All posts by Dave Schaeffer

Hart Skis- a Memoir

This post, “Hart Skis” is a memoir written by Aethan Hart in January 2021.

Hart Skis

Winter in Duluth lasts an extremely long time. I remember it snowing in April, just like the song by Prince.   In shady areas under the WPA constructed wall near the Chester Creek Bridge, there would be a few small piles of snow in early June.  When you are a young person, winter provides many opportunities for recreation.  As one chronologically advances, winter presents the fear of falling and being cold.

My earliest memories of wintertime are sledding on a road through the woods.  The road was not paved, but in the non-winter it was earth with grass growing between two ruts.  It was an access road for construction of the ski jumps, Big Chester and Little Chester.  The track was really an unpaved extension of Chester Parkway.  The City of Duluth did not plow it, that was up to the volunteers from the Duluth Ski Club who constructed the jumps.  I think my father earned some level of respect from the Club for insisting that the gravel portion of the road to our house was plowed by the City.  

I first traveled that road when I was four years old with a red wooden sled featuring a piece of rope clothesline on the front to pull it.  On many crisp, clear and cold winter days, my mother and I would trudge up that road, into the woods.  It was not a wide path, barely adequate for a pickup truck to pass through the trees.  It was enough space for the Harts to pull my sled and a toboggan which my father acquired when he realized that as I grew, my sled was too small for my mother and me to safely occupy on our sliding experiences. 

I learned from an early age that national champion skiers trained on the towering ski jumps.  Several went on to the Olympics, which was a great source of pride for someone living in the shadow of Big Chester.

Our sliding adventures began when reaching the end of the road, my mother and I would climb on the sled next to one of the concrete footings that supported the steel frame on of the wooden ski jump.   The top of the ski jump was over 100 feet above our scarf and hat wrapped heads and my mother, a visual artist said we were underneath a giant dinosaur.  Big Chester was also a landmark to me growing up.  When on a family trip to Park Point, I could always see the head of Big Chester and I knew my home was right underneath that idol with a wooden head. 

To start our slide, I would give us as much of a push as my small legs would allow and jump on the red sled and hang on.  My mother would steer with her feet.  I now realize that her growing up in New York City did not prepare her for this sledding on the tundra, but she was a fast learner.

We would sail down the hill, the runners of the sled which she had waxed with canning wax made a swishing sound in the pure winter air.  We’d have a good rate of speed going as we neared our house, and her goal was to make a turn into our small driveway without tipping the sled.  I always thought the sled on its side was the more fun, but she wanted to make that turn and remain upright.  We would make a few runs on that road and when cold became a factor, went inside our house for hot chocolate, made from powder in a can my mother said came from Europe.   Little did I know that that one day, I would be carrying skis up that same narrow road, walking under the ski jumps, not to fly, but to downhill ski.

Slipping and sliding

Chester Bowl continued to be a part of my family’s winter recreation program through grade school.  I went skating on the frozen and uneven pond with my father, sliding on waxed cardboard with both parents and hiking through the woods in all seasons. At age five, I caught my first fish, a trout with my Eagle rod, reel and hook on the pond during a sunny spring morning.

When I was in junior high, a portion of the woods around the pond was cleared to create a downhill skiing area.  My friends had skis and I wanted to be included.  My father bought me a pair of used Hart skis at the Ski Hut. The innovative metal skis were made in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I thought it was pretty cool to have skis with my last name on them. He also had my name engraved near the bindings into which I placed my lace up Kastinger ski boots.  When I looked down at my skis before going downhill, I saw my name twice.  It gave me a sense of confidence, which I really needed.

The first year on the new hill there was no rope tow, or chair lift.  We stood in a horizontal position and packed up the hill one ski after another till we got to a point to ski down.  Since I was learning, this was a good plan since it strengthened my legs, allowed me to go a short distance and groomed the hill as well.  I learned to snowplow with my skis and later that winter actually used my ski poles to make turns with my skis close together.  We’d ski at every opportunity.  There were no lights on the hill, but we would be on the snow nearly every night. We did not have driver’s licenses yet, so our recreational opportunities were limited.  However, we could all walk to Chester Bowl and ski.

 There was a building built in the 1930’s where we could warm our cold feet and hands.  As we sat on the wooden benches with our feet on the dark wooden floor the ski jumpers would come in from Big and Little Chester and make fun of us.  “You are not real skiers like us” they would shout.  The jumpers did not picture any future Olympians among the downhill and cross-country skiers.  We however had worldwide aspirations as we set up our bamboo poles with flags for our downhill ski races.   

