Vernier Hill – Grosse Pointe Shores

On November 11, 2012, Roc Roney posted the following comment on our About MILSAP page informing us of a NEW lost ski area, Vernier Hill.

From the late 1960s to mid 70s we skied on the east side of the N slope of Vernier Hill and sledded on the west side. It was actually a mound, elevation less than 50+ feet above the street and reportedly formed from soils removed while excavating a stretch of I-94 along Harper Road a few miles to the west. It loomed above the distinctive but not so celebrated Vernier School which Albert Kahn designed in 1915 along with the Village Offices just to the east (http://www.gphistorical.org/league03.html). By the 60’s, the school building was used for storage and as a polling place and it was razed during the 1980s. The school and adjacent road were named for the Vernier Family, original french settlers and “Strip Farmers” of the property. The land continues to be used for municipal purposes and is located at the corner of Vernier Road and Lake Shore Drive in the city of the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores, Wayne County, Mi.

Back then, Stan Vernier and his wife Marge still lived in the family farm-house right next to the village building. Stan worked for the Village. He and his crew maintained the streets, parks and harbor improvements. They did it all, from weekly refuse pick-up (in 3 wheeled scooters) to regular street washing during the peak of fish fly season. When snow fell they plowed the streets and swept the sidewalks clean. Upon request they would clear ice rinks on Lake St. Clair for us. They also started up the rope tow on the hill, while we would trip and replug in the tether ourselves. I recall them making snow using the two below-grade water connections located on the N slope. These guys were my heroes.

The big kids taught me to ski on Vernier Hill. Later, during the freestyle boom they built jumps and perfected their back-scratchers and daffys. Even the sledders had their thrills. Like most good sled slopes, Vernier Hill featured a few trees within the run out where I saw stars on more than one occasion.

I assume that it was a sign of the times and the advice of attorneys and insurance auditors that forced the Village to mitigate the risk associated with Vernier Hill. Rope tow service was discontinued in the 70’s and sometime in the 80’s the top 1/3 or so of the mound was excavated leaving a less than thrilling sledding incline barely discernible from the lawn mower tracks on Google Earth.

We thank Roc for his historical information about this former tow-served municipal ski area. Although shorter than it used to be, it still appears on a list of sledding hills in the Detroit area. If anyone has more information about tow-served skiing at Vernier Hill, please leave a comment or send it to us via the directions on the About MILSAP page.

4 Responses to Vernier Hill – Grosse Pointe Shores

  1. Rich Kingston says:

    Always wondered how that was formed. I played Little league on the diamond in front of it.
    The bottom of the hill was straight away center. I was hauled into the Shores building police station some years later with my High School buddies, but that is a different story. Is the hill still there? RK

  2. MILSAP says:

    Joe La Rue says:
    January 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm (Edit)
    RE: Vernier Hill: We broke in new skis there around 1963? ’64? Yes, there was a simple tow rope off to the east side of the hill, and usually a City employee keeping all well in a shack at the top (before the rope plug was tethered). There was usually one or two small mounds built up near the bottom, giving kids their first taste of air. I remember a snow gun in operation, too. Grosse Pointe is still a great place to live but I wish my kids had the opportunity to know it as I knew it.
    Reply

  3. Bill says:

    I cut my mountain biking teeth on this hill in the late 1980’s. Living in St. Clair Shores at the time, this was the only hill for miles around. I had to throw my bike over the fence and then hop it to get inside the grounds. Good memories.

  4. jeff toepler says:

    During the late 1970s and early 1980’s I ran high school cross country as part of Grosse Pointe North High School, and that hill and field was used for our meets. We would run up to the top of the hill and then down and around the outer edges of the field. Many, many found memories. Also when I was younger my friends and I would snow sled down the hill. It puzzles me why they dismantled it. All they needed to do is have a very big sign that would say “the village (now city ) of Grosse Pointe shores is not responsible for any injury from using this field or hill. Please enter and use at your own risk”…. and therefore no risk of lawsuit…..please let me know if I am missing something or if the litigation issue is more complex than that….

    In addition, Grosse Pointe Shores tore down such a wonderful historic landmark–Vernier School, which could have been saved and used as a community center. And finally they took away a large drinking fountain, that stood for many years. This fountain was designed, built and used by horses.

    It really concerns me when we destroy history……And in fairness to Grosse Pointe Shores, I do not direct this only to them, but to the Detroit metro community at large….Our history is precious and should not be so carelessly discarded.

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