Origins of the ONONDAGA SKI CLUB
Syracuse, New York
By: Mike McCabe, OSC Historian
Paperwork we have indicates an Onondaga Ski Club in the Central New York area, back in the mid 30’s.
It started with a bunch of fellows at Bellevue Jr. High School, continued through high school and college right up until 1944, except for WWII. A small group used to ski on Woodlawn Reservoir around 1934. They used to make their own bindings!
There were no official areas to ski around here except Turin, NY, so they often just took a drive out into the country looking for places to ski. One area is now known as Toggenburg. They also claim ‘discovering’ what became known as “Little Tuck” in May of 1936. The area near Labrador (Lake) Pond was investigated, and inquiries made to the State to see if they would be interested in starting some trails in the area. This was passed on to the C.C.C. for future consideration.
Other areas where there were trails were the Drumlins here in Syracuse, in the DeRuyter area, in the Chittenango/Chittenango Falls area, and Highland Park (I’ve heard stories about how some people would take canoes down the snow covered slopes in the early days at Highland!).
They often drove to Lake Placid and Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire to take part in big-time downhill races. Often they found themselves racing against big name European skiers. An unofficial Syracuse University team would often participate.
Gene Beckman was with the club, and also a flyer with the military. I’ve been told that he would fly around the area, and when he spotted snow still on the slopes of Turin, as soon as he touched down he would call the members to arrange a trip north to ski. No, he didn’t fly them there. He still hangs out at DeWitt Sports.
It has been thought by some that the club may have been the unofficial start of the National Ski Patrol.
After WWII and interest waned, the club’s charter/bylaws were given to the GE Ski Club, which was referred to as GE-OSC by Bob Bliss, the president then.
Ernie Hirschoff can be considered the person that got the ball rolling for this edition of the Onondaga Ski Club. Ernie (owner of the original Liverpool Sports Center) asked the audience at one of his Center ski shows if there was any interest in forming a club. A number of hands went up, so Ernie asked this group to meet the following Monday night at the Center. 15 to 20 people showed up, amongst them Bruce Bolton (who went on to draft the first legal documents for the club amongst other things), and Bob Wall who became the first president of the club. Bob wrote many a column on skiing for the Syracuse Herald later on. I think he still is writing ski related items, and skiing at Labrador Mountain sometimes.
Because Ernie was in the business of selling skiing equipment and such, he removed himself for consideration as an officer, but continued on as a valuable member of the club, arranging many a ski trip here and there.
Another original member was George Earle, a professor at Syracuse University. At his home in the LaFayette area, he had a rope tow and conducted the club’s ski school there for many a year. It is thought that he convinced the university to acquire some land south of the city thereby creating what became widely known as “Little Tuck”. He was the coach of the Syracuse Ski Team, and was able to open up the Trophy Room in the old Archbold Gymnasium for meetings of the Onondaga Ski Club. The first meeting took place on Monday December 7th, 1953. The original minutes of this meeting are below, giving you the actual sequence of events that led to the formation of the ONONDAGA SKI CLUB.
Some interesting items I’ve come across as I’ve been slowly reading all the historical data I’ve been able to find:
Over the early years, members of the club spent many an hour working at Little Tuck. Unlike most of today’s areas, skiers had to take care of the hills they skied on themselves. Trees had to be removed, brush cut, rope tows purchased, then installed and kept in running order, etc. Members even built a ‘chalet’. Syracuse University was very benevolent to the club because the “rent” for the use of the area was $10 a year, on yearly bases. OSC owned the equipment, and S.U. was happy with the arrangement. This was the closest ski area, and as time went on, the club wanted to make costly improvements such as t-bars and such. This would have required a long term agreement between all concerned parties, something that could not be worked out. By 1963, the other areas we ski on today (plus others now gone) were dominating the local scene, so “Little Tuck” was abandoned.
Dues for club membership the 1st year was set at $5.00. In today’s bucks, that’s $29.55, if you work with the calculated inflation rate of 591%.
Snowfall that year was 85.9”, all natural coverage on the hills back then.
The club sent a letter of endorsement to then Governor Dewey in mid 1954, on the States wish to create a state park at Whiteface Mountain, to include a chairlift. Maybe we provided the last piece of encouragement for the State to create the Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort.
Later on, the club rented ‘lodges’ in the Whiteface Mountain area. It also rented a ‘lodge’ in the village of Turin, NY for usage by the members during the ski season.
Meetings were initially held at the Archbold facility, then the T. Aaron Levy School, then Maxwell Auditorium on the campus of Syracuse University.
The first skiing column in the Syracuse area papers was penned by a member of the Onondaga Ski Club, Jim Agne.
This club was the only one in the area that had membership open to anyone interested in skiing. All the others had requirements such as you had to be employed there, or a student or graduate of a given school.
OSC started the first ski conditions hot line in the Syracuse area. The areas would call in the report to a person the club paid to be available, and this lady would be ready for any members inquiry. It’s written that this woman was visually challenged, and the club was more than eager to offer this position to her so she would have a small source of income.
The SchussBoomer (the clubs newsletter) was started in the fall of 1957. Gordon Phillips was the first editor. Fred Thrane did the art work. Before that time, postcards were sent out to members telling them of meeting dates and such.
The original logo was drawn by member Tom Parker. There was another logo that appears on the first issues of the SchussBoomer, again showing a skier imposed upon the background of the head of an Onondaga Indian, but with more detail. Jack McManus may have been the artist here.
I believe it was Fred Thrane who modified this design to what many consider the Indian Head logo, with the city/state shown.
This was later modified making the background look like a map of Onondaga County. This is what is currently in use.
Fred also drew Chief Keeponaskion, a character that was a mainstay of the SchussBoomer for years.
A typical week for the board or committee people during the ski season in the late ‘50’s/early ‘60’s:
Monday was spent on getting the ‘Boomer’ together.
Tuesday was either a board meeting, or a general meeting (in the early days, meetings were held every three weeks).
Wednesday was ski school.
Thursday was a day off.
Friday was always a party somewhere.
Saturday was spent skiing all day, then going to dinner or having another party.
Sunday was a repeat of Saturday.
The first discussion on the club purchasing their own lodge took place in 1965/66. In 1967, this topic was placed on the table until future president Art Zimmer grabbed the ball and ran a zigzag pattern for a touchdown in January of 1971. As a results of Art efforts, we have today a lodge in Lower Granville, Vermont, allowing Onondaga Ski Club members inexpensive lodging (and lift ticket prices too) amongst some great places to ski and glide. An article by Art Zimmer can be found in our Lodge section or by clicking on: ..LODGE/HISTORY.
This was also the start of what has become known today as the Annual Syracuse Ski Sale, now in its 32nd year (2003).
The club has always needed a fund raiser of one type or another. There were internal auctions of ski equipment, a public screening of a John Jay or Warren Miller ski movie, producing summer stock theater in the community, even having club dances.
The club recorded a Certificate of Incorporation in August of 1961. This was undertaken in part so the elected officials of the club could take care on many decisions without having to have the question settled by the entire membership at a general meeting. The meetings were getting lengthy. In 1963, a certificate for Not-for-Profit Corporation was filed.
Also in late ’63, the club undertook the first Winterfest in Syracuse. Many hours were spent by a few core members putting the whole thing on, much like the ski sale now. The first Winterfest was held in February of ’64.
This, in a nutshell, is a short, short history lesson on the beginnings of the Onondaga Ski Club. May it continue for at least another fifty years.