A hundred yards below the summit and fifty yards north of the piste a few relics of the original tow remain. A four foot length of sleeper still stands out of the peat: the top of the Yad 2000 rope tow. Someone should fit a plaque on it.
“Here in the 1970’s volunteers founded the Yad Moss Snowslope opening the way for thousands of skiers and boarders to enjoy their sport in the North Pennines. Our thanks to all those pioneers.”
‘Yad’ is an old North Pennine word for pit pony. It may be that this area of rough, peat moorland , or Moss, high above the headwaters of the river South Tyne was used to graze some of the horses from the local lead and coal mines. As you walk up to the ticket office you still cross the evidence of mining in this area, a series of holes and excavations where a living was scraped from the hillside. There is also, I am told, some evidence that the miners themselves used an early form of ski, so perhaps skiing is not quite as new to Yad Moss as we sometimes think. Today Yad Moss is one of four remaining areas in northern England equipped with permanent ski or rope tows. In its early days during the mid 1970s and 1980s it was one amongst many.
1975 – 1979 The Portable Pioneers
After several years of operating a portable ski tow at various locations in the Lake District and on Great Dun Fell, members of Carlisle Ski Club investigated the potential for skiing at Yad Moss by setting up the portable tow close to the road and later in the bowl above the current ticket office. This experience revealed good snow holding potential at a reasonably high altitude and with good road access. The portable tow had the advantage that it could be moved around the slope, particularly the bowl, to take advantage of the changing snow conditions.
1979-1989 Mini Engines, Seat Belts and Hissing Sid
In 1979 the decision was made to erect a fixed rope tow 400m in length driven by a diesel engine. The engine hut was manually hauled up the hill in sections, by members and the first snow fencing was erected. The next year the Yad 2000 tow came into use for the first time. This tow ran from bottom left of the bowl (below the present club hut) past the Yad 2000 hut which stood just above the lip of the bowl and housed the engine. The top point of the tow was about half way between there and the summit of the fell and 50 yds to the north of the present Poma track. This video show scenes from the erection of the first rope tow in 1979 and the first day of skiing using the new facility. It was originally 8mm film.
Such was the success of this installation that In the early 1980’s the decision was made to erect a second tow, extending sking to the top of the hill, a further 200m. A second engine hut was built some way beyond the point where the current Poma tow emerges from the bowl, close to pylon 4. The track went to the summit roughly where the Poma finishes. A self-propelled tow, based on an old Mini engine was acquired and installed.
This was named Sid’s Tow after Hissing Sid, a grass snake thought to inhabit the hut although some believe the hissing sound merely arose from the foundations setting into the peat. All these rope tows were pretty evil things. The theory was fine – put your skis on at the bottom of the tow, grab hold of the 15mm polypropylene rope and it will pull you along. In practice with the weight of a dozen skiers on the rope, it became as hard as a steel rod and very difficult to hold on. You had to lift it up as you went over crests in the tow track and small children were lifted off their feet where the tow track dipped down. One of the nastier features was the fact that the rope twisted slowly as it went up the hill, attaching the scarves and anorak toggles of unwary skiers. Skiers who were unable to detach them were forced to abandon their equipment just before they too got dragged into the top pulley. Equally hazardously, the rope tension was maintain by a mechanism involving lifting a 1/2 ton basket of stone up to 15ft in the air as more people got onto the tow. When the rope broke this basket would crash to the ground.
Skiers developed their own clips to hold onto the rope, saving wear and tear on hands and gloves. Eventually the club produced a galvanised clip and belt with a car seatbelt quick release (Kangol made car seat belts in Carlisle at the time), designed so the whole thing fell off the rope if the skier had a tumble and was being dragged up the hill. The health and safety police would have had a field day – but in all the years there were no accidents. After a snow fall the tow rope would often be buried for much of its length and would be skiers were obliged to dig it out before the tow could operate. Around 1982 the Yad 2000 hut was extended to provide shelter for skiers. At the same time the Mini engine in Sid’s Hut expired and was replaced by an Austin 1100 engine. This didn’t last long (like all Austin 1100s!) and was replaced by a twin cylinder diesel similar to the successful Yad 2000 tow.
1988 -2002 Engineers and Architects
In 1987 the decision made to acquire a used POMA from a French ski resort, Le Collet d’Allevard near Chambery. The name of the tow, “La Foret”, can still be seen on the casing of the control gear. To secure the site for future skiing and enable the club to apply for grants it acquired a lease on the land for a period of 60 years from 1988 for a one off payment of £3250. The construction project was funded by the club and grant aided from a range of public bodies with a total cost of £46k.
The construction of the Poma tow was an epic of Hollywood proportions. It was undertaken in the most appalling weather conditions, on ground which rivalled the Somme and involved heavy, testing and sometimes hazardous work for a hardcore group of volunteers. It was an extraordinary achievement. Below is an edited version of a video which was produced
The ambition, scale, challenge and sheer hard work is well captured by this video. Without the exceptional effort and commitment of those involved the skiing opportunity which so many enjoy today would never have been available.
By 2000 some of the original buildings were showing their age and people were starting to tire of the fact that there were no toilets! Yad Moss was never going to share the conditions enjoyed in the Highlands but throughout the eighties and nineties each winter had brought periods of decent snow cover and these allowed sufficient activity for the club to accumulate some capital for investment in the new facilities and to satisfy the appetites of regular users. The arrival of the National Lottery Sports fund opened the prospect of the club supplementing it’s own funds and taking another leap forward. A successful application was made for funding to construct of a new control room and ticket office, clubroom (with toilets!) and garage for a pistebasher. The project cost £108,000 and grant aid of £70k was secured. The balance was made up of cash and in kind contributions from the club. A new skidoo was acquired and two secondhand piste groomers purchased from the Cairngorm ski area. Yad Moss was equipped for a great future. . . but the weather Gods had other plans.
2002 – 2010 Famine and Feast
The new millennium brought with it a change in weather patterns. Poor, short lived snow cover meant that income from day tickets was weak and offered little encouragement for people to purchase season tickets for the coming year. Frugal operation of the tow and a “make do and mend” approach to maintenance limited costs but significant fixed costs (notably insurance) and occasional unplanned maintenance costs (replacing the cable cost £8,000 after someone fell off the tow) lead the club to the brink of closure. Then the weather changed and, equally importantly, this coincided with the development of the club’s website and Facebook group. More people came to hear of the opportunities at Yad Moss. A new generation of users from Manchester, Sheffield, Middlesborough, Newcastle and points between and beyond discovered the accessible, affordable pleasures of Pennine skiing. Two outstanding seasons, 2008/9 and 2009/10 transformed the club’s finances and established a wide user base at which season and day ticket sales could be pitched. With the proceeds of those two seasons a new, to us, piste groomer was purchased from Italy, plans laid for renewal of the generator and a substantial cash reserve was established. The club was financially secure for the foreseeable future given prudent management of the funds and timely use of the internet marketing opportunities now available. In summer 2010, as if to mark this change in the fortunes of the club the long disused Yad 2000 hut , erected in 1982, was demolished and burnt, clearing the way for a new future for the club.
My thanks to Gerard Unthank (photos and video), Peter Thompson (photos), David Morton (photos), Brian Hill (video) and many others for their advice and ideas.
© Yad Moss 2013