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Why Woburn skiing went downhill

Horn Pond Mountain, Woburn, MA

If you haven’t already, climb atop Horn Pond Mountain in Woburn. It looms over Horn Pond on one side and the former Toys R Us location on the other. You’ll enjoy some memorable views . . .

Robert Fahey photo

. . . and you’ll find some interesting artifacts, such as the old town reservoir basin.

Former Woburn reservoir atop Horn Pond

Horn Pond reservoir black and white
Being filled for the first time in 1899.

Horn Pond reservoir drawing

And some mysterious concrete forms.

Horn Pond chair lift foundation Woburn MA

Turns out, they’re remnants of a chair lift. Yes, you could ski at Horn Pond Mountain! Why can’t you ski anymore? The story comes from this book.

Woburn, a Past Observed book cover

The ski operation was a public/private partnership that began very humbly with a flattish toboggan run at the nearby Woburn Country Club (black/white photos via Facebook).

toboggan run on Horn Pond Mountain
Left to right: Jay Cantillon, unknown, Jean Cantillon, Janet Dowling

toboggan run Woburn MA

Then, in 1965, the Country Club became a bit more ambitious and created a ski area on club property, but there was no chair lift. Instead, skiers were yanked uphill via a rope-tow system powered by an old pickup truck . It’s visible in the photo below.

Finally, in 1966, the mayor et al became more ambitious. No more mole hills. How about this Horn Pond Mountain down the street? The city installed the concrete footings for the chair lift and placed a $35,000 order for chair lift equipment — from Italy!

Chair lift Horn Pond Mountain, Woburn MA

However, Mayor Edward F. Gill had neglected to get City Council approval for that chair lift money. That was just the start of the folly. Portions of the chair lift came too close to power lines. Other parts were too close to private land. Moreover, there was nonstop wrangling about how the operation should be run. A third-party lessee? An appointed council? An independent authority?

Who cares? It was 1969 and it was snowing! The slope was packed with snow — and paying customers. “Mount Towanda” offered two main trails from the top, serviced by the new chair lift, plus a smaller slope that used the old rope tow, plus a beginner’s slope, cross-country trails and night skiing. It was open every day of the week. Life was good.

Horn Pond ski area, Woburn MA

Horn Pond skiing, Woburn, MAHorn Pond skiing, Woburn, MA

But things headed down a slippery slope. The chair lift documentation was written in Italian, making service a challenge. Then while everyone was frolicking in 1969, the lease ran out on Woburn’s snowmaking equipment, so it was repossessed just as temperatures went up and snowmaking became essential. Citizens turned up the heat on the new Woburn Golf & Ski Authority for inattentiveness. The following winter, with new snowmaking equipment in place, a fire knocked it out of commission. Discord escalated among Woburn voters, authority members, City Council and the mayor. After 1970, skiing in Woburn slipped away forever. What happened to the chair lift? Many knowledgeable Woburnites say it went to auction and was snapped up by Nashoba Valley for cheap.

Maybe the real heyday of Horn Pond skiing was the ski jumping of the early 1940s, along the Winchester side of the mountain. At least it lasted more than two winters, unlike ordinary downhill skiing.

All that remains of the ski jump.

Horn Pond recreation map, Woburn, MA

Horn Pond mountain, Woburn MA
The erstwhile ski area watches over Horn Pond. Photo credit:

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11 thoughts on “Why Woburn skiing went downhill Leave a comment

  1. What a fabulous post. I walk Horn Pond and Towanda Mountain often — what a gem it is. I had a garden there for several years in the conservation area, on Swan Pond.

  2. When I was a kid Horn Pond mountain was the place to go, I graduated Woburn High in 1951

  3. At least it was a lot bigger than “Graham’s Hill” on South Bedford Street , where we used to sled down on our sleds, lol…When we were kids…

  4. The Innitou Snow Runners Ski Club has a lodge in Glen NH with members from Woburn and surrounding towns. Burlington had its own ski clubs, the Brewmisters Ski Club formed in 1963 with a lodge in Bethlehem NH and the Budsup Ski Club around 1970 that rented in Bethlehem NH. The Burlington clubs no longer exist but while they did they were a wonderful way to ski affordably and socialize.
    I still have many fond memories and good friends from the ski clubs. I remember hearing about the ski area in Woburn but I was going to NH every weekend and never got to try it.

    Bill Howard

  5. Great post, RWF! We used to ride our bikes to Horn Pond when my Dad was working….of course it was off limits unless he took us (at work? game on). Many days were spent swimming at Foley Beach or the ‘Ice House’. I remember swimming to the island (now sunken) with my brothers. Yet, truthfully, I only heard about the ski hill a few years ago from my sister, via your post on Facebook (which I don’t use). It is a nice little hike up and gets the heart pumping w/such a nice view of Boston. Re

    Budsup & Brewmeister’s….I believe one or two of my older brothers belonged to one or the other. I know I stayed at Clem’s and Nancy’s in Bethlehem many times skiing at Canon Mountain.

  6. I remember skiing at Horn Pond Mountain under the lights at night when I was very young.
    It was a Friday night in February and very cold but it was a good place to learn how to ski.

  7. i can recall in 1956,co g,army national guard, planned to hold war games on the mountain……came to nothing tho, but i was involved in mapping the area for capt flaherty…..a great man………carl johnson, bhs, 1954

  8. There was an abandoned ski slope lift / sledding pull further in Woburn by the Town Line in Burlington. It was also a golf course at one point. It was abandoned in the 80’s and we used to play as kids there in the 80’s. It sits on land that was some of the first of land parcels granted in now Woburn/Burlington and in the entire U.S. to the Butters Family. Sawmill Rd. is one boundary and the Sawmill that was located there
    was also one of the first mills. The Baldwin Apple Monument is also on their original property and Loammi Baldwin was close with the Butters and married into the family I believe.

  9. Great piece of local history. I grew up in Winchester in the 1960’s on Wedgemere Ave. near Winter Pond. We would hang out in the woods behind the farmer’s field (Percy’s Pansies) across from Mahoney’s Rocky Ledge Farms. Horn Pond Mountain was supposed to be off limits to us kids but we would gravitate there as often as possible and scramble up the back slopes off Pond Street. I remember an old stone foundation and grave stone with the inscription “Trim” on it’s south flank. Close by was a perfectly round bowl in a rock out-cropping that we called the Indian Bowl. There was a narrow wall around the back side of the reservoir with a stone pump house and steep drop off that we would dare each other to walk out on. We night skied Mount Towanda during the winter of 1968 using the old rope tow. Also drove up that old abandoned ski slope years later around 1978 in a friends Land Cruiser. I remember jumping out thinking we would flip over backwards. We swam at Foley Beach in the late 1960’s and remember Horn Pond regularly flooding so that beach front disappeared. At one point around 1970 there was another public beach area on the opposite side with a rope swing along the old Parkway that has long since closed. Also remember biking out to those Sand Pits mentioned on the map. Good memories!

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