Skip to content

Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Winter/Spring 2004 > A Century of Skiing in New England

A Century of Skiing in New England

ABOVE Harriot Sumner Curtis, 1904. Elise Tyson, photographer.

BELOW Ski enthusiasts enjoying some cross country skiing.

Skiers are welcome to explore the fields at the following SPNEA properties: in Maine, Hamilton House, South Berwick; in Massachusetts, Cogswell's Grant, Essex; Codman House, Lincoln (connects to recreation land); and Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, Newbury.

The sport of skiing was a novelty in New England when Elise Tyson, resident of the Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine, photographed Harriot Sumner Curtis on skis in 1904. Tyson and her friends enjoyed cavorting in the snow, and they engaged in a variety of winter activities including tobogganing, broom hockey, and snow-shoeing, all of which Tyson, a talented amateur photographer, captured with her camera. But skiing, while long common as a means of winter transportation for Scandinavians, was just beginning to be seen as a sport. According to historian E. John B. Allen, the "skisport," as it was called, reflected the Scandinavian cultural ideal of ski-idraet, the belief that outdoor winter exercise not only produced sound bodies but also the strong moral minds required in a civilized society. Harriot Curtis fit this mold. A dedicated athlete, she excelled at golf and won the National Women's Golf Championship in 1906.

As skiing became more popular, attempts were made to organize the sport, and the National Skiing Association was founded in 1905. Enthusiasts made their own skis from barrel staves or purchased them from small producers and attached them to their regular winter boots with leather straps. They used one heavy staff to push themselves along flats and skied in hilly areas with no poles at all. The sport of skiing was primarily a diversion for the wealthy, who went on outings arranged by clubs like the Appalachian Mountain Club or glided about their grounds, local golf courses, and recreation areas.

Many ski enthusiasts, however, found jumping more exciting than traversing the countryside, and the country inns and resorts that hoped to attract a winter clientele built ski jumps and sponsored competitions that brought both competitors and spectators. By the late 1920s, such resorts were building rope tows to reduce strenuous uphill climbs, and skiing had become two different sports-what we call downhill and cross-country skiing today.

-Susan Porter
Research Manager


A Century of Skiing in New England