Fact Checking the Drunk History of America’s First Ski Lift

Ski season is finally upon us, and that means après libations and slope stories are also at hand. The guys at Ski Vermont have brought both to the web in "The Drunk History of Skiing in Vermont," released earlier this week.

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The clip chronicles the supposed story of the first lift-served skiing in the U.S. Allegedly, Vermont native Wallace "Bunny" Bertram built a rope tow after a few ladies stopped into a local bar and claimed to be "wicked bad" skiers who just wanted a new way up the mountain. We had a few facts to check after watching the video, so we consulted filmmaker and historian Rick Moulton, a three-time International Skiing History Association Film Award winner and the filmmaker behind Legends of American Skiing — one of the most highly regarded ski films ever made, by the National Ski & Snowboard Film Institute under the auspices of the US Ski Hall of Fame. 

According to Moulton, the video does have some "grains of truth sprinkled in there" — the rope tow was invented in Woodstock, Vermont, and Bunny Bertram was involved. But the account of drunken ski bunnies, unsurprisingly, is an embellishment. "Bertram was a cigar-chomping character who worked in the White Cupboard Inn in downtown Woodstock, and according to the credible history," says Moulton, "a few skiers at the Inn had just been skiing in Canada at Shawbridge, where they saw lifts going up mountains. They told Bunny about the lifts, and said that Vermont needed a tow." As the true story goes, Bunny then told Robert Royce, the owner of the Inn, about the tow. He promptly put his handyman, Dodd, on the job and had an engine-powered rope tow built on Billings Hill just outside of town. "There are still remnants of that rope tow that you can see today. It's a Vermont historic landmark," says Moulton.

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