Fletch Brightman doesn’t remember the year, but his oldest memory of Ski Venture in West Glenville likely occurred in the 1960s.
“I started coming here when I was 4, so that would have been ’62,” he explained.
The little red A-frame lodge had yet to be built at the foot of the hill. Instead, a tiny shed served as a lodge. After a day of skiing, his feet were so cold that he remembers racing to the shed and sticking his bare feet inside his mom’s rabbit fur coat, waiting for the pain to stop.
On a day like Saturday, that particular memory came to him easily. The temperatures the night before dipped to about minus 10, and the mercury was slow to rise in the morning before reaching into the 20s at midday. Skiers and snowboarders at this members-only facility drew visible breaths on the bitterly cold day, the kind where nose hairs freeze and a balaclava is a must.
On the first weekend of the New Year, Ski Venture was a lively operation hidden amid the trees off of a winding road in the woods of rural West Glenville. Music came from the cars of members who had just parked and the lodge where skiers periodically warmed themselves. Crisp, bright white snow crunched loudly beneath heavy feet.
Skiers and snowboarders chatted like old friends. Some of them, of course, were old friends. Others were lucky to count themselves among this exclusive, largely hidden ski club in Schenectady County.
These sounds — and the rhythmic swooshing of skis down a slope with a 110-foot vertical drop — were winter’s tune Saturday.
“It’s life-changing,” said Brightman, one of the club’s many passionate members, from inside the quaint lodge. “The sport is just life-changing. Mountains are full of people who are just there with big fat smiles. It’s so much fun. They’re so excited all the time. It’s ‘I got new gear!’ one day and ‘I got a season pass!’ another day.”
For the serious skier, Ski Venture is a little slice of old-fashioned heaven. In operation since 1937, the club is the last of its kind in the area. Three other organizations on the same ridge closed down over the years, following a larger trend documented by member Jeremy Davis in his 2012 book “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks.” Beginning in the 1970s, many small ski areas in the Adirondacks and its foothills closed because of inflation, gas shortages and insurance rates.
But Ski Venture remains, and club president Frank Winters owes that success to its diverse terrain and passionate members.
“We’ve got great terrain,” he said. “Throughout the whole area, we’ve got a real easy slope, an intermediate slope and an advanced slope, and now we have trees to ski [among]. We’ve kept overhead really low because members have really taken ownership of this and volunteered their time and talents. And while property was really cheap, we bought it up so that now our biggest expense is the property taxes.”
An entire family pays just $60 a year to call themselves members, which grants them the right to ski anytime, day or night. One member of each family typically receives training to become a “hill master,” meaning they get the keys to the machine shed and learn how to operate the lights and rope tows.
The club has a membership limit of 60 families, which was never a problem until just the past few years. Now, there are waiting lists to get in. Winters believes membership has climbed because word has slowly spread about their hidden gem.
“It’s only about 10 acres here,” said Winters, who wore bright orange snow pants and neon yellow boots Saturday. “That’s pretty tiny, but we ski every inch of it.”
And not much keeps them away, including the previous night’s frigid temperatures. Winters and some other members were out skiing Friday until 10 p.m., with the lights on and the wood stove roaring. He and his family used to spend the night in the lodge so they could ski from dawn to dusk and then some.
Ed Kudlacik, vice president of the club, grooms the trails and does most of the maintenance at the club.
“I asked him for an opinion on a motor one day, and he came up here and started looking around,” Winters said, explaining how his friend joined the club. “Ed has an intense need to tinker, so he welds all these brackets in our benches and cabinets.”
The small lodge was built in the 1970s and today is lined with benches that fold forward to store backpacks and gear and cabinets that hold drinks and food. There’s also a picnic table and woodstove, where members put their feet up to warm their toes.
Though Kudlacik poured much of his “tinkering” talent into the lodge, he admitted Saturday that he favors the club for its lack of a “lodge scene.”
“People who come here come here to ski,” he said, looking out over the lodge from the top of the ridge. “They’re not really into the lodge scene. You know, commercial places have their lodge fully equipped with a bar and a whole bunch of other stuff. People go to sit in the lodge and drink or read or mingle. We don’t have a bar. We’re not into what you wear on the slopes. The people who join are people who like to ski, plain and simple.”
Brightman is a second-generation member who today sports long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail. His mother joined the club in 1942. His father, who served in World War II, joined after the war and went on to serve as president for several years.
Brightman recalled a rule his father always had about ski gear.
“He grew up in the Depression, so he always said you either make it or fix it. He would never get us new gear, so we’d fix it ourselves. Back then, everybody wore leather boots and used skis just like these,” he said with a laugh, pointing to a pair of vintage wooden skis hung in a criss-cross on the lodge walls and running a finger down their leather straps and metal bindings.
By the time Brightman’s children came of age, snowboarding had become popular.
“When I started here, it was all skiing,” he said. “There was no such thing as snowboarding. I got my kids snowboards, though, and next thing you know, I’m borrowing my daughter’s board. It was really small but super-flexible and easy to learn. People ask me now if I like to ski or board more. I have to say boarding. It’s just more playful.”