Peapack Ski Tow -Ski Areas We’ve Lost in New Jersey

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The Peapack Ski Tow was One of the First Ski Businesses in New Jersey

At one time, New Jerseyans had their pick of a dozen or so smaller hills where beginners could get a feel for the sport and more experience skiers could sneak away for a few quick runs and still be home for dinner. Lift? who needs a lift when you have a ski tow. You know, the rope tied to a motor with a wooden dish to put between your legs to pull you up the hill with great simplicity and efficiency. The Mr. Local History Project takes a look back at a few of those fun little bunny type hills that were perfect for the hour or two getaway right in our own backyard.

Peapack Ski Area looking south – Railroad to left, Once Route 31 – now Route 206 in central New Jersey. Pluckemin, NJ (Bedminster) is just to the south down (top of photo) towards US Route 287.

The Peapack Ski Tow

Near and deer to my heart are two ski areas that were iconic at the time and a fun part of my childhood. Not to be outdone, if you wanted to head out to the country, just hop on route 22 and 30 minutes later you’re facing a steeper slope with the famed Peapack Ski Tow.

The Peapack Ski Area opened around 1939 and closed in February 1986.. But for what seemed such a brief 50 years, there are so many great memories for those who lived in the what was know as the Somerset Hills area of northern Somerset County, New Jersey. What lives there today is just a road named Ski Hill Road, we couldn’t help but to dig in and see what photos or stories we could find. Many have said that the Peapack Ski Tow was the oldest skiing establishment in New Jersey at the time. Others state that Craigmeure in Newfoundland started in 1936/1937.

Peapack Ski Area flyer c.1980 – Source: Peapack Ski Area

For me, towering over the 200 foot drop was terrifying as a 7 year old for sure. Growing up in Westfield about 30 minutes east, I felt like we were heading to Pennsylvania to Callback, but strangely, we weren’t “out there” and found a gem of a stopover. There was no way my folks would drive to PA on a weekday.

The original rope tow was powered by an old 4 cylinder car engine with a three speed trans. Later, a 1948 Chevy truck engine powered the tow. The rope was wrapped around a tire rim a few times and was held up by hubs attached to telephone pole. Some say it was 700′, others say it was 800′.

What many people don’t know is that the Peapack Ski Tow was actually in Bedminster. Peapack was once part of the township but broke away on March 28, 1912 to become an independent buro. But Peapack Ski Tow sounds better right? I think so.

Owned by Mel Blauffus, Mel would open twice a week typically on Wednesday and Friday nights from 7-10pm. Fee:$3. They rented wooden skis, NORTLAND etc. with leather lace up boots, out of an old station wagon he would drive to the tow area. The rental fee was only a few dollars. Numbers ranged from about 20-30 people at night on the hill.

There were four trails, 2 slopes, 200′ drop. You could only ski when it snowed as there was no snow-making. Two of the slopes were lit at night. In 1974 there were co-owners Eric Hammarstrom, and founder Melvyn and Shirley Blaufuss. Melvyn’s mother Christie Blaufuss took care of ticket sales. The Blaufuss’s grew up in what’s referred to as the Peapack Valley on Walnut Farm on Fox Chase Road, an area that includes the famed Natirar Park and Estate.

Melvyn leased the land in high school and actually cleared it himself and invented the tow. When the land was put up for sale in the 50s, Melvin, along with his parter Eric purchased the property and started expanding the capabilities at the site.

Even Bamburgers of Morristown got on the ski bandwagon back in 1949. Bamburgers actually set up mini ski slopes in their stores and offered lessons back in the early days. Source: Bernardsville News.

Before closing up in 1987 the adults and kids prices were very reasonable: $8.00 weekends, holidays, $5.00 night. $4.00 group lesson, $10.00 private. They were open December 20- March 10, weekends and holidays: 10am-4:15pm, Mon Thurs – 7:30am-10:15pm the rest of the time. The Ski school director was Edward Fimbel along with three other instructors. There was a snack bar, ski rentals, ski patrol, and ski repair services on site. Oh, and the ski’s weren’t wood anymore.

At it’s peak, the modern version of the tow could accommodate 850 skiers/hour. Quite a feat when compared to when the first tow was set up.

What Happened?

While there are no remnants of the tow or the ski facility, you can drive around the area where the developer created the neighborhood that once was home to the Peapack Ski Tow. As a tribute to the area, the road is named Ski Hill Drive and it shows up on Google as Bedminster Township.