I lived the closest to the ski area and when I walked that same road at night that my mother and I had enjoyed sledding I remembered the speed and excitement. Now, I had a different level of speed on my Hart skis and the promise of more excitement and fun during those long Duluth winters.My ski learning was accelerated, because after walking under two ski jumps, I was at the top of the skiing hill.  I had to get to the bottom, and I had to use all the skills acquired packing up that hill to make a successful downhill run.  I fell more than once but having this forced ski test made me really learn how to turn very quickly.  It was a lot like my New York City mother’s education in steering the red sled. The rudiments of maneuvering on ice and snow were imprinted on my mind from an early age.  I successfully transferred those skills on a minimal level to the Hart skis.

At some point, my friends deemed me good enough to go to a real ski hill, Mont Du Lac, located outside of Superior, Wisconsin.  We were not old enough to drive, but a fellow Duluth Central Band trombone player, Dave Olsen, had a driver’s license as well as access to his family’s Rambler station wagon.  This station wagon was very handy for us to load up our ski equipment and ramble across the High Bridge to Wisconsin.

I was excited when we arrived at the Mount.  My friends gave me a quick lesson on how to ride the T-bar. I was supposed to sit on a piece of wood attached to a pole on a cable, which concerned me, but of course as a teenager, I thought I was invincible.   I was told that if I kept my skis on the ground, the T bar would pull me up the hill.

 Unfortunately, on my first attempt to get on the T-bar, I fell, and my ski caught on the wooden seat. I was dragged up the hill for twenty feet.  This was very embarrassing for a teenaged boy.  Despite our minimal skiing skills, we were trying to impress girls we might meet at the ski area.  I was untangled by one of the workers and helped onto another bar. They tied a red ribbon on the bar I had gouged with my Cubco bindings (marketed in the 1970’s, as the most reliable release ski binding) so that nobody else would ride it that day.  That was a constant reminder of the not positive attention during my visit. I had successful rides to the top after that first disaster and enjoyed skiing on a variety of hills the rest of the day.  After that episode, my friends called me Hartski.  

Grab the Rope and I’ll Pull You In

The second winter I skied at Chester Bowl, a rope tow was installed, not a T-bar, much to my relief.  My fellow skiers and I took Basic and Advanced First Aid classes taught by a National Ski Patrol instructor.  We became the first members of the Chester Park Ski Patrol.  And, unlike the jumpers, our crew included girls.  Our responsibilities were to check for tickets to ride the tow, be able to shut the tow down if a young skier fell on the ride up (I had experience in that) and tend to any injuries.  In fulfilling these duties, we skied for free.

Skiing made those long Duluth winters fly by as we flew down the hills of Chester Bowl. I did not matter if it was below zero. The lure of the hill always got us on our skis. Hart skis for me…

Big Chester and Little Chester before their demolition in 2014.
The same site after removal of the jumps.
My mother, Viola Hart and young Aethan (I might be five or 6).
Big Chester looking down. This is what the jumpers saw. During jumping season there was a snow track down the middle.
An example of a T-bar, not the one where I fell off and caught my ski.
A small portion of the 1970-71 Chester Park Ski Patrol. Aethan Hart with goggles on top row left, Scott Swan, Cathy Grady, Dave Reinhart, and Marsha Callahan.
My Chester Park Ski Patrol patch.
Big Chester during its glory days. Note the toboggan slide on the right hand side of the picture.

You can see a few more pictures at this link!

Chester Bowl early Ski Patrol

Chester Bowl has such a rich history! Did you know that there was a youth Ski Patrol in the early 70’s, before the National Ski Patrol as we know it now started at Chester in 1974? These high school volunteers helped monitor the tow rope, including watching for injuries occurring and stopping the rope if needed, in exchange for free skiing! This was an era with alpine skiing, ski jumping, and Nordic skiing all happening in the park. We hope you enjoy these photos and news stories, contributed by Aethan Hart, one of those first ski patrollers.

You can read his memoir at this link!

1971 Zenith yearbook, Volume 76, 1970-71, published by Zenith Staff, Central High School, Duluth, Minnesota.

1970 Zenith yearbook, Volume 75, 1969-70, published by Zenith Staff, Central High School, Duluth, Minnesota.
Aethan was Patrolman of the year in 1970!

Opening Weekend Updates!

We are so excited! Opening Day is almost here! Chester Bowl opens for the season on Saturday, December 19th, at 11am.

There is a LOT that is different this year, and things have been shifting constantly, including through the Governor’s Executive Order updates announced yesterday. We ask that you please read through this entire post so that you know what to expect this season at Chester Bowl, and to be a partner with us to make sure that we can stay safe and stay open.

Here are the most important things for you to know:

1. Things will change! We are sharing our plan for the start of the season, but we expect shifts to happen throughout the winter. Please continue to read our emails to stay informed if we need to change policies and procedures.

2. We need your help with your children- whether you are here skiing and boarding with them or dropping them off, please talk with them in advance about expectations (yours, theirs, and ours!), so they know in advance what this winter will be like and what they will need to do.

