Clarence J. "Clare" Bousquet

The founding of Bousquet Ski Area

Pittsfield, MA

By Laurie Puliafico

 
Acting on an idea that he had after a group of young men carrying skis came knocking at his door asking to use his pastures to practice and learn skiing, Clarence. J. "Clare" Bousquet turned his former mink farm into one of the Northeast’s first ski areas. Like many others the Great Depression hit Bousquet and his farm hard. The winter of 1932 found Bousquet on the brink of losing his farm. It was a terrible situation for Bousquet and his family. The great stock market crash had left him with no money. His mink farm on
Tamarack Road, which had been so promising years earlier had gone bust. With the Great Depression, the market for mink coats was virtually nonexistent. Things were so tough for Bousquet that a banker even tried to serve an eviction notice. Bousquet refused to vacate his house.
 
Bousquet’s saviors, a group of young men from the Mount Greylock Ski Club asked him if they could climb up his side hill pasture and slide down. He thought that they were crazy, but saw no real harm in it so he allowed them to. This was well before people worried about insurance liability. Although they were members of the Mount Greylock Ski Club, it’s existing trail, the Thunderbolt Trail , proved too difficult for them. They were looking for a gentler slope where they could improve their skiing skills and get more than one run a day. Bousquet's pastures were perfect for this.
 
All that winter, he watched as they climbed up and skied down and noted the fun they were having. He thought, if they were having that much fun there had to be others that would also enjoy it and an idea came to him that could help him save his beloved property. His idea was to turn his two-car garage into a warming hut, built a couple of outhouses and offered a hearty lunch.

Still unsure if this skiing thing was just a passing fad or the beginning of something big, Bousquet decided to go ahead with his plan. He didn’t have much to lose as he was already broke and his mink farm was now just a simple farm with a couple cows and gardens. In the summer of '33 he allowed the ski club boys to clear a trail through the woods above the pasture. This trail had a 750-foot drop. It still stands at the center of Bousquet Ski Area today.

The next winter devotees of the new sport flocked to Bousquet's farm. Though not the first "ski area" in the northeast, Clare Bousquet’s area was the most popular ski area in the East during the 1930s. Woodstock, Vt. -- which installed the first rope tow in 1934 and the mighty Mount Mansfield, where C.V. Starr cut the trails were started at about the same time, but Bousquet’s area was a hill within three hours of New York and Boston by rail. This appealed to many and made the area a popular stop on the ski trains.

Bousquet’s hill may have, in fact, been one of the areas that prompted the running of the ski trains. In the winter of 1934-35 Bousquet was approached by the New Haven and Hartford Railroad with the idea of running a train from Grand Central to Pittsfield. The railroad was seeking to boost ridership in the Depression economy and saw this as a great opportunity for the Bousquet’s as well. On Feb. 10, 1935, as reported in the Berkshire Eagle nearly 10,000 curious spectators made the trip to watch 447 skiers climb up Bousquet's pasture and ski down.

 
Bousquet did not charge to use the hill in the days before the rope tow was installed. The money they made on the venture came strictly from the lunches they served in the barn. It’s not known how many hot dogs were sold in the barn that first day, but it seems to have been enough to make him forget all about farming. Thousands of skiers rode the Ski Trains to Bousquet. Many people learned to ski there. Among those who learned to ski there were Gerald Ford, the nation's first skiing president, writer Lowell Thomas and department store magnate Marshall Field.

 

Bousquet was not a skier himself. He had suffered a knee injury in the tank corps during World War I that did not allow him to ski. Despite his inability to ski, Bousquet saw to it that both of his sons learned early. Paul, the younger, got his first pair of skis when he was 2 or 3 and by the time he was 5 he was out there trying to get in as many runs as everyone else. He became a competitive skier, racing for the University of Vermont, and went on to a career in the ski industry, working with Pres Smith to develop the Killington Ski Area in Sherburne, Vt.
 
For the 1935-36, and Clare Bousquet built two of the rope tows, improving on the Suicide Six design with a rope that resisted twisting and a motor geared down so skiers could grab on more easily. He got the parts to build his rope tows from area junk yards. According to his son Paul, "He knew every junkyard within a 100-mile radius." . One rope tow took skiers halfway up the hill, and they skied over to another that took them the rest of the way. They ran at about 400 feet per minute and could take 1,800 skiers to the top each hour.
   
The rope tows were quite successful. Bousquet wanted more though so the next year, with the help of engineers from General Electric’s lighting division, he places floodlights on poles to light the runs. Since his area was the first area to offer night skiing, he is credited with inventing night skiing. Unfortunately for Bousquet, the winter of 1938-1939 was terrible. It didn't snow at all that winter and he nearly went broke, again. Somehow he survived and the 1939-40 season was the ski area’s biggest ever.

Bousquet, who has proven to be a successful entrepreneur was also a successful inventor and innovator. To promote his area he got advertisers to pay the cost of the brochure that advertised his ski area. He also solved a problem that many early skiers faced, tired arms and ripped gloves from the rope tows. In 1939, Bousquet invented and patented the Bousquet Rope Tow Gripper, a nutcracker shaped device attached to a wide belt that attached directly to the rope, leaving the skier’s arms free. Over the next 30 years, more than 500,000 were sold. With skier safety ion mind he also invented a safety gate. This prevented skiers from getting tangled up in the machinery at the top of the hill. Eventually, revenues from his inventions made him more money than the ski area ever did.

 
Bousquet's little hill was never going to be a big moneymaker. As the ski industry grew skiers demanded faster lifts, steeper trails and more terrain. Bousquet sold his farm, turned ski area in 1956. New York attorney Donald Soviero, purchased the area and ran it making some improvements. One of the most noted improvements was the development of the world's first artificial snowmaking system. This system has saved the ski industry in a region where it sometimes just doesn't snow. He ran the area from then until 1981 when he sold it to it’s current owner, George Jervas. While some do not always agree with Jervas, he has made Bousquet into a successful area that still provides reasonably priced skiing for local families, day and night.
 

                                        

Bousquet in the 70's

Bousquet in 2004 (at dusk)

 

Additional Bousquet postcards on this site.

 

 

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