It’s a place of duct tape, work gloves, rope tows, smiles and more than 80 years of stories.
Abenaki Ski Area is a community-inspired and fueled tiny feeder hill outside downtown Wolfeboro.
“This place is history making its way into the future,” said Steve Reinfurt, a seasoned ski patroler with a longtime stint in Europe including taking part in helicopter rescues in the Alps.
The town-owned hill with a handful of trails and two rope tows is where it all begins and ends for many locals including several who now work there and support it through the non-profit Friends of Abenaki.
With history harkening back to its first trails cut in 1936, the 210 vertical foot hill has had its financial roller coaster ride, resurrected by Friends of Abenaki in 2005 with a groomer (that came from Cranmore) and snowmaking that’s now about a dozen towers and guns.
The bare-bones affordable ski area screams heart and soul as attested to last Sunday morning as some 30 children were introduced to skiing during a Youth Ski Free Program while a spry hockey game transpired inside the adjacent Pop Whalen Ice Arena.
“The community helps each other here,” said ski patroler Alden Garland who learned to snowboard at Abenaki. “Everyone knows everyone and everyone knows your name.”
Added Reinfurt, “We have a cornucopia of characters here.”
Garland’s parents also work part-time at the hill with its wide main trail and summit views of the Ossipee Range.
Garland, like his colleague Tung Ha and many other patrolers at the hill, has worked at other larger areas. He was drawn to Abenaki because of his young children.
“This is an unbelievable place for kids to ski and ride,” he said. “The people here are normal and the prices are comically good. It is unbelievably affordable.”
Lift tickets are $20, $8 for Wolfeboro, Tuftonboro and Brookfield residents, $5 for just the Kiddie Tow. Rentals are $12. Hamburgers in the Abenaki Grill? $3. Hot dogs cost $2. There are winter-long programs and some can get assistance for a season pass through Friends of Abenaki.
The hill’s home to the Abenaki Ski Team (alpine and freestyle) and Brewster Academy race team. Closed to the public Monday and Tuesday for race training, the lit mountain caters to the after-school crowd opening at 4 p.m. Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
“We hope to bring kids here to give Kennett a run for their money,” said Friends of Abenaki president and longtime Wolfeboro resident Bill Swaffield.
A handsome, compact pine-accented base lodge opened in 2015, complete with stone fireplace, rental area (the town works with Ski Works in Ossipee), grill, flat-screen TV and ski patrol headquarters. A neighboring race building is undergoing work. Cross-country skiers access a trail network too and a portion of the lodge opens for them at 6 a.m.
The area’s small — about 30 seconds up and 30 seconds down for a run. But that 15 mph rope tow’s an icon among the Abenaki faithful. It packs some heat and best bet is to keep those high end gloves you got over the holidays home.
“We go through a lot of duct tape here,” said assistant parks and recreation director Justin Chaffee. “A lot of gloves get torn up. Duct tape helps get them get through another day.”
Then there’s lapping, doing as many runs as you can on the tow. Some can do 30 to 40 runs in an hour.
Garland once did about 150 runs during a eight-hour shift.
“My hands hurt at the end of the day and they were locked in the holding-the-rope-tow position,” he said.
Kids don’t get first chair, but first tow, bragging rights for the first one in line.
“Kids get out of school and come right here,” said Chaffee. “They love first tow.”
And night skiing, a chance to ski and socialize.
“Drop off the kids when they’re 8 and pick them up when they’re 15,” Chaffee said, repeating a popular line.
The area’s hosted many events, including U.S. Ski and Snowboard races. A Friends of Abenaki ski-a-thon is this Saturday with portions of proceeds earmarked for reopening the overgrown Twister Trail.
“This really shows what local philanthropist help can do,” said Swaffield, who grew up skiing at Abenaki, a small ski area energized by a lot of big hearts.