Ski Lines: Region enjoys abundance, variety of ski options

​The first inductees of Willard Mountain's Ski and Sports Club Hall of Fame were recently honored. From left: Eric Piper standing in for his sister Patti Piper Moles, Dave Vanderzee on behalf of his dad Dave Vanderzee, Jim Smiley and Mike Annett. (Photo courtesy Cliff Oliver)

The first inductees of Willard Mountain's Ski and Sports Club Hall of Fame were recently honored. From left: Eric Piper standing in for his sister Patti Piper Moles, Dave Vanderzee on behalf of his dad Dave Vanderzee, Jim Smiley and Mike Annett. (Photo courtesy Cliff Oliver)

A good friend of mine does national recruiting for his local employer. He claims he can tell if a person is right for his firm in the first 30 seconds of the interview.

“I mention that we have lots of great skiing nearby,” he told me. “If the candidate breaks into a big smile, I know we have our person. If there is no reaction, chances are we are not a match.”  

There is no question that we are blessed by the number and variety of ski options we have nearby — and the data suggests our population likes it. Only the Denver area reports a higher percentage of residents who claim to be skiers. 

Now these options come in all sizes. We share the big areas like Whiteface, Gore and Hunter, Stratton, Okemo and Mount Snow with people who come long distances to ski. 

There are plenty of medium layouts, too, such as West, Windham, Plattekill, Catamount, Jiminy and Bromley that are a bit more bite-sized but offer plenty.

Then there are the small areas such as Maple Ski Ridge in Mariaville, Willard in Greenwich, Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake and Oak Mountain in Speculator. All have been around more than 50 years and, even if you are a big hill person or a destination ski-weeker now, chances are you spent time honing your skills at places like these that check in with less than 1,000 feet of vertical.  

Earlier this fall, the role that these smaller areas can play was underscored by a dinner at Willard Mountain celebrating the first inductees into its Ski and Sports Club  Hall of Fame. Dave Vanderzee, a financial services executive based in Clifton Park, stood in for one of the first four named to the Hall: his dad, the late Dave Vanderzee who was the founder of Willard in 1957 and away in 1991.

Growing up at Willard, the younger Vanderzee talked recently about the community and culture of the small ski area. 

“It is a grassroots organization — more affordable, family-oriented, a first-name-basis kind of place,” he said. “Carpooling to the hill, and shared  lunches in the lodge were common.”

And  lifelong friendships started here.

“I still am in touch with people I grew up with at Willard.”  

Some remarkable results come from such places. For Willard, the light has shined on the racing program over the years. Other inductees in the Hall of Fame that evening were Patti Piper Moles who was a nationally ranked racer in the late 1970s, legendary coach Mike Annett who ran the racing program in the 1970s and early ’80s and Jim Smiley of  Ballston Spa who has played an active role in the Willard race program through multiple generations of family participants.

Vanderzee knows about this first hand; while his dad was managing the ski area, he was more than  just an observer. He grew up in the race program, skied in college and in FIS races, winning a Can-Am series title in the early 1980s. He continues to be an active competitor, regularly topping the field in the New York Capital District Ski Council races.

The Willard story is not unique. Small ski areas for years  have made an outsized contribution to ski competition. Places like Buck Hill outside Minneapolis and Brantling near Rochester, Cochran in Vermont, and Bosquet and Nashoba Valley in Massachusetts have produced some top talent for the U.S. Ski team. Doug Lewis, who was the emcee of the Willard event, knows this well.  A top World Cup racer in the 1980s and member of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, he grew up near the 900-foot vertical Middlebury Snow Bowl in Vermont.  

But it is not all about racing at the smaller areas. Ski instruction is a common focus. 

Maple Ski Ridge has provided early instruction for 57 years this winter, specializing in getting first-timers, or those who have been away from the sport for a long time, up and sliding. Its after-school and weekend programs are well-known and popular, typically beginning in January and continuing into February. Not everything here is small; the Maple Ski Ridge Snowsports School has more than 75 ski and snowboard instructors giving regular lessons this winter.

Kids who learn early tend to stick with it. 

Frequent sidekick Skyler Johnson, now a teenager, took her first lesson as a 4-year-old at Royal Mountain. The instructor was a college student home on semester break. The two of them had fun. There were the “piece of pizza” turns on the gentle beginner slope to start. After a couple of trips, the next run included a break for snow angels, with Skyler and the instructor both laughing in the snow. That great day outdoors has launched years keeping an eager watchful eye out for the first flurries every fall, and lots of good weekends and holidays in the winter.

Now you can do all of this at larger areas. But nearby is nice — the drive to the hill is probably shorter, the cost is generally less, the lodges are homey, the lift lines are manageable and chances are the slopes are not crowded.  Since those at the hill usually come from the local area, there is often a Cheers-like atmosphere all around the area. This year, with the popularity of skiing experiencing a bump in popularity, Willard, and Oak Mountain in Speculator have cut off season-pass sales in an effort to limit crowds on the hill.

Like ski areas of all sizes, small ones haven’t had an easy time over the years. More didn’t make it than did.  Some in the area  that have disappeared  include  Big Rock Candy Mountain outside Troy, Alpine Meadows in South Corinth, Silver Bells in Wells, Eagle Mountain in Pattersonville, Shu-Maker in Little Falls, Mount Raimer in Petersburg and Scotch Valley in Stamford. The ski business is a tough one that often requires leap-of -faith capital investment, and cooperation from Mother Nature — and  it requires commitment of ownership, which in small areas are usually people who spend most of their time out on the hill, not behind a desk in the office. Those areas we have with us now have proven staying power with appealing programs that keep new audiences coming and old friends coming back.

CALLED OFF

Word just came in that the 2021 World University Winter Games scheduled for Switzerland later this month have been canceled. 

The games, held every two years, were originally set for last January, but postponed due to COVID-related matters. Now, with more pandemic-related issues and travel restrictions in Europe, organizers determined it would not be possible to hold the games. 

The next FISU games, the largest winter sports competition apart from the Olympic Games, are scheduled for Lake Placid in January 2023.       

NORDIC COMBINED AND SKI JUMPING TRIALS

Looking for something to do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? 

The competition to determine who will represent the United States in the Ski Jumping and in the Nordic Combined events at the Winter Olympics in February will be held Dec. 24 and 25, the first major competitions at the recently upgraded Mount Van Hoevenberg and Olympic Jumping Complex sites in Lake Placid.

Tickets for both days are available. 

WINTERSTEIGER TUNING

The best ski equipment in the world isn’t much help if it’s not well-maintained. 

With skis, that once meant either long hours in the basement or garage working on sharpening edges and waxing the base. Or, you could hand off the job to a ski shop where you hoped the tech and the tune were in sync with your needs. 

Today, computers are taking over the task. Three years ago, The Sports Page in Glens Falls was first in the area to bring in a Wintersteiger, an Austrian-made tuning machine, followed last year by Alpin Haus in Amsterdam and now added by The Alpine Sports Shop in Saratoga and High Adventure in Latham. 

The characteristics of the tune are now determined by computer-driven software installed with these machines. The tune is more precise, and you can tell the difference on the hill. Now, you can be confident that your ski prep is as good as your ski gear. 

Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected].

Categories: Sports

Leave a Reply