By Berne Broudy


Mickey Cochran. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Cochran

In 1960, Mickey Cochran, a passionate skier and mechanical engineer from Burlington, Vermont had his heart set on building his own backyard ski hill. When he and his wife Ginny—they met skiing--spotted a ramshackle farmhouse with a steep hill behind it en route to carving early season turns at Stowe, they bought it.


Photo courtesy of Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum

Mickey started cutting trees. With the hillside cleared, he rigged up a 400-foot rope tow behind the house using an old tractor engine, and strung lights to illuminate the slopes so he and Ginny and their four kids could ski after school and work. The Cochran’s opened their home and their backyard to the townspeople. Their kitchen became the ski area’s unofficial warming hut, and one of America’s most legendary community-based ski areas was born.

Winter after winter, all winter long, Mickey and his kids ran gates and trained obsessively. It paid off. Since then, over generations, ten Cochrans have represented the United States in the World Cup and six have been Olympians. “It’s like the book stone soup,” says Jim Cochran, a former US Ski Team member, former Olympian, Mickey’s grandson and now the ski area manager. “You start with nothing, and people come together and create something amazing.”


Photo courtesy of Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum

That’s Cochran’s legacy. Or maybe that’s Cochran’s magic. And 50 years later, the magic continues… Cochran’s is the only ski hill where you can book a lesson with an Olympic gold medalist for you and your toddler. Geared towards young families, a season’s pass is closer to a day ticket price at other resorts, and skiing for the afternoon is cheaper than childcare. Cochran says that the resort is a great place for kids gaining independence. “You can go up the T-bar with your little buddy, and ski with and without mom and dad,” said Cochran. “It’s safe and small.”


Ginny, Barbara Ann, and Mickey Cochran. Back home after Barbara Ann’s Gold Medal performance in slalom at 1972 winter olympics in Sapporo, Japan. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Cochran.

It’s also a family affair. Aunt Barbara, Slalom gold medalist in the 1972 Olympic Games teaches parents and tots joint lessons. The ski area is governed by a board made up of family and community members, and it’s still on family-owned land.


Cochran’s welcomes skiers of all ages. “Parents come with kids barely walking and they’ll try it,” said Cochran. “If they ask me if they should buy a ticket when it’s just a parent and their three-year-old, I tell them to give it a try and it they think they got your money’s worth, buy a ticket.”

And Cochran’s ticket prices can’t be beat. A weekend adult ticket is $19, five and unders ski free. It’s $295 for a family season’s pass, and $5 for night skiing on Fridays. Since the 1980s, kids have been coming to Cochran’s for after school skiing, and where many aspiring racers run their first gates.

Every weekend the parking lot is packed. But the first weekend in April is one not to be missed. Cochran’s hosts a downhill Nordic ski festival, that includes a Nordic Cross. “Anyone can come,” said Cochran. “Participate or spectate. It’s amazing to watch people throwing 360s off jumps on Nordic skis.”

Photo by Pennie Rand

The last Friday of the season is also the annual Ropeathon. Two hundred skiers race to log a million vertical feet in an evening—400 feet up and 400 feet down--to raise money for Cochran’s programs. The rope tow clangs at full tilt—it’s 30 seconds of glove-shredding, arm burning focus to get to the top. At the base, wise guy high schoolers hockey stop, spraying their friends, then take another lap.


It’s Cochran’s mission to stay affordable, and to give the community an outdoors venue to congregate in winter. They vow that “no child will be denied the opportunity to ski or ride." College teams, secondary schools, the Boys and Girl’s Club—Vermont kids come in droves. “There is no way those kids would have exposure to skiing without the lessons and equipment that Cochran’s provides,” says David Healy, a volunteer coach, and former Cochran’s Executive Director.

And if you need financial assistance, just ask. Contact Cochran’s through their webpage, and they’ll comp a ticket and provide gear when available. And if you can afford it, be generous. Cochran says that as a non-profit, Cochran’s depends on fundraising to stay open.

Photo by Pennie Rand