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Wintering in Quincy, or was it St. Moritz?

QUINCY -- On a typical winter morning, not much breaks the stillness of the woods behind the Shea Memorial Rink in West Quincy.

Traffic hums in the distance, and there are the occasional barking dogs out for a walk with their owners around the two ponds between Wampatuck Road and Willard Street. Hikers and cross-country skiers pass by on the trails into the state's Blue Hills Reservation.

Standing at the bottom of a steep hill, though, near the upper pond, one can look up and imagine what once was on this spot: a 60-foot long ski jump, 400-feet high, lined with hundreds of spectators.

The foundation for the ski jump is still at the top, the location of what had been the centerpiece of one of the premier winter sports venues in the Northeast.

Between 1929 and the early 1940s, West Quincy was home to the St. Moritz Winter Carnival, an annual event that drew tens of thousands of visitors and some of the top athletes in the country. Olympic figure and speed skaters performed at the festival.

In addition to the ski jump, which was the largest in the state at the time, the winter playground had a pair of toboggan runs, a snowshoe and cross-country ski course, and the two skating ponds, which were used for figure-skating exhibitions, barrel jumping, and hockey games.

The remarkable history of Quincy's St. Moritz outdoor recreation area, named after a village in the Swiss Alps and site of the 1928 Olympics, is the subject of an exhibit in the first-floor lobby of Presidents Place office building in Quincy Square.

The Quincy Quarry Museum and Blue Hills Adventures, both headed by David Hodgdon, organized the exhibit, which includes photographs and artifacts. The exhibit also includes displays on the Winter Olympics, which Hodgdon has attended as a member of the Nordic Ski Patrol. The exhibit will be up through March and is timed to coincide with this year's Winter Olympics.

The St. Moritz winter carnivals featured parades, balls, and the crowning of the carnival queen. Throngs came to see the athletes, among them Olympian Roger F. Turner of Milton, one of the top US figure skaters of the 1930s and a two-time silver medalist in the skating world championships.

While elite athletes performed at the annual St. Moritz winter carnival, local people used the recreation area at other times.

''It was wonderful," said John A. Laukkanen, 86, who has lived in West Quincy all of his life. ''It's too bad we don't have it today."

Laukkanen recalls going off the ski jump, a feat he attempted only once.

''That was enough," he said. ''It was kind of exhilarating. I landed on the skis for a moment and then quickly was on my backside."

Laukkanen remembers the log cabin on the grounds, where visitors could get their skates sharpened and enjoy hot chocolate. ''They had iron fireplaces around the pond, and you could gather some scrap wood and get warm," he said.

Tom Bonomi, 51, also a lifelong West Quincy resident, is too young to recall St. Moritz, but he remembers the tales of his father and uncle.

''My father went off that ski jump," Bonomi said. ''I kept the skis he used, and gave them to Dave [Hodgdon] to put in the exhibit."

Hodgdon, 63, said, ''As a kid I vaguely remember the area. My father would take us driving on Wampatuck Road and we stopped at the toboggan run. The ski jump was gone by then."

A private group, called the Blue Hill Recreation Association, built the winter sports complex with support from the city of Quincy and the Metropolitan District Commission, which owned the Blue Hills Reservation.

Built before the days of ice- and snow-making, the recreation area and festivals were vulnerable to the vagaries of New England winters.

In 1940, the festival was postponed because there was no snow. A week later, a huge storm hit, and the festival had to be canceled because the ponds were buried in snow.

During World War II, the festival ended and the recreation area fell into disuse. ''Everything was going into the war effort," said Laukkanen.

The structures deteriorated in the 1950s and early 1960s, falling victim to fire and vandalism. After the Shea rink opened, ''Keep off the Ice" signs were posted at the ponds.

Laukkanen said not much remains of St. Moritz. The former ballroom on Willard Street is now a warehouse. The St. Moritz name has survived on some of the establishments on Willard Street.

''It's all overgrown with weeds now," Laukkanen said. ''The only thing that's left is the ponds and the trail between them."

Robert Preer can be reached at

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