By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Looking at this small picturesque New England town today, it’s hard to imagine the significant role it once played in the development of the region’s winter tourism industry.
But it was about 85 years ago when a local businessman made the biggest deal of his life, drawing more than 200 people to town in America’s first “ski train.”
‘They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 people… Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.’
Rebecca Courser, the executive director of the Warner Historical Society, talked about the event, and the subsequent impact of impact on the town, as a special “Snow Train Dinner & Talk” in the town hall recently. The society’s fundraising event drew more than 200 people.
Buck Whitford introduced skiing to the town in 1909, Courser explained. He’d picked it up when visiting family members in Minnesota, and initiated friends and neighbors into the sport. It wasn’t long before locals in Warner – and in other northeastern communities – were making their own wooden skis, swooping down their hills and mountains.
But it was John “Happy Jack” Chandler who initiated the ski trains, according to Courser. In the early 1930s, Chandler took a trip to Boston. He visited several large businesses where he promoted Warner as a great place for a wintertime company trip. Some of the organizations sent representatives to the town and, after seeing the local hotels, restaurants and skiing facilities, some – including the John Hancock Insurance company – decided to take Chandler up on his invitation.
“They left Boston’s North Station and arrived in a town with a little over 1,000 citizens,” Courser said of the early ski trains. “The Boston folks grew to have a great appreciation for Warner as a winter playground. Word spread, and Warner was soon known as the winter sports capital of central New Hampshire.”
Of course the operations were relatively primitive. With no snowmaking equipment, business was completely dependent on natural snowfall. So when one winter brought a dearth of good cover, Armdam Doucette, the town barber, challenged the other men in town to join him in a pledge, “not to shave until we get some skiable snow,” Courser said.
In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.
Almost 30 men participated and, although there’s no proof that it impacted any wintry precipitation, it did bring the town some unexpected publicity. “Permanent five o’clock shadow hovers over Warner,” was a headline seen as far away as California, Courser said. And when the snow finally arrived after Christmas, the ski train people returned.
When the country entered the prosperous post-World War II years, things really took off. At that time, there were 14 inns and hotels operating in Warner during the winter months.
One weekend, approximately 900 Hancock employees got off the ski trains, virtually doubling the town’s population. In 1950, the Boston-Warner ski train brought 1,200 people to town, making the trip the largest corporate outing America had ever seen.
But by 1956, poor skiing conditions and increased competition from places like the state-owned Sunapee resort began the decline of the local tourism industry.
“Many of the inns shut down abruptly,” Courser noted.
The local ski operations were eventually turned over to the schools. When construction of Interstate 89 divided the primary ski area, the operations were later moved to the Mink Hills area. By the 1980s, the ski businesses were gone.
But the ski trains had a major economic impact on the town for more than 25 years. It brought new people to Warner, some who returned during the summer, and some eventually settling here. And the winter population hike forced local residents, businesses and civic organizations to work cooperatively, Courser concluded.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, Tuesday, February 19, 2019. All images are courtesy of the Warner (N.H.) Historical Society.