3. For opening weekend, we are open Saturday 12/19 and Sunday 12/20 from 11- 4:30 each day. We are open Monday, 12/21 from 4:30-8:30. After being closed Tuesday through Friday 12/22-12/25, we will open again for Holiday Break, when we will be open from 11-4:30 daily (12/26-1/3).

4. Masks are required! This includes in the lift line, on the lift, in the bathrooms, in front of chalet, or anywhere else that there are others around you. We recommend that you wear a cloth mask, and then have a buff over that, and just get in the habit of always having it on when you are here. And then bring a second set for when the first one gets wet and cold! Please wear your mask so it covers your mouth and your nose. Gloves or mittens are required while on the chairlift.

5. It is essential that we keep social distancing of at least six feet between households in the lift line. The best way to visualize this is to think about the fact that you control the distance between yourself and the person in front of you. If we all keep at least two feet of space between the tip of our skis/board and the tail of the person in front of you, we will be properly spaced. We will also have visual reminders about spacing in the lift line.

6. Only members of the same household may ride the chairlift together. There are no exceptions for riding with those from other households, even if you consider yourself a “pod” or spend time in each others’ houses.

7. Please don’t gather in groups with friends at the chalet or on the hill. We all miss seeing our friends, but we must always be maintaining a minimum of six feet of physical distance between people from different households.

8. The warming space in the Chalet is closed entirely this year, except for use by staff, scheduled volunteers, ski patrollers, and those receiving medical assistance. This season, your car is your chalet. Please arrive ready to ski! The bathrooms will be open from the side door of the Chalet only, with a maximum of two people in a bathroom at any given time.

9. The new Executive Order does allow for lessons to occur, with a “private lesson” model. The departure from our traditional group lessons does decrease our capacity to meet the need for lessons, but we have added lessons on Sundays as well as Saturdays to help more people learn to ski and snowboard!  Lessons will be 45 minutes long, with an instructor serving one single household. We are still finalizing the plan, but you can expect to see information about registration (and you must be pre-registered for lessons) within the next few days. As always, lessons are free to those with a season pass or a daily lift ticket. We will offer daily lessons over break (12/26-12/30), and then start weekend lessons on Saturdays and Sundays beginning on January 2.

10. For the first weekend, our outdoor concession stand will be selling hand warmers and daily lift tickets only. We will NOT be selling any food or beverages. Based on the new Executive Order, we are assessing whether we will be able to sell food out of the concessions stand after the first weekend. The concession stand will also be the main point for information or to contact staff.  You are welcome to bring your own food and snacks to Chester Bowl. You can eat them in your car or outdoors, as long as you maintain social distancing from those in other households. We will have benches to sit on, but no picnic tables.

11. Do you still need season passes? You can come to Chester during any hours that the hill is open. You can read more about getting passes at https://www.chesterbowl.org/ski-and-snowboard/.  Please check in at the concessions stand upon arrival. Be sure to bring cash or a check and a small photograph of each person that we can laminate in your pass! Opening day may be busy, so you may need to be patient if you arrive right away in the morning.

12. Do you still need to rent equipment for the season? We do still have a limited number of skis available. For this weekend, please reach out to us in advance to set up an appointment for a gear fitting. After opening weekend, we are able to fit you for gear during open hours.

13. We are still working on our plan for Cadets. The new executive order gave us more clarity in what Cadets will be able to do this year. If you registered for the Cadet program, you can expect an email from Sam in the next few days.

14. We are not able to offer Freestyle Friday under current restrictions. If this changes, we will re-assess if we can offer the program later in the season. 

15. Was this list too short for you, and you want more details? You can read our entire Pandemic Plan here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zs2HBPMHWcXC0W-fafEd-TqZLyT9OE8bN0WDEQaPF_I/edit?usp=sharing Additional overall information is at www.chesterbowl.org.

Thank you for reading through this entire post. With the support of all of you in the Chester Bowl community, together we can minimize the risk of COVID-19 while spending time active and outdoors this winter. We can’t wait to see you on the hill!

With gratitude,

Dave & Sam

Rescheduled Opening Day- December 19, 2020

We are postponing Chester Bowl’s opening day, with a new target date of Saturday, December 19th. Due to the warm temps we have not been able to make snow these past couple of weeks. Because of this lack of snow, Chester Bowl will not be open this weekend as hoped.

As disappointing as this news is, we do have some good news! The temps look as though they will FINALLY drop to where we need them to be to make snow starting this weekend.

If this forecast holds, we will be making snow around the clock. Our goal is to open for the season on Saturday, December 19!

Thank you for your understanding and patience as we get the hill ready for the season. You can expect to see another update from us next week confirming our opening date and with additional information on what to expect with operations this year, and what we need all skiers and snowboarder to do to help keep everyone safe. We can’t wait to see all of you on the hill!