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A Brewer's Good Old Mountain Brew: Big Bromley
Arthur Zich
November 19, 1962
Fred Pabst Jr. turned his back on beer and cheese and Wisconsin society to make a business out of recreational skiing
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November 19, 1962

A Brewer's Good Old Mountain Brew: Big Bromley

Fred Pabst Jr. turned his back on beer and cheese and Wisconsin society to make a business out of recreational skiing

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The tools at his disposal, however, were primitive by today's standards. There were no helicopters to lift towers into position; no four-wheel drive trucks to haul great loads into rugged, unbroken land; no Sno-Cats to pack the slopes, or move men and supplies across the surface.

One-man gang

Pabst cleared his own timber, blasted his own rocks out, did his own surveying and profiling, his own trucking, hauling, bulldozing, gully-filling and even designed his own lifts. One year from Pabst's first look south, Intervale and Plymouth, N.H. boasted 1,800-foot J bars. A 2,500-foot J went in at Mt. Aeolus, Vt. and Lake Placid, N.Y. Back in Wisconsin, Pabst erected still another 2,400-foot J bar at Wausau. "It was hard work, building a place to ski in those days," Pabst says. "At Intervale I went out with a chain saw, cut 110 cords of wood myself; at Plymouth I blasted the face off the hill with a little gas-driven jackhammer. Today the big equipment's available; a million-dollar installation can go up in a year. Look at them all: more areas than fleas on a dog's back, right?"

Ski Tows, Inc., however, forged ahead. By 1937 five more Pabst lifts had gone up in Vermont, including a rope tow at a town named Stowe. Two more went up in New York State; two in Michigan—one of them, Iron Mountain—and still another in Minnesota.

Then Pabst got busy creating the skiers to use them. He stumped, lectured and cajoled people from Milwaukee to Maine to come out and ski. "Come ski for yourself," he quips, grins loudly and massages his scalp. His ski trains, complete with restaurant car, bar car, dancing car with live orchestra and tap dancers, left Chicago each weekend for the six-hour trip to Wausau and Iron Mountain. Still more trains were leaving Boston and New York, pulling into depots at Manchester, Vt., Ticonderoga, N.Y., Plymouth and Intervale, N.H. The Otto Schniebs American ski school, teaching Swiss technique, had an instructor at each of Pabst's areas demonstrating counter-rotation and the uphill stem. And very quietly, within three years, it all melted away like the spring thaw. "There just weren't enough skiers," Pabst says. "And the hills I'd built were strung out too far apart to supervise properly. I decided to concentrate on one place."

From head to tows

He got out his maps again, did some fast calculations and put his finger on a hump named Bromley Mountain near the Vermont village of Peru. He already had a rope tow on Little Bromley, across a cow path that would later be paved and named Route 11; he also had a J bar on a leased tract called Bromley's West Meadow, but to expand the way he wanted Pabst had to own the 165 acres between the cow path and the top of the mountain. "Local farmer owned the land and didn't want to sell," Pabst says. "He and his wife were born in Peru, next to the mountain, lived in Peru and were going to die in Peru, dammit." Pabst found him another tract in Peru and swapped Walker even.

He didn't waste any time. He moved into Chanticleer, the 18th-century farm house at the foot of the mountain, added rooms upstairs for skiers and put in a vegetable garden to feed them. One of the skiers was a slim, blonde beauty named Sally Litchfield from Auburn, Me. by way of Bennington College near by. Her brother was a member of the 1940 U.S. Olympic ski team (the Games were not held that year); her father owned the first pair of skis in Auburn; she herself would rather have raced than read John Dewey and Pabst found himself following her around the mountain. He offered her a job running the Bromley booking service and, he says, "I kept selling her on the idea that I was 43 and she was 21, and the thing was ridiculous, but she had other ideas. She's stubborn; English—with a good Irish jaw, and that settled that."

Married, Pabst went back to mountain building. More than a thousand cedars went in as a windbreak on West Meadow; with a transit and plumb bob, Pabst took his own profile of the mountain. He dismantled his J bars at Mt. Aeolus in East Dorset, Vt. and at Lake George, trucked them to Bromley and put them end to end to reach the summit. The J bar at Plymouth came down and went up again on the east side. Later, the rope tow came off Little Bromley, and in its place went the J bar from Wausau. The old Walker barn, next door to the Chanticleer, was converted into a restaurant and plush, leather-cushioned lounge. Opening date was set for New Year's Day, 1943, and on New Year's Eve the restaurant burned to the ground. "We came up the next morning," Sally reflects, "and the coal in the basement was still smoldering. All the preserved vegetables had exploded. The fire department was eight miles away."

Pabst moved out of Chanticleer; the bathroom became a public rest room; his tiny living and dining rooms were converted into a one-cook restaurant which, that winter, fed 1,500 skiers. A year later a wing was built on the house, providing them with a seating capacity of 250. By 1946, when the restaurant was rebuilt and named the Wild Boar (after its owner, one employee claims), traffic was so badly congested that skiers waiting to eat would get in the wrong line and end up in the rest rooms. Today, the Wild Boar seats almost 1,200 skiers, with three cafeterias on two levels.

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