Lamb’s Hill (aka Westbrook Ski Slope and Deer Hill) 5-23-2014

Lamb’s Hill, in Westbrook, Maine, was an exemplar of the many tiny rope tow-powered ski slopes that proliferated in the 1950s.

Opened in February, 1954 by local ski enthusiast Ray Letarte, it ran approximately a decade. Earlier today I visited the site and talked with Norm Wedge, who was one of the operators.

Norm Wedge, 78, was a ski tow operator at Lamb's Hill in the 1950s.

Norm Wedge, 78, was a ski tow operator at Lamb’s Hill in the 1950s.

In the photo above, Norm stood on the site and explained how he was stationed at the bottom of the slope when he worked the tow while a high school student. One of his jobs was to make sure the rope stayed on the pulley wheels. He said that the power was provided by an automobile engine, and that it was located at the bottom of the hill. (Due to the inherent physics of rope tows, most of the larger ones had the power at the top.)

An article in the Westbrook American from February of 1954 recounts the basics:

Westbrook Ski Slope Proves Popular

More than 150 skiers have tried their luck at the Deer Hill Ski Slope, Main Street, owners Ray Letarte and Gene Hague report.

The 300-foot-long slope, which pulls skiers aloft by means of a rope tow, was ready for use last year, but was not operated for lack of snow. So far, it’s been running more than five nights and on week ends.

Flood-light skiing at night has been enjoyed mostly by adults.

One week ends, it’s been children.

Letarte said the slope, now about 75 feet wide, will be widened to 200 feet for the 1954-1955 season.

At only 300 feet in length, it was one of Maine’s most modest ski areas. But it also boasted three different names. Norm called it Lamb’s Hill, named for a William Lamb, who owned the house at the top and granted Ray permission to operate the tow. The article in the American refers to Deer Hill, its actual geographic name. And in the advertisement below, which appeared on the same page of the American as the article, it is Westbrook Ski Slope.

This advertisement, appeared in a February, 1954, edition of the Westbrook American.

This advertisement, appeared in a February, 1954, edition of the Westbrook American.

As noted in the ad, Ray also ran a ski shop out of his Mobil gas station, opposite the old Westbrook High School. Norm also worked there. Today the building has been recycled as Angelone’s Pizza.

Ray told me that rising insurance rates caused him to close the tow, but he’s not sure exactly when. Ray is certain that when he moved the ski shop out of the Mobil station in 1963 that the ski tow was already closed.

Larrabee Heights, a senior citizen housing complex, currently occupies the site of the former Lamb's Hill ski slope.

Larrabee Heights, a senior citizen housing complex, currently occupies the site of the former Lamb’s Hill ski slope.

The site today, pictured above, is a senior citizen housing complex called Larrabee Heights, reached via Liza Harmon Drive. Part of the hill was excavated in order to construct the housing, and everything else is totally overgrown. Simpson’s Grove, used for parking at the ski slope, was located on the site of today’s Westbrook City Hall.

This photo, provided by the Westbrook Historical Society, shows Lamb's Hill ca. 1900.

This photo, provided by the Westbrook Historical Society, shows Lamb’s Hill ca. 1900.

Donna Conley, of the Westbrook Historical Society, provided the above photo of the Lamb house and farm, ca. 1900. Although pre-dating the ski slope by many decades, this photo clearly shows the hill as open farm field.

Among its significant points, Lamb’s Hill was the closest ski tow to Portland, being located less than half a mile west of the boundary between the two cities.

Norm recalls that no other facilities were available, such as a snack bar or warming hut.

“It was a Tinkertoy outfit,” chuckled Norm. “It wasn’t meant to be profitable. It was about having fun.”