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Mark Parobeck: North Creek's 'accidental entrepreneur'

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Mark Parobeck: North Creek's 'accidental entrepreneur'

'I love the idea of falling out of bed in the morning and being right by the the ski area'
Mark Parobeck: North Creek's 'accidental entrepreneur'
Mark Parobeck and his wife, Meg, at Gore Mountain.
Photographer: Provided

NORTH CREEK — Entrepreneurs are hard-charging, numbers-obsessed, bottom-lined-focused risk takers whose lives are defined by the deal, and the deal after that. 

Well, not necessarily.

Take Mark Parobeck for example. 

The 47-year-old from Saratoga Springs is married, tries to ski every day he can, as often as possible with his two sons, and he schedules at least an hour a day to write what he hopes some day will be a published novel.

An entrepreneur? As co-owner with brother Matt of The Lodge in North Creek and the adjacent new restaurant Beck's, Parobeck qualifies — well maybe as an accidental one, if you follow his story. 

It begins when he was looking for a winter place to ski with his family. Sons James, now 11, and Henry, 10, were developing skiers and wife Meg, a social worker in Saratoga, enjoys cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities.

He looked in the usual places, mainly across the border at the many options in Vermont. Then a friend, Saratoga physician and ski enthusiast Martin Ferillo, suggested he look at Gore Mountain in North Creek, the argument being that the skiing was at least as good as Vermont and the area was much closer to home.

Parobeck had grown up outside of Pittsburgh and learned to ski at areas in Pennsylvania. He came to the Capital Region to attend Skidmore College, stayed in the area, married and started a family. He taught his boys how to ski early at West Mountain in Queensbury. 

In Saratoga, Parobeck was involved with restorations, using both woodworking skills and art talent to work on older homes.

Mp - 1 (3).jpg
Mark Parobeck skis as often as possible with sons James, 11, and Henry, 10. (Provided)

But if skiing and Gore Mountain were going to be involved, he needed a local base.

Turns out it was not exactly what he had in mind, but the answer was right there: the Valhaus Motel, a line of 12 rooms right along Peaceful Valley Road less than half mile from the access road to Gore. This may have been prime lodging in the early years after New York state opened Gore in 1964. But not much had been done with the property in recent years. It was just limping along when Parobeck came into the picture in 2013.

He wanted a place close to the mountain, and he loved restoration work. "The price was right and that's when I became an accidental hotel owner" he said recently.

"I love the idea of falling out of bed in the morning and being right by the the ski area. And when I go to bed at night, I love hearing the snowmaking and grooming machines at work.

"I could never afford a place like that in Vermont."

Parobeck's degree from Skidmore was in accounting. He understands a balance sheet, "but I have never wanted to wear a suit and tie."

Given his work experience and his interests, he sees himself as an artist. Brother Matt, his partner in North Creek  who also lives in Saratoga Springs and is a skier, was trained as a chemical engineer.

"We complement each other," Mark said. "I am the artist, the optimist. He is the engineer, the realist."

There is a third brother, Doug, who is in management in New York City. He is part of the business but less involved in operations.

The hotel called The Lodge is hard to miss. It is right by the mountain just before you turn to go up the Gore access road. This may be North Creek, but The Lodge it is not a cheap date. Double rooms can run $250 a night or more during the height of ski season. The two-bedroom units have all been modernized and all feature artwork by Mark and others in the Parobeck family.

Finding a place to eat close by is easy. Across  the parking lot is Beck's, a German-themed restaurant Mark and Matt opened last summer.

Beck's is not the gingerbread-style building with heavy dark wood often seen in German restaurants. Rather it is a converted house with a modern wood-and-steel-design interior with tables and benches. The menu does feature traditional items like schnitzel and sauerbraten.

Why a German restaurant when comfort food is a more standard offering at places near ski areas?

"My wife and I were in the Austrian Alps a few years ago and we liked what we saw. Besides, barVino on Main Street in North Creek is a different kind of place. And it is amazing. We wanted the same kind of distinct feel."

So far it seems to be working just fine. 

Parobeck had never run a hotel in the past, let alone a restaurant. "There are a tremendous number of moving parts." he admits. 

He has taken on management almost by instinct rather than instruction.

"Protocols follow people" he says. "If you listen and people know you listen, they become the solution. 

"We have procedures in place. That is essential. But those are based on what we have learned from the people who work here."

Over the years, North Creek has proven not to be an easy conquest. As a  state-operated ski area, it is unlikely Gore will go out of business. And the Hudson River that flows through town gives the area a vibrant summer rafting business. While it is not right on a highway, road access to the town via Routes 28 and 8 is very good.

There are longtime problems however, such as a lack of a downtown water-purification system.

Entrepreneurial activity in the area has been a mixed bag in the past. The largest effort by Long Island developer Elliot Monter once showed great promise and he invested heavily along Main Street in the town and and in housing outside the village. But he lost interest and left town 20 years ago, and no one with those resources or background has come in since. The Front Street residential project alongside the North Creek Ski Bowl has been stalled for more than 10 years now and the renewal of a train to North Creek in recent years has yet to take off. 

But Parobeck is not a voice in  the wilderness. Sharon and Greg Taylor over time have proven you can succeed in the area. The two converted a ramshackle old hotel into the elegant Friends Lake Inn and, since selling that, have created luxury accommodations at the Fern Lodge on Friends Lake and the Alpine Hotel in North Creek. Laurie Prescott Arnheiter, long a North Creek activist, has just celebrated 20 years as owner of the appealing Hudson River Trading Co. on Main Street. And then there is barVino down the street.

To outsiders, barVino, with its focus on fine wines, craft beers and small-plates menu, seemed like a real stretch when it was opened by Mike Bowers and family. But recently it celebrated its 10th anniversary, and it remains a very popular spot. Every ski town has its Cheers-like place, and Basil and Wicks on Route 28 just south of town became that when Wevertown local Jane Peters took  over several years ago. The Tannery Pond Community Center in the middle of town is a modern, attractive facility underwritten by North Creek transplants Woody and Elise Woodland on abandoned property that once was a car dealership. It would be a civic and cultural centerpiece in any town.

"North Creek is a hidden gem" Mark Parobeck believes. He has staked his entrepreneurial hopes on it. And so far he is feeling very good about the plan.

"This town has energy"

Entrepreneurship seems to come in many forms in many places. It just needs people with vision, energy and commitment. Mark Parobeck is the latest to go from concept to keeper in North Creek. 

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