Hickory a reminder of bygone ski era

Hickory Hill offers sweeping views of the Adirondacks and Hudson River
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Hickory Hill offers sweeping views of the Adirondacks and Hudson River

Categories: Sports

Hickory ski area in Warrensburg announced last week that it would not open this season. Anyone surprised by that decision just hasn’t been paying attention.

For long-time area skiers, Hickory, with its quaint lodge, rodeo-ride poma lifts and
P-Tex covered rocks, has been a headquarters for sliding nostalgia. It is our local version of Mad River Glen’s “Ski it if you can” challenge.

For most contemporary skiers however, Hickory is a game of checkers in a video games era. Challenging terrain isn’t nearly enough to make up for the lack of modern basics, like snowmaking and grooming.

There are folks who love the idea of retro skiing at an area that hasn’t changed much in more than a half a century. Hickory is that place. However, in recent years, it has been closed more seasons than it has operated. For those who remain fans, the informal slogan has become “Hickory: Ski it while you can!”

Hickory was one of many ski areas across the country started by 10th Mountain Division veterans right after World War II. People could own shares in the area and offset the cost of skiing by volunteering to do maintenance work over the summer and fall. It was a great way for families to ski inexpensively, especially after the Northway was completed and the Capital District became an easy day trip. 

By the 1980s, however, snowmaking had become the lifeblood of Eastern skiing. In seasons with little natural snowfall, the combination of a water supply, air guns and cold temperature could provide most of what nature didn’t, at least enough to sustain sliding — and revenues — throughout the winter months. Miss snow cover and you miss budget targets, too.

Hickory, bound by West Mountain to the south and Gore Mountain to the north, at one time could rely on shareholder and season-pass revenues on top of daily ticket sales. But as winter snowfall became more inconsistent, and operational costs continued to grow, the future became problematic. The volunteer pool that for a long time sustained the area began to dry up. Some big capital improvements were needed for Hickory to compete. It didn’t happen then, and it still hasn’t happened, at least so far. 

Underfunded, Hickory continued to operate through 2006, when it closed, and it remained that way until Saratoga County native William VanPelt IV, a financial executive based in Houston, Tex., stepped in and injected enough cash to re-open the area in 2010.


There have been successes since then. The 2014-15 season brought lots of fresh snow to the southern Adirondacks, and there were days when Hickory attracted as many as 200 skiers, all eager to accept the challenge first offered in 1948. Then came last winter, 2015-16. Hickory never had enough coverage to open — not even for a single day. 

The announcement last week was that Hickory wouldn’t open this season, no matter how much snow might fall before spring. It was not possible to sell enough lift tickets to cover operational costs.

Grim news. But the announcement was not all a downer. It concluded that Hickory was looking forward to reopening “for the winter of 2017-2018 under a re-imagined model aimed at engaging a broad-based community of skiers and families.” 

Majority owner VanPelt has yet to say what that model might be. Hickory board member David Cronheim, a young New Jersey attorney, believes the answer includes growing a program for young families with children and developing back-country opportunities for experienced skiers.

Cronheim is not only a fine skier but as a Cornell University graduate is a principal in The Ivy Ski Club, a 150-member group that now has a lodge at the base of Hickory. It is an energetic young demographic, the kind that the area needs to have a future.

“There are plenty of people who really care about this place,” Cronheim said earlier this week. “When it is open, it has some of the best skiing in the East.”

There is land adjacent to Hickory that is owned by VanPelt, and permits have been acquired to bring water to the hill from the nearby Hudson River.

What is needed to survive is the capital necessary to build the infrastructure: That is well into the seven figures. 
There is no word yet on where that will come from.

FREESTYLE AERIALS

The best aerial skiers in the world will be at the Olympic Jumping Complex Saturday for the Freestyle World Cup event. The competition starts at 2:15 p.m. with the finals set under the lights at 8:15 p.m. The finals will be broadcast Sunday on NBC.

LADIES ONLY

Lapland Lake will again host a ladies-only cross country ski program a week from Saturday (21st) from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the ski center in Benson. Taught by women, the five-hour program includes an area pass, instruction in the classic technique, and lunch. Participants are asked to pre-register at 518-863-4974.

VONN BACK

Lindsey Vonn will be back racing this weekend after nearly a year off the World Cup circuit due to injuries. The 34-year-old already has 76 World Cup victories, most ever by a woman racer. 

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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