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Same Ski Area, New Name: Suicide Six is Now Saskadena Six

Nov 17, 2022 03:39PM ● By Lisa Ballard - Photography courtesy of Woodstock Inn & Resort
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. —William Shakespeare (from Romeo and Juliet)

Suicide Six in Pomfret, the greater Woodstock community’s beloved local ski hill, is no longer, at least by name. Last summer, the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which owns and operates this historic ski area, officially abandoned the mountain’s catchy, decades-old moniker. The ski area is now called Saskadena Six. While the name may be new, the place is an elder statesman among ski areas and a legendary ski destination in New England.

The History of Hill No. 6

The first rope tow in the country was built in 1934, just down the road from Saskadena Six, at a farm owned at the time by Clint Gilbert. Gilbert’s farm was on one of six neighboring, skiable hills, numbered one to six, that also included what’s now Saskadena Six.

Gilbert’s farm was selected as the site of the rope tow because it was deemed the most user-friendly to skiers of that era, who until then, climbed uphill on wooden skis without edges and then glided down snowy hillside pastures. The new ski area was named the White Cupboard Skiway after the former inn on Elm Street in Woodstock, whose owners were a driving force in the ski area’s creation. Its 900-foot-long rope tow was powered by a Model T engine. Skiers paid $1.00 for a full day or $.50 for a half day.

Wallace “Bunny” Bertram, a ski coach who lived in the White Cupboard Inn and was instrumental in building and running the rope tow, is famously credited as claiming it would be “suicide” to ski straight down the face of Hill No. 6. Ironically, two years later, he built a rope tow on that slope, after his relationship with Clint Gilbert soured. He called his new ski area Suicide Six, based on the catchy alliteration connecting his quote to the hill’s number, not because six people had died there.

In 1961, Bertram sold Suicide Six to Laurance Rockefeller, who owned the Woodstock Inn and the gentler Mount Tom Ski Area nearby. Rockefeller added Suicide Six to the Woodstock Inn’s amenities as a way to offer skiing guests of the inn more variety and more challenging terrain. Rockefeller then upgraded the ski area with chairlifts and a new base lodge. He also had the steep face regraded, which drew criticism from locals who claimed it made the headwall much easier and likened the change to “painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”

Fifty years after Rockefeller purchased Suicide Six, skiers still challenge themselves on the famous face without any notion that it had a different topography. Rockefeller’s base lodge has since been replaced with a larger, more modern one, and now, the entire ski area has a new identity.

Name Change

Saskadena Six is one of hundreds of places around the United States that have recently changed its name because the original name was deemed offensive. In many of these cases, the name change is in deference to Native Americans. For example, Squaw Valley, the mega ski resort in the Lake Tahoe area of California, recently changed its name to Palisades Tahoe because the word “squaw” is considered derogatory by the Washoe Indians, whose ancestral lands include Palisades Tahoe.

In the case of Suicide Six, the owners of the ski area changed the name in recognition of mental health sensitivities, but Native Americans played an important role in the new name, Saskadena Six. The Woodstock Inn & Resort consulted with Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, headquartered in Barton, but whose homelands include the Woodstock area, as well as the rest of Vermont, New Hampshire, and parts of Maine, Massachusetts, and Canada. Saskadena is the Abenaki word for “standing mountain.” The ski area retained the word “Six” because it was Hill No. 6. It’s a perfect melding of ancient native and historic skiing references to the mountain.
“The [name change] process began in 2021 with outreach to members of the community to participate in a focus group,” says Alice Phillips, a spokesperson for the Woodstock Inn & Resort. “All understood the need for a name change. The discussion centered around the goal to meaningfully uphold the mountain’s legacy.”

The resort also worked with Origin Outside, a marketing agency in Burlington, to help with the rebranding effort. Origin Outside created the ski area’s new logo, which retains the number six inside a red ball, dating back to the 1960s, but with a contemporary typeface. According to a statement released by the ski area, its “curves speak to the friendliness and playfulness of the resort. The color palette in shades of yellow, red, and blue draws its inspiration from the Vermont landscape, grounding the Saskadena Six logo in its natural surroundings.”

This winter, skiers at Saskadena Six will notice new signage around the ski area in conjunction with its new name. In addition, a new display in the base lodge portrays the history of the Abenaki tribe. The grab-and-go portion of the lodge’s food service has also received an upgrade.

“Much time, care, and thought have been invested in the process to choose a name more representative of our values, one that celebrates [the ski area’s] history, honors the Abenaki tradition, and will welcome future generations,” says Courtney Lowe, president of the Woodstock Inn & Resort. “While the name might be changing, the experiences offered on this beloved mountain are not.”

Saskadena Six still offers 100-plus acres of skiing, with plans to open for the 2022–23 season in mid-December. Its name may be new, but the ride will be the same. After all, to skiers and snowboarders, that which we call a ski area by any other name rides just as sweetly, and in this case, the new name sure sounds a lot more inviting.

For more info about skiing at Saskadena Six, contact the Woodstock Inn & Resort, wood, (888) 338-2745.

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