CONWAY, N.H. - What began with a teenage boy's curiosity has grown into a 10-year-old effort to document hundreds of New England's lost ski areas, including more than 170 in Massachusetts.
Jeremy Davis makes a living in meteorology in New York, but has spent his free time over the last decade maintaining the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, a website devoted to preserving the history of defunct ski areas. The seeds were planted in 1991, when at age 14, Davis took a family ski trip to New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley.
On their way to Cranmore and Black Mountain, the family passed by the former Mount Whittier Ski area in West Ossipee, which closed in 1985. And at Black Mountain in Jackson, he saw the old trails of Tyrol Ski Area, which closed in 1981.
"I wondered what I could find out about that one, and others," Davis said. "I started looking for stuff - old guidebooks and maps in antique stores and used book shops - but there wasn't much information out there at all."
Ten years after starting with a handful of histories, the site now lists 659 ski areas, including more than 500 in New England. Several assistants help compile the information, which pours in at a rate of about 10 to 15 e-mails a day from people describing where they used to ski.
"It's a never-ending process; there is so much stuff out there," Davis said. "What I feel good about is that all of this is digitalized information. Once it's on the website, it's preserved, and that is really important to me, because in 20 or 30 years, who is going to remember this stuff?"
The site lists 168 former ski areas in New Hampshire, 60 in Connecticut, four in Rhode Island, 172 in Massachusetts, 74 in Maine, and 113 in Vermont.
Massachusetts has two distinct geographic zones of lost ski areas, according to Davis's website.
Ski areas in Western Massachusetts tended to have more vertical footage, longer lifts, and were closer to the New York market.
Ski areas in the eastern part of the state were smaller, many with just a few rope tows or T-bars, according to Davis's study. These ski areas often introduced Bostonians to the sport. Many of these ski areas have been developed.
Among the New Hampshire areas, Mount Whittier opened in 1948 and operated for nearly four decades with only a gondola and several T-bars. It was home to one of the nation's first four-person gondolas, which used to stop and pick up skiers at a midstation along Route 16. The gondola towers are still in place, including one in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant.
"The slopes were too steep for most novices and were so wide the sun tended to melt the snow," Davis said, explaining reasons for the ski area's downfall.
The Intervale Ski Slope ski area, which operated from the mid-1930s to 1976, once attracted as many as 5,000 skiers a year to its three slopes but it suffered as larger competitors opened nearby. Today the area is almost completely grown over. Relatives of one of its previous owners are renovating the old base lodge to turn it into their home.