Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Reflecting on Bousquet, Pittsfield's ski beginnings
The Berkshires have been the home to a handful of ski areas, but none quite as well-known as Bousquet's in Pittsfield.
Our family winter outings in the 1950s often ended up on Tamarack Road at the airport where we'd watch small planes land and take off, and then we'd head over to the ski area to watch both novices and experts maneuver the main Bousquet slope.
I always thought it was great that both places were so close together. But it was no accident that the ski area was so close to the airport since the ski area's founder, Clarence "Clare" Bousquet, was quite a local pilot in his day.
Taking up flying as a hobby on the 1920s, he and friends often flew to Canada on fishing and hunting trips. At one point he owned three airplanes including a float-plane that he would keep at Pontoosuc Lake. His late son Paul shared with me how his dad had nearly flown around the world in the 1920s in a plane he co-designed with a GE engineer. Unfortunately, the plans were curtailed when the plane was vandalized.
In the 1920s, Clare operated Charlie and Charlie, a small sporting goods and auto supply store at 130 West St.
In the latter part of the decade, the young businessman had a severe heart attack and was only given three months to live. So he turned the business over to his two brothers and embarked on a "bucket list" cross-country automobile trip with his wife Margaretha and his young son, Russell. During the trek, Clare had a miraculous recovery and the family returned to Pittsfield.
Seeking a new venture, he bought the 365-acre Mahanna Farm on Tamarack Road right near the city's new airport. Previously, the farm had served as a brickyard, supplying bricks for many of the famous cottages in the Lenox area. Clare made use of the farm by initiating a process of hydraulic extraction of peat from bogs on the land. He also built a large caged area to raise domesticated mink. However, his best use of the land was yet to come.
Clare first got interested in skiing in 1933 when members of the local Greylock Ski Club asked to use the open slope pastures on his farm for skiing. The farm turned out to be a great place for skiers.
In 1934, representatives of the New Haven and Hartford Railroad approached Clare about hosting "snow trains" from New York City. At the time, the railroad company also owned the Berkshire Street Railway Co. with a large fleet of new buses. Thus it would be relatively easy to bring tourists from the trains to the farm for skiing. The buses eventually met the trains at the tracks off South Street behind what is now Lipton Mart. For years, thousands of New York tourists came to Pittsfield each season on these trains and frequented the growing ski area.
Clare was always a step ahead of the game and developed the second rope tow in the country, the first lights to permit night-time skiing, and unique snow-making equipment. He also invented a ski tow wheel sheave, a safety gate, a special ski tow rope, and the tow-rope gripper which sold over 500,000 units in his lifetime. All of these were major advancements used by other ski areas throughout the country.
Clarence Bousquet passed away in 1966 at the age of 77. One of the most interesting things about Clare was that he never skied himself. In World War I, he was blown out of a tank and sustained a severe knee injury. However, he loved the challenges of operating a ski area, inventing items and best of all giving pleasure to countless winter sport enthusiasts. He was honored in 2004 when he was posthumously named to the National Ski Hall of Fame.