By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, www.goingplacesfarandnear.com
It always is a surprise to realize New York State has more ski areas (50+) than any other state, and they range from the world-class Whiteface and Olympic venues at Lake Placid, to a small, family-friendly, learn-to-ski area, ThunderRidge, reachable on Metro North, where families can ski into the night.
New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) actually owns and operates three of our favorite ski destinations: Whiteface and Gore Mountain in the magnificent Adirondacks, and Belleayre, so easy to reach in the Catskills (orda.org).
Whiteface Mountain, Wilmington
Top of the list for ski areas with a world-class reputation is Whiteface, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, where in addition to skiing, you can visit Olympic venues and even participate (biathalon, anyone? skate on the Olympic Oval, drive a coaster down the bobsled track).
Whiteface offers the greatest vertical (3430 ft. from the summit at 4867 ft.) of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast. This is a serious mountain – actually three mountains, Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft. – with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including one of the longest single intermediate runs in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail) in the East.
This season, Whiteface has a new detachable quad lift, “The Notch,” from the Bear Den learning center to just beyond the Legacy Lodge (the only one of its kind in the East that is two lifts in one operating seamlessly) which will significantly improve the experience for beginners.
Whiteface Mountain also has made snowmaking upgrades including adding150 high efficiency snow guns, and two snow cats, as well as improvements to the Cloudsplitter Gondola.
Mt. Van Hoevenberg, the cross-country and biathlon venue, has upgrades to snowmaking system as well as grooming and trail improvements (mtvanhoevenberg.com).
At Mt. Van Hoevenberg, experience the thrill of what it was like to be an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Winter Games on the Cliffside Mountain Coaster, which boasts one of the longest year-round mountain coasters in the USA.
Other attractions include the Sky Flyer Zipline at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, the SkyRide Experience, an 8-person gondola that brings you from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, a glass-enclosed elevator ride to the top of the ski jumps for a panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!), Nordic trails at Mt. Van Hovenberg (where you can try your hand at the biathalon).
The Lake Placid Legacy Sites Passport includes a one-time admission to the Whiteface Cloudsplitter Gondola, The Olympic Jumping Complex Skyride, Skating on the James C. Sheffield Speed Skating Oval, entry to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum at the Olympic Center, 20% off a cross country trail pass, and admission to both the FIL World Cup Luge and the IBSF World Cup Bobsled & Skeleton at Mt Van Hoevenberg. The pass comes with Legacy Sites branded lanyard, sticker set at each venue, 10% discount on retail and food and beverage purchases at the venues (https://whiteface.com/legacysitespassport/).
There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa and Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa; The Lake Placid Inn and the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, an eco-luxe independent boutique hotel; and Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort (www.golden-arrow.com).
Also, High Peaks Resort overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondacks offers a traditional hotel with 105 guest rooms and suites; Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection, with 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the Lake. (High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-4411, 800-755-5598, www.highpeaksresort.com)
Whiteface Mountain, 5021 Rte 86, Wilmington, NY 12997, 800-462-6236, 518-946-2223, 877) SKI-FACE (snow report). Olympic Center, 518-523-1655; vacation planning assistance at whitefacenewyork.com, lakeplacid.com, whiteface.com.
Gore Mountain, North Creek
As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.
Gore Mountain is New York State’s largest ski and ride resort with 439 skiable acres spanning four mountains, including Gore, Bear Mountain, Burnt Ridge Mountain and Little Gore Mountain, a vertical drop of 2,537 feet from the summit at 3,600 ft, 108 trails (longest is 4.4 miles), accessed by 14 lifts.
The big news this year is that Gore opened The Bear Cub Quad, replacing its beginner skier lift. This lift is double the length and unloads at an easiest trail for beginners, significantly enhancing the learning experience at Gore. At their beginner run they added two new conveyor surface lifts to make it easier for newer skiers to learn.
Gore Mountain they have expanded snowmaking at the North Creek Ski Bowl, added snowmaking to the Moxham trail and upgraded to more energy efficient snowguns on 46er as well.
Gore’s North Creek Ski Bowl has a marvelous cross-country ski center, and offers Twilight Nordic Wednesday through Friday (2 pm-6 pm and Day & Twilight Nordic on weekends (9 am -6 pm) where you can do cross-country skiing or snowshoeing after dark. (A valid lift ticket or season pass gives you free access to the Nordic Center.) Check online for the most up-to-date information on Nordic hours and the snow report. (Ski Bowl Road, North Creek, NY 12853, 518-251-0899.)
Exciting news: for 2024-25 Gore plans to construct a new ski bowl lodge, chairlift, zipline and mountain coaster.