First, sad news. It was noted that co-owner Eric Hammarstrom died in 1982 at the age of 67, So Mel was on his own. Then, without notice, on February 20, 1986 it was reported that after 45 years in operation, the now family run Pepack Ski Area was closing due to a lack of liability insurance demanded by the State of New Jersey.

Bernardsville News – 1986

“My insurance company cancelled by liability insurance. They didn’t raise my premium, they just cancelled me. I can’t open without insurance. It was the first closure since opening in 1939.”

Mel Blaufuss, Mendham resident and Owner. The operation closed soon after.

The land was eventually sold to developers. The only sign that still remains is a street named Ski Hill Drive an a hill with 140 foot elevation that was stated as being 200!

Clear the scrub trees and add a foot of snow and you’d be back on the Peapack Ski Area. Now private homes, it once was the place to be in the Winter in northern Somerset County.

Melvyn Blaufuss later died on Feb. 12, 2009 at the age of 96.

In his obituary, they wrote that he would take the Scouts swimming in the Black River and camping at Swartswood Lake, Silver Lake in Hope, Bear Pond near Lake Hopatcong and Paulinskill Lake. One regular adventure was the annual 50-mile canoe trip down the Delaware River.

As of 1997, the troop had graduated 37 Eagle Scouts and four of the Eagles had gone on to become doctors, Mr. Blaufuss wrote.

Several generations of men and their sons who were in Chester Troop 9 through the years paid homage to the late Boy Scout leader.

Those who knew Mr. Blaufuss had fond memories of the times he would take Scouts to Lake Hopatcong and they would all board his vintage, 1952, mahogany Chris Craft in-board so Scouts could gain their water skiing merit badge. Others spoke of gaining their snow skiing merit badge at the rope lift and ski slope that Mr. Blaufuss owned for many years in Peapack-Gladstone.

Ski Areas Once Known in New Jersey

  • Peapack _Peapack, New Jersey (Somerset County) Closed 1986
  • Galloping Hill – Union, New Jersey (Union County)
  • Belle Mountain – Lambertville, New Jersey (Mercer County) – Closed 1997
  • Camp Arrowhead – Marlboro, New Jersey (Monmouth County)
  • Jugtown Mountain – Bethlehem, New Jersey
  • Ski Mountain – Pine Hill, New Jersey – Closed 1986
  • Snow Bowl – Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey
  • Great Gorge – MacAfee, New Jersey
  • Holly Mountain – Lower Alloways Creek, New Jersey
  • Pine Needle Slope – Swartswood Lake, New Jersey
  • Snow Bowl – Hopatcong, New Jersey

Active Skiing in New Jersey

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3 Thoughts to “Peapack Ski Tow -Ski Areas We’ve Lost in New Jersey”

  1. Bill Donahue

    Mel Blaufus was the ScoutMaster for Troop 9 in Chester for 76 years. He had the scout cabin built in 1942, and it was just resided this year. The scout cabin at Main and Collis in the borough has some of the rental skis mounted on the balcony wall and some additional photos rescued as we cleaned out Mel’s home after he passed. Mel and Shirley are buried in the Peapack Union Cemetery almost within sight, in winter, of where he grew up on East Fox Chase Road. He collected arrowheads on the farm and across the street in Mt Paul Park named after Chief Paul. The story goes that Chief Paul brought evergreen trees to to the top of Mount Paul from the Jersey coast. Paul is supposed to be buried near that summit.

  2. Adrienne Brown

    Although I did my first ski’ing in Austria, I grew up in Gladstone 1942-62 when I married. recently driving by and looking across from what was Ruth Earles’ place, no ski tow! Add tows, as you note, to that of the losses of what were also once a number of working mills, as Cooper in Chester. MIssing the past, Adrienne Brown

  3. Jeff Ralli

    I remember the Peapack Ski HIll very well. I learned to ski there way way back in the early 60’s. They had a rope tow and a bales of hay at the bottom of the hill before the pond. Many years later, when living in Chester, NJ for over 38 years, our boys were in Cub Scouts, and I ran into the Scout Master, I believe his name was Mel. He was elderly at the time and he shared to story of he and his wife owning Peapack Ski for many years. He chuckled as I told him my ski stories about learning to ski with my parents on that ski hill many years ago, and enjoying the hot dogs and hot chocolate they sold at the top of the hill. HE mentioned that he had to finally sell it to builders due to insurance costs back in the 80s. Such fond memories and it surely is a small world.

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