Hitting the slopes: Ski hills in Kawartha Lakes

Just in Time local history series

By Ian McKechnie

An unidentified, though possibly local, ski slope as it looked in the late 1950s. Leola Brintnell fonds (2023.107), Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives.

It’s a cold day in the middle of winter as you alight from the chairlift and, with your poles, prepare to descend one of the steep hills overlooking the bucolic countryside of Manvers Township. The slopes are busy, and you gingerly begin to glide down from one side of the hill to the other, gazing in awe at the skill of those slicing through the snow on their slick-looking skis and snowboards.

By the time you reach the bottom, these people will be on their way up the lift again, amicably chatting about which hill they will tackle next: will it be an intermediate slope, with a grade of 25-40 per cent, or might it be a “black diamond” hill with a sobering grade of 40 per cent or higher? You, meanwhile, decide to take a break and adjourn to the chalet for a cup of hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire.

Scenes like this played out over the decades at a ski resort northeast of Bethany that opened for business a little more than 60 years ago by Velfrid Holmberg, an Estonian immigrant. “Known as the Devil’s Elbow, the new setting offers enthusiasts 100 acres of ski area, 1,700 foot double T-bar rope tows and a ski school,” noted a short item in the Feb. 19, 1964 issue of the Lindsay Daily Post.

An institution for more than half a century in Manvers Township, Devil’s Elbow was but one chapter in the story of alpine skiing here in what is now Kawartha Lakes.

As early as 1928, members of the Toronto Ski Club made a trip up to the Bobcaygeon area to ascertain whether it would prove suitable for skiing – especially as the hills around Toronto that year were deemed to be disappointing on account of a mild Christmas season. Eight years later, a meeting was held in the local council chambers to ascertain interest in establishing a Lindsay Ski Club. “A large number of young people in Lindsay have taken up skiing in recent years, and while not enjoying the benefits of a club, they are having a great deal of fun just having small ski parties,” reported the Post ahead of the meeting on Jan. 9, 1936. Another four years would pass, though, before the club was formally organized, on Jan. 10, 1940. It later fell into abeyance but was revived for the 1949-1950 season under the leadership of Steven Saganski, Stan Tozios, and Evan Owens, among others.

It was an opportune time to be a skier. The Peterborough Ski Club had acquired land about a mile north of Bethany from Harry O’Brian in 1936 and set about developing a ski hill that in later years would be known as The Ranch. A 1948 description of the property praised it as “a skier’s paradise giving every type of slope one may desire; gentle open slopes for the beginner, wooded trails for those who like cross-country touring and steep slalom, or dangerous down hill runs for the more expert.”

Woodville-born Leola Brintnell poses with skis in front of her car, circa 1957. Leola Brintnell fonds (2023.107), Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives.

Such a venue attracted not only local skiers, but also those flocking to the region from urban centres. Stories abound of Lewis McGill and other Manvers-area farmers bringing Toronto-based skiers to the Peterborough Ski Club’s hill by horse-drawn sleigh, after picking them up at the Bethany railway station. Upon arrival, these intrepid skiers used one of two rope tows to ascend the hill and warmed up in a chalet that had been built around 1939.

Not to be outdone, another ski hill was opened closer to Omemee and was in operation through the 1960s. John Russell, a teacher at LCVI, served as instructor of the junior ski school at this hill later in the decade, while Harry Johnson prepared lunch, doughnuts, and hot chocolate for over 100 children enrolled in the ski school program.

This hill, long since abandoned, is still remembered by former residents of the area. “We met at the Lindsay arena on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. where our wooden skis were tossed into the back of the bus that took us out to the Omemee hill,” recalls Liz Shanks, née McQuarrie. “There was only a long rope tow and four runs at most that came down to the chalet. I remember very cold days and dry crisp snow and hot chocolate before getting back on the bus at noon for the trip back to Lindsay.”

As they grew older, many of these skiers would migrate to Devil’s Elbow after it opened for the 1963-1964 season. “The chalet at Devil’s Elbow was a popular place and the food there was good,” Shanks says. “By the time we were skiing at this, more popular place, the activities and conversations over lunch were as much a draw as the skiing.”

Devil’s Elbow – the last of the hills between Bethany and Omemee – closed its doors in 2018, forcing local skiers and snowboarders to hit the slopes somewhere beyond Kawartha Lakes. For them, though, the thrill of slicing through freshly groomed snow is an experience that will never quite melt away.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Dan Brett (1984-2022), the author’s cousin and a passionate snowboarder, who grew up in Manvers Township and later relished a good day on the slopes in the mountains of B.C.


  1. rob says:

    sir sams is just in Haliburton county. not so far.

  2. Db Bain says:

    That was an enjoyable read.

  3. Pat Warren says:

    Kirby is not far either. Skied at both Devils Elbow and Brimacombe . When the Elbow closed the “crew” moved to Kirby⛷️🎿

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