Ski Lines: Hickory Ski Center looks to make comeback

Generations of Hickory Hill skiers have ridden the T-bars to the top of the mountain. (Gazette file photo)

Generations of Hickory Hill skiers have ridden the T-bars to the top of the mountain. (Gazette file photo)

“We’re dreaming of a white Hickory.

Just like the one we used to know.”

This version of the seasonal standard could be a popular lyric these days among long-time Hickory Ski Center regulars who are trying  to resuscitate the Warrensburg ski area that has been shut down since the close of  the 2015-16 season. 

The area was one of many across the country founded by veterans returning home from World War II. Vail in Colorado is probably the most famous of that lot, but it is a common link to many places, large and small, that came into being in the late 1940s.

Some spread out and are still with us today. Others served mainly local skiers who lived nearby. Some grew with the times and prospered. Many did not and fell by the wayside. A handful of areas that closed have come back to life and operate today; think of Mount Ascutney in Vermont, Powder Ridge in Connecticut and  Tenny Mountain in New Hampshire. 

Now, think of the Hickory Ski Center.  

Today, there are people who see a future for the area and are planning to bring it back to life, as soon as this winter.

“I have every expectation it will be open this season,” Sue Catana said recently.

More than most, Catana has solid Hickory credentials. Her father Hans Winbauer, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, was — along with wife Fran, and friends Ken and Flo Bates — one of the principals in opening the area in 1947. Like many other young people from the Warrensburg-Glens Falls area, Sue grew up skiing at Hickory. She is one of a handful of people with deep local ties who are leaders in the effort that has created a two-tier model for the future of Hickory.

The most-attention-getting part of the plan is the Legacy Foundation, structured as a 501C-3 not-for-profit to bring low-cost skiing and outdoor programs to young people and families in towns near Hickory. This group, with an all local board of directors led by Warrensburg auto dealer Matt Maciariello, leases the lower part of the ski area including the base lodge, from Ski Hickory Hill Inc., the original stockholders group, a traditional for-profit corporation with its own board of directors now chaired by New Jersey attorney David Cronheim.

Hickory over the years has always been a family-oriented ski center, the lower area highlighted by a big round fireplace in the center of the lodge with common-use cooking gear hung around the edges that people could use to grill their own food. Recently, lights have been added to allow for evening skiing. But what earned Hickory its reputation over the years has been the upper mountain and the challenge of steep, often ungroomed, trails that led generations of devotees to proclaim that this was the place to ski when Vermont’s iconic “Ski It If You Can” Mad River Glen became too tame. 

Families and Challenge: that is the promise of Hickory.  

Sue Catana is a believer. 

“We are in a unique market: telemark, back country, black diamond skiers,” she said.

WILL IT WORK? 

In the early years of Hickory, there was no snowmaking at ski areas anywhere. Grooming was mainly the tracks of the first people down the hill in the morning. What areas there were at the time often relied on surface tows hooked up to old truck engines to haul people up the hill. There was no West Mountain nearby, and while there was the Ski Bowl at North Creek, what we know of as Gore Mountain today did not start until 1964. 

A significant part of the early Hickory skiers came from the population of GE workers in the Capital Region, and many earned season passes by volunteering time at the area.

That was then. Hickory still has no snowmaking and limited grooming capacity, in a time when most skiers are accustomed to high-speed lifts and extensive grooming. While there are still purists in the mix who prefer the more primitive, older ways, many — especially the aging Baby Boomers generation — have moved on to the more mellow challenges of blue square and groomed blacks skiing. 

Hickory does have two paid staffers on the hill this winter, and still welcomes volunteers — but forget about a free pass in return. 

“We had gotten to the point where there were two volunteer pass-holders to every paying customer,” Catana said. “Now we welcome people who show up to help with no more expectations than a ‘Thank you.’”

Getting a ski area that has been idle for years operating again is a major task, even when there is substantial  snowfall. Currently, there is an on-going tussle with New York State over whether Hickory’s existing T-Bar and Poma lifts require an engineering study before they can be certified to operate and, as of now, the area is self-insured pending acquisition on liability insurance coverage.

Funding is of course an issue. Catana sees about $140,000 of projected revenues needed from a mixture of sales and donations. 

One long-time New York Ski Area executive sees the situation differently: “I wish them luck, but, for it to be a sustaining ski area, they need more than passion; $10 million would certainly help.”   

The organizers are certainly optimists, like Hickory Legacy Foundation officer John Braidwood of Queensbury.

“Hickory is in my DNA,” Braidwood  said. “It will succeed. I started skiing there when I was 7 years old. I am 77 now.” 

When the area opens, the pricing of tickets is very modest by current standards. 

The most-expensive season’s pass for the lower mountain only will be $100. A day ticket will be no more than $30. Children 6 and under will ski free. Those who want to ski the upper mountain will need to buy an annual license to access the Poma lifts. The cost for an individual is $300 and for a family, $450 which gives you the right to purchase a day pass for $50 or less, depending on age. 

The plan when the area opens is to operate the lower slopes on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2 to 8 p.m., and the full area Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For the Hickory organizers and skiers everywhere:

May your days be merry and bright.

And may all your ski trails be white.”

KIDS SKI FREE PASSPORT PROGRAM AVAILABLE

Ski Areas of New York is again offering its Kids Ski Free program. 

It features the opportunity to purchase two day ski passes for students in grades 3 and 4, who are accompanied by an adult who buys a regular price ticket, at 23 areas in the state. 

Nearby ski areas in the program include Catamount, Gore, Plattekill, West and Windham. The program does not include rental gear and is not available this week, the Martin Luther King Jr. week in January or the President’s Week school holiday from Feb. 19-27.

For more information, check www.iskiny.com.

MAPLE RIDGE LESSON PROGRAMS START NEXT WEEK

The long-popular Learn-To-Ski and Learn to Snowboard programs at Maple Ski Ridge get underway next week. 

There are a variety of six-week options offered Wednesday through Friday afternoons and evenings, and Saturdays and Sundays. The programs begin Jan. 5. 

For descriptions, specific times and availability, check the area website at www.mapleskiridge.com.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

We are in the midst of the most popular ski weeks of the year. 

If you are not a season-pass holder, be sure to check with your intended destination before leaving home. Capacity limits may come into play. 

Gore, for instance, has no day tickets available this week. There can also be surprises. Mount Snow in Vermont has very limited free parking at the area and that fills up quickly in the morning; additional spots are available at $25 a car. 

So, know before you go. 

Best New Year wishes to all. 

Contact Phil Johnson at [email protected]

Categories: Sports

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