A ski tow, also called rope tow, is a mechanised system for pulling skiers uphill. In its most basic form, it consists of a long rope loop running over a series of wheels, powered by an engine at the upper end. Skiers grab hold of the rope and are pulled along.
The first ski tow was apparently installed in 1933 by Alec Foster built the at Shawbridge in the Laurentians outside Montreal, Quebec.
It was quickly copied at Woodstock, Vermont in New England in 1934 by Bob and Betty Royce, proprietors of the White Cupboard Inn. Their tow was driven by the rear wheel of a Ford Model A. Wallace "Bunny" Bertram took it over for the second season, improved the operation, renamed it from Ski-Way to Ski Tow, and eventually moved it to what became some of Vermont's first major ski areas, including Suicide Six.
Their relative simplicity - a car engine, some rope and a few pullies was all that was needed - made ski tows popular and contributed to an explosion of the sport in the United States and Europe. Before tows, only people willing to walk back uphill could ski; within five years, more than 100 tow ropes were operating in North America.
Although largely supplanted by chair lifts, which have the great advantage of not blocking off a portion of the mountain, rope tows are still common at ski areas around the world, particularly small areas or in relatively flat portions of ski areas devoted to beginners (often called bunny slopes).