Rod Taylor, a passionate and somewhat crazy disciple of snow sports, has died.
Taylor, who owned the small Woodbury ski area since 1972, passed away Saturday, just two days before his 71st birthday.
I’ve known Taylor for decades and have seen his passion in turning the small ski area into a year-long recreational area. Through private lessons or by “ski camp,” he taught thousands of people to ski at his tiny area nestled in a small valley.
Taylor, a former member of the US Ski Team, often got into fights with neighbors who didn’t like his summer music series, especially the ganga-scented reggae concerts. Among the performers who played Woodbury were Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff, Third World, Lucky Dube, Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Big Mountain, Burning Spear, Majek Fashek, Alpha Blonde and Culture.
Taylor’s area was always the first ski area to open in the New England. Sure, the only snow was on the small slope, but nonetheless, it still counted. Taylor frequently pissed off big mountain resorts like Killington in Vermont for taking away the first to open crown. It’s just a small slope, not real skiing, the big ski areas’ PR people would say.
Taylor would just smile and say, “We were still the first ski area to open in New England. Period.”
He also made sure all the TV assignment editors knew of the opening to get it on the six AM and PM news; a natural segue into the weather forecast.
Rod used to stay up nights waiting for that small window of opportunity when temperatures got cold enough to turn on the snow guns. One time, he told me, he fell asleep while making snow. When he woke up, he was covered with a thick blanket of machine-made snow.
Taylor later opened a ski tubing hill across the road from the ski area that brought in needed revenue.
Taylor had his share of lawsuits stemming from accidents that happened on ski trails and tubing slopes. He somehow managed to survive those slippery legal slopes.
As always, there was the fickle winter weather to deal with in the Banana Belt of New England. After rain downpours and deep freezes, Rod would be out there again firing up the snow fans, making sure the live cam on Woodbury’s web site was pointed straight at them.
Taylor, who owned Woodbury for 42 years, was also one of the first people to embrace snowboarders to his area. They could always count on Rod to have just enough snow for making turns and catching air.
One odd idea followed another including offering snow bikes that allowed people to ride down his hill, kind of like what the Beatles did in the movie “Help.”
Taylor also helped introduce the annual “Chanukah on the Slopes” that attracted thousands of Jews from the tri-state area. Each December, there was a giant ice menorah lighting, Jewish music, Chanukah movies, entertainers, kosher food, Chanukah crafts for kids, and Judah Macabee (the Chanukah hero) distributing Chanukah gifts. A nice kosher event from someone who wasn’t Jewish.
Now commonplace, he was one of the first ski area owners to make their areas a year-round attraction.
In the warm weather months, Taylor kept things hopping at Woodbury with a skate park, ziplines and tubing down its slopes. How did he do that? Chick HERE for a video.
Woodbury isn’t a big area, but it does have some steep slopes and nice glades. I remember times skiing with Rod through the woods after a big dump of snow. I could never keep up with him, especially his jumps. What did I expect from a member of an Olympic ski team?
I’ll never know how Taylor managed to keep his ski area running; even make a living off of it. I guess his degree in economics and a good sense of PR helped.
With Rod’s passing, the future of his ski area remains uncertain. He was the heart and soul of the place; I can’t imagine it surviving without him.
Rest in peace Rod.
I’ll take a run for you in your memory next winter.
P.S. Put in a good word for us in New England with Ullr, the snow god. We need his help because of global warming.
Here’s Rod Taylor’s death notice:
Former U.S. Olympic ski team member Roderick G. Taylor, age 70, of Morris, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday July 5, 2014. He was the husband of Carolyn ( Hall ) Taylor.
Rod was born in Hartford, CT on July 7, 1943, son of the late Leslie and Elinor (Chichester Gaines ) Taylor.
Rod graduated from local West Hartford Schools. He received his B.S. degree in Economics from Western State College of Colorado. A world class athlete and tennis pro, Rod was most recognized for his contributions to the U.S. Olympic Ski Team from 1967-1971, gaining the title of National Downhill Champion in 1970 after winning Aspen’s famed Roche Cup.
He continued to compete on the World Pro Ski Racing Circuit, followed by the U.S. Masters Ski Racing circuit, medaling in both Slalom and Downhill.
In 1972, Rod bought what is now Woodbury Ski Area, a true love, and developed it into a premier recreational facility in Connecticut.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sisters Leslie (Mimi) Beggs of Rhode Island and Suzanne Abbott of Texas; a brother, Hatch Taylor of South Carolina;and three nieces and five nephews. In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his brother, Tony.
Visitation: Calling hours will be on Wednesday, July 9, at the Munson-Lovetere Funeral Home, 235 Main St. North, Southbury, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Services: Funeral services will be conducted at Christ Church Quaker Farms, 470 Quaker Farms Rd. in Oxford, on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Interment will follow in Brookside Cemetery, Oxford.
Memorials: Contributions in Rod’s memory may be made to U.S. Ski and Snow Board Team Foundation, P.O. Box 100, 1 Victory La. Park City, UT 84060 or Western State College of Colorado University Ski Team.
Cemetery: Brookside Cemetery, Oxford.