Gore Mountain has no on-mountain lodging but there are plenty of charming places throughout the Adirondacks, and marvelous dining in North Creek. Among them, Lorca Adirondacks at Indian Lake, about 40 minutes away, which is owned by a Great Neck native (thelorca.com, 518-300-3916). For a luxurious stay, choose The Sagamore, a historic, grand resort in Bolton Landing on Lake George, 45 minutes away (www.thesagamore.com).
Belleayre Mountain, Highmount
Belleayre Mountain is especially popular with families because of its proximity (just about 2 ½ hours drive) and perfect size, with marvelous beginner trails and learn to ski programs, and a natural separation between beginner and advanced skiers.
Belleayre has made improvements this season including replacing an older triple chair ski lift from the Overlook Lodge to the summit, changing a few trails to expand intermediate terrain high on the mountain, modified the Upper Cathedral Brook trail so it returns to forest, added a hybrid groomer with a winch for better grooming on steeper terrain.
What I love best about Belleayre is its natural separation of beginners (from the mid-mountain to the base, with long beginner trails) and more advanced skiers. It affords a 1404 ft vertical drop from a 3429 ft summit, 63 trails, terrain parks, glades and an X-course. Intermediates will enjoy Deer Run, which meanders through a beautiful part of the mountain. Cross-country skiers can enjoy 9.2 kilometers of ungroomed, unpatrolled trails.
There is no on-mountain lodging, but quaint inns and lodges nearby in Fleischmann’s, Pine Hill, Big Indian, Phoenicia, Margaretville and Shandaken – among them, the Lorca Catskills offering several cabin/cottage-style accommodations (thelorca.com, 518-300-3916).
See more at www.belleayre.com/plan-your-visit/lodging/)
(Belleayre, Highmount, NY 12441, 800-942-6904, 845-254-5600, www.belleayre.com).
More information at the Olympic Regional Development authority, orda.org.
Windham Mountain Club
Windham Mountain, popular for decades, has been reborn (actually going back to its roots) as the Windham Mountain Club, with a plan for $70 million in enhancements over the next several years to the mountain’s amenities and services.
Though reorganizing as a membership club, the ski resort is still open to the public; daily lift tickets and season passes are available up to capacity limits to ensure minimal lift lines and uncrowded slopes. Also, Windham Mountain Club is continuing its longstanding partnership with the Adaptive Sports Foundation.
Enhancements this season include improved snowmaking and upgraded lifts, a reimagined culinary program, including new food court, Mediterranean restaurant in the base lodge, Italian Alps-style restaurant with wine program at mid-mountain, and The Windham, a private members’ club dining experience.
Windham Mountain Club is a premier multi-generational, four-season resort located in the Great Northern Catskills, 2 1/2 hours north of New York City. Boasting 285 skiable acres across 54 trails and serviced by 11 lifts (four high speed), the mountain offers an award-winning Ski and Ride School, lodging, a tubing park and world-class alpine and freestyle competition teams. Future enhancements to Windham Mountain Club include a new Windham Country Club, an 18-hole golf course designed by award-winning golf course architect Tom Fazio, a luxury spa and fitness center, and expanded lodging (www.windhammountainclub.com).
Hunter Mountain, only a 2 ½-hour drive from New York City through the breathtaking northern Catskill Mountains, has been a winter sports mecca for generations.
And now, Hunter is poised to benefit from Vail Resorts’ Epic Lift Upgrades initiative: Hunter Mountain plans to replace the 4-person fixed-grip Broadway lift with a state-of-the-art 6-person, high-speed lift and relocate the existing Broadway lift to replace the 2-person fixed-grip E lift, to substantially improve uphill capacity and access to key terrain. Both projects, targeted for the 2024/25 season, are subject to approvals. As a Vail Resort, it is included on the Epic Pass, plus offers variations of regional and local seasonal passes. Slope-side accommodation is available at The Kaatskill Mountain Club (huntermtn.com).
More New York Ski Areas
Greek Peak Mountain Resort, Cortland is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2024, has invested nearly $1 million in ski area improvements. Now in year three of a five-year plan to upgrade snowmaking, new snowmaking equipment this year means they can put out the equivalent of 16.5 football fields with a foot of snow in a 24-hour period. They also upgraded the Chair 1 lift, trail lighting, and purchased new rental equipment (greekpeak.net).
Holiday Mountain, Monticello: New owners have invested millions of dollars in renovations and upgrades including expanding snowmaking to trails that had not had snowmaking before, re-opening dormant trails, renovating and upgrading their chairlifts as well as updating the base lodge. Tubing operations are also being expanded for 12 lanes of capacity with a conveyor and 100% snowmaking coverage with lighting (skiholidaymountain.com).
Holiday Valley Resort, Ellicottville has invested nearly $9 million into the resort for the 23-24 season, including the installation of the new High Speed 6-Pack Chairlift that replaced their Mardi Gras Quad