Whenever I head west of Portland to ski, I drive past a defunct rope tow hill just outside of Gorham village. There was skiing at Alden’s Hill, as it was known, in three periods, from the 1920s into the 1950s.
Alden’s Hill is located on Route 25 about a quarter-mile west of the University of Southern Maine campus, behind the Edgewood Animal Hospital. See photo below.
The skiing history of Alden’s Hill divides into three distinct stages:
Stage 1: Before any lifts were built (or even dreamed of), Alden’s Hill was the site for the winter carnivals of Gorham Normal School, a state teachers college that was the predecessor to today’s University of Southern Maine.
Here’s a little ditty from the 1923 edition of the school’s yearbook, the Green and White:
Winter Carnival on Alden’s Hill (dated Feb. 12)
“Toboggan slides, and skiis and races,
Contestants tumbling and scratching their faces;
Everyone laughing and happy and gay,
Throughout this livelong, glorious day,
At the Winter Carnival on Alden’s Hill.”
Stage 2: Lift service arrived at Alden’s Hill just prior to World War II, as recounted in Edna F. Dickey’s local history book, titled Fifty Years of Gorham: 1936 to 1986.
“While John B. Alden was in high school, he and his father, Austin, who financially backed the enterprise, built a ski tow on their land. They erected a structure at the top of the hill to house the mechanism that operated the rope tow. It ran down the hill beside a hedgerow in a fashion perpendicular to the highway. This was operated in the winters of 1939, 1940 and 1941. It closed during the war. The charge was twenty-five cents a day! John says now that sometimes he shudders when remembers that they carried no insurance.”
Stage 3: A second rope tow was built about 1950, again quoting from Dickey’s book:
“Following World War II, skiing was becoming increasingly popular. Before he was through college, John Files was interested in building a rope tow in Gorham. As a little boy he had skied at the Alden tow. He and Robert Mountain completed the trail, with all the work involved, on a slope at Alden’s Hill leading to about the middle of the edge of Alden’s Pond, making a run of about six hundred fifty feet. An old automobile engine provided the power to operate the rope. Electricity from a gas-powered generator provided lighting for the area. The tow was open evenings and weekends when snow conditions were suitable. This whole project got into operation about 1950 and lasted perhaps for five years. In the latter part of the time, Robert Mountain sold out to Richard Huff.
“Charges for the tow were a dollar a day. A serious accident at another Maine ski tow sent insurance rates skyrocketing, and the partners discontinued the venture.”
Files would later help build and operate the Gorham Kiwanis Ski Slope, which opened in January, 1964. It is the best-known of Gorham’s several long-defunct ski areas. But that’s another story for another day.
Staff and archives of the Gorham Historical Society provided information for this post.