Each November, I look forward to a day trip over to the Boston Ski Show, where ski areas — near and far, manufacturers and other related snow-sports enterprises gather to showcase the coming season. It is a great event to whet the appetite of all folks looking ahead to winter.
This fall, I spent some time at the show talking with author Jeremy Davis, whose new book “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks” had just been published by The History Press.
It is a fascinating look at the sport in our region over the past 75 years, spotlighting areas that you may have skied at one time, but no longer exist. There are 39 of these areas from Ticonderoga to Old Forge to the Northern Saratoga County. While the Schenectady Wintersports Club plays a large part in many of the stories, Davis had to make a cut somewhere, and Schenectady County ski hills are not included.
This is his third book, following earlier efforts on “Lost Ski Areas of the White Mountains,” published in 2008, and “Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont,” issued in 2010. Davis, who is a meteorologist with Weather Routing Inc., a private weather reporting service based in Glens Falls, decided to write these books in response to feedback he received from a website www.nelsap.org that he started while a college student in the late 1990s.
“When I was learning how to ski on a trip with my parents, we came across an old ski area that had been abandoned. I thought that was pretty cool” said Davis.
“I always liked history and solving mysteries and discovering things, so I just started exploring. With the website, people began to share their stories. Now, with scanners and digital cameras becoming so common, it has become a lot easier to document our history.”
I was reconnected with the Davis book last weekend at the Ski Bowl in North Creek. This, as Gore skiers know, is the little cousin of the nearby large state area and is now linked to the main mountain by Olympic Regional Development Authority management and a lift and trail interconnect. While the lure for many may be this backdoor access to the main area, the Snow Bowl can be fun all by itself. There is a triple chair lift for access to the top; there are both a steep pitch and old-style windy trails back to the base area; and a short lift to some gentle terrain just right for those new to skiing or riding. Then there is the tubing park with its own tow and brand of outdoor fun.
Sure, the Ski Bowl is secondary to the main area now. But once, “Little Gore” was the whole deal.
As Davis outlines at length in his book, this was the “epicenter of the development of downhill skiing in the Southern Adirondacks.”
And it was The Schenectady Wintersports Club, founded in November 1932 by Vincent Schaefer, that got it going.
Vehicles were organized to take people to the top of the mountain on trails cleared by club members and members of the Gore Mountain Ski Club that had been formed about the same time. The phrase “Ride Up and Slide Down” was coined by Wintersports member Bill Gluesing to underscore that skiing was not just for climbers anymore. And the next year, Lois Schaefer formed a first-aid committee to assist injured skiers, now considered to be the first ski patrol in the country.
In March 1934, the first Ski Train arrived in North Creek, a welcome alternative to the icy, windy roads to the mountain at the time, and in 1935, the first ski lift in New York state, a rope tow, was up and running on Dec. 20. According to Carl Schaefer, the power source for the lift was a six-cylinder, 1929 Buick that cost $25. Tickets for the tow were 25 cents for 10 rides.
The North Creek Ski Bowl, after years of decline in the shadow of the much larger state run Gore area, closed in 1977. But with some creative land swaps and state funding, it has been coming back to life since the tubing park was opened in 2003.
The North Creek story is just one of many in the Davis book. One of my favorite tales covers The Punch Bowl in Ticonderoga, which one day in January 1938 drew an impressive 648 skiers to an 11-car train for a 21⁄2-hour train ride from Schenectady, where it was met by “nearly the entire local population.” After a long day, the train left Ticonderoga at 6 p.m. with many of those on board dancing all the way back to Schenectady.
Other profiles I especially enjoyed covered Silver Bells in Wells, no doubt the most lyrical ski area name ever, and Alpine Meadows in South Corinth, just outside Saratoga Springs, which became Adirondack Ski Center, then Alpine Meadows again, before it closed in 1987 and could not get going again, at least in part of a property ownership dispute. With more that 1,000 feet of vertical, this remains the largest of the Adirondack areas to close over the years.
There are a lot of great stories in the book, along with descriptions of the people who were pioneers of local skiing.
And what’s next for Davis? Well, he continues to work his website and collect stories and pictures about Eastern skiing. And the next book? Probably “The Lost Ski Areas of the Northern Adirondacks.”
A major reason so many ski areas have closed over the years is simply the cost of keeping them open. Probably the greatest challenge these days is snowmaking and the financial investment needed to pump water and create snow cover when what comes from nature is in short supply. Hit particularly hard by this the past two seasons is the Hickory Ski Center, outside Warrensburg.
Hickory has been around since the late 1940s and is especially liked by those who look for challenging steep terrain. But the area has little snowmaking, at least right now, and was open only one weekend last year and has yet to open this winter.
It still plans to open this winter as snowfall allows.
While the U.S. ski team has been missing stars like Bode Miller, Lindsay Vonn and Hannah Kearney for much of this season, there have been some solid international results by competitors with ties to our region.
Perhaps the most impressive is teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, a senior at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. For followers of regional competition, Shiffrin is not a stranger. She earned the Don A. Metivier Golden Ski award as the best female skier in the East the past two years.
But while she was impressive on a national level a year ago, few expected such quick success on the International scene, where she has won three World Cup slalom events against the best in the world already this year.
Also competing at the highest level internationally are North Country veteran biathletes Tim Burke of Paul Smith’s and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, who finished fifth in a biathlon relay in Oberhof, Germany recently, and Saranac Lake’s Peter Frenette, who had an 11th-place finish in an international ski jumping competition last week.
Rounding back into shape for another Winter Olympics next year is Bill Demong, originally from Vermontville, outside of Saranac Lake, His gold medal at the 2012 Games in Vancouver was the first ever won by an American Nordic Combined athlete in the games.
And in the up-and-coming category, teenager Brian Halligan of Wilton will be competing in the Junior World Championships in biathlon, starting later this month in Austria.
Kearney made a successful return to the moguls World Cup circuit Thursday with a win in the ASANA Freestyle Cup at Whiteface Mountain.
Kearney missed the first two World Cup races this season after fracturing two ribs during a training crash in Switzerland in October.
“I expected myself to pick up where I left off, and I think I did,” Kearney said. “I think that’s what I’m the most proud of, both with the results and my skiing.”
Kearney, of Norwich, Vt., has won the moguls event at Whiteface Mountain four straight years. Last season, she was the overall World Cup leader, and set the record for most consecutive World Cup victories in moguls with 16, dating back to the previous season.
Czech skier Nikola Sudova took second place, while Australian Britteny Cox was third. American Heather McPhie retained the overall lead in the World Cup standings, despite not qualifying for the semifinals. McPhie had won the previous two World Cups this winter.