into an agreement to purchase excess water from the city of Fitchburg.
The Sierra Club lawsuit eventually led to a court injunction to block construction in 2000. Nevertheless, years of red tape and protesting, Wachusett was able to open the Vickery Bowl in 2003, ushering in new terrain and a triple chairlift.
The Vickery Bowl
Former manager Earle Vickery passed away on October 16, 2009 at the age of 94.
The state's third detachable quad chairlift, the Monadnock Express, was installed for the 2011-12 season.
Following an amazing winter of natural snowfall, Wachusett surprised skiers by operating the Vickery Bowl chairlift for skiing on May 2, 2015.
A $2 million investment was made in 2016 when Wachusett doubled its snowmaking pumping capacity to 8,000 gallons per minute and installed its first batch of automated snowguns. In addition, RFID passes were introduced. Further technological improvements followed in 2017, when LED lights were installed on night skiing trails.
||Average Percent of Terrain Open
|November||14% (13 reports)|
|December||53% (19 reports)|
|January||88% (11 reports)|
|February||93% (9 reports)|
|March||90% (23 reports)|
|April||90% (2 reports)||
-- start conditions table -->
|Recent Conditions Reports|
|Nov. 30, 2023 by indyskier29|
Loose Granular, Frozen Granular
|Apr. 2, 2023 by rhodeislandskier|
Frozen Granular, Spring Snow
|Mar. 18, 2023 by skiit|
Spring Snow, Packed Powder
|Mar. 17, 2023 by rhodeislandskier|
Packed Powder, Wet Packed Powder
|Mar. 14, 2023 by snowphoenix|
Wet Packed Powder, Wet Powder
|Wachusett Mountain Ski Area on NewEnglandSkiConditions.com|
Click on lift name for information and photos
Year by Year History
Adult Weekend Full Day Lift Ticket; Adult Full Price Unlimited Season Pass
||Season Pass Price
|2022-23||$93.00||$799.00||8.6 days||November 23||April 8|
|2021-22||$89.00||November 27||April 3|
|2020-21||November 20||April 4|
|2019-20||$73.00||November 15||March 15|
||Season Pass Price
|2018-19||$71.00||$679.00||9.6 days||November 17||April 13|
|2017-18||$71.00||$669.00||9.4 days||November 12||April 14|
|2016-17||$69.00||$669.00||9.7 days||November 25||April 9|
|2015-16||$65.00||$669.00||10.3 days||November 27||March 22|
|2014-15||$63.00||$649.00||10.3 days||November 21||May 2|
|2013-14||$60.00||$649.00||10.8 days||November 16||April 13|
|2012-13||$58.00||$649.00||11.2 days||November 30||April 7|
|2011-12||$58.00||$649.00||11.2 days||December 12||March 18|
|2010-11||$51.00||$625.00||12.3 days||November 28||April 3||335,855|
|2009-10||$49.00||December 8||April 3||323,398|
||Season Pass Price
|2008-09||$49.00||$599.00||12.2 days||April 5|
|2007-08||$49.00||$629.00||12.8 days||April 6|
|2006-07||$49.00||$629.00||12.8 days||April 1|
|2005-06||$48.00||$629.00||13.1 days||November 25||April 2|
|2004-05||$46.00||$619.00||13.5 days||April 10|
|2003-04||$45.00||$639.00||14.2 days||December 4||April 4|
|2002-03||$44.00||$619.00||14.1 days||November 9||April 13||403,000|
|2001-02||$43.00||$619.00||14.4 days||December 18||March 31||320,000|
|2000-01||$42.00||$619.00||14.7 days||November 24||405,000|
||Season Pass Price
|1995-96||$34.00||November 24||April 14|
|1994-95||$34.00||November 25||March 26|
|1991-92||$29.50||November 29||April 5||313,000|
|1989-90||$29.00||November 24||March 18|
||Season Pass Price
||Season Pass Price
||Season Pass Price
|1968-69||December 15||April 6|
|1965-66||December 10||March 26||25,000|
|1964-65||$4.00||$35.00||8.8 days||January 22||April 4||8,000|
|1963-64||$4.00||December 25||March 23||15,000|
|1962-63||$4.00||$35.00||8.8 days||December 28|
|"I have a weekday all lifts pass from Dec 1989 for $11 that I found on a jacket of my mothers as we are cleaning out her attic. I have fond memories of that day as that is the last day she skied! Naomi Shields"|
|Naomi Shields, May. 8, 2022|
|"I raced in the Mass State Downhill Championships here for two years. We had to hike up a trail to the left (if I remember right).No lift at that time. Near the bottom of the trail was a sharp 90 degree turn to the left that would kill all speed if not skied correctly. The last year they held the race several skiers were hurt and I think the race was cancelled after that . About 1963 or 1964. I finished 5th. It was a great race trail back in those days. "|
|David Dunham, Dec. 23, 2020|
Wachusett Mountain Ski Area official site