Winter 2017

Everyone knows that Hamilton, N.Y., gets piles of snow, so it’s no surprise that skiing has been one of Colgate’s most popular activities.

By Meredith Dowling ’17


Winter carnival

Back when the university had an annual winter carnival in the early 1900s, ski races were a main part of the event, where fraternities and other student residences competed against each other to win the house cup.

By 1937, skiing became the coolest way to get some exercise in winter. As the Colgate Maroon wrote on December 13 of that year, “A Colgate man without a pair of skis is as out of place as a horse without a tail.” Cross-country skiing was more common, but the ski hill was gaining popularity. Much of this was due to the efforts of David W. “Doc” Trainer [B], a geology professor who encouraged skiing on all levels. Trainer required those who didn’t know how to ski to report to him in the gym for instruction before venturing out on the hill alone. He also helped turn skiing into a varsity sport at Colgate by 1939. In 1941, the ski hill was dubbed Trainer Hill.

David W. “Doc” Trainer

David W. “Doc” Trainer

The ’50s and ’60s saw the expansion of many Colgate facilities, including Trainer Hill. Under President Vincent M. Barnett Jr. (1963–1969), the ski hill was extended and a t-bar lift, lighting, and snowmaking equipment were added.

At one point, Colgate hired a professional skier from Switzerland as an instructor to teach classes and to coach the ski team. Students filled up the physical education classes, and the children’s ski program was also successful.

The skiing tradition continued through the years, and the university continued its efforts to attract people to the hill.

According to an advertisement in The Colgate News on Feb. 22, 1991, the hill was open to the public six days a week. But, just four days later, The Colgate Maroon told a different story, with a front-page headline reading: “University to Close Trainer Hill.” The cost outweighed the benefits, and the equipment needed repairs.

A year later, Outdoor Education started offering lessons at nearby Toggenburg Mountain, and the ski team started practicing there, too. Although it’s now a club sport, Colgate’s ski team can still shred with some of the best. And, the Ski and Snowboard Club is one of the biggest student organizations on campus.


15 Responses

  1. "Bud" Danehy, '61

    As a 11- 13 year old “townie” I used to ski on the hill in the mid forties, using leftover skis from the ATO house or from the Athletic center, and boots that resembled cross country boots – ankle height, heel with grove for the spring harness, square metal toe and as much support as a pair of work boots. Proper skis were the height of the up-stretched arm and just touching the top of the cupped hand. Only got caught under the rope of the rope tow a couple of times. Never saw any females on the Hill – only male students. Hill was never crowded as in the picture and the ” house” for the gas engine resembled an outhouse. It shut down when the NYS Health Dept .outlawed rope tows.

  2. "Bud" Danehy, '61

    add to earlier reply.
    I knew the Hill as Agony Hill , named by the Naval Air cadets that populated Colgate during WW2, as they had to run to the top with someone on their back and then rode down on the back of that person I knew and liked Doc Trainer – as well as being younger than his youngest daughter

  3. Alan Brown '67

    I learned to ski there. My dorm buddy Turner Porter showed me the ropes – literally. That rope tow wasn’t so easy! I was sad when it was shut down.

  4. Chris Wisnoski

    As a “townie” I learned to ski there at an early age (5) in the after school ski program. Eventually I became a Ski Patroller and an Instructor. My mom even ran the snack bar there in the mid – late 80’s. It was truly a huge resource for the community as a whole, as other local schools bused kids in for ski school or night skiing.I taught many of my friends to ski there. I was very sad to see it close down in the early 90’s.

  5. Mark Tully '80

    A Ski Hill on campus: Awesome

    Lights for night skiing: Brilliant

    A pint of Peppermint Schnapps in 1977: $2.00

    Walking there in your ski boots from The Hill and then taking the T-Bar back up so you can walk back: Priceless

  6. John miles

    I remember skiing down the hill , I can still see Mr Parnell’s jet black hair gleeming in the frigid winter.

  7. Dan Amendola

    As a kid, growing up in Hamilton from 1949-1965, I was never a skier but I used
    to go toboggining down that hill all the time during the winter. What a blast!

  8. sandy parnell

    This is Kathy and Sandy Parnell, April, 2017 – after reading the article,” The Ups and Downs of Trainer Hill”, we are reminiscing with our mom and dad, Tom and Marilyn Parnell, about our family involvement at Trainer Hill during the late 60’s – early 70’s. Our dad worked tirelessly to provide Colgate students, “Townies”, and other local families from the surrounding communities the ” $ 15.00 ” yearly ski package (poles, boots, and skis with cable bindings, then moving to “Cubco” bindings) Dad’s goal was to give everyone the opportunity to ski. Running the concession stand, putting skiers on the T-Bar, and selling daily tickets were how the Parnell’s spent their memorable winter days in Hamilton New York!

  9. Eric Settle '83

    Thanks for the story. Trainer hill is missed. Skied there every afternoon during my freshman Jan plan. Hopefully someday it will return!

  10. Don Boyajian (Class of 2007)

    They should get the hill going again….used to have a great time making turns over there after class.

  11. Bill F '76

    So many great – and not so great – memories of Trainer Hill…football hill drills, “shopping” for Christmas Trees for DU, car slaloms down the slopes and, yes, hitting the slopes on skis – without Coach W’s knowledge.

  12. Taylor Conard '67

    Spent many days on Trainer hill as a member of the National Ski Patrol and ski instructor.

  13. Arthur Seifert

    Taught advanced classes for a couple of years. Classes were all women who could ski. Not a bad gig. Enough compensation to keep me in 8 ounce Labatts all week long.

  14. Jonathan Merrill

    Ah, my first ski lesson was at Trainer Hill in 1963 as part of gym class. I rode up the rope tow with a classmate who had been designated an instructor. At the top he said “Follow me.” The next time I saw him was at the base of the hill. Not very useful or practical instruction. The fun came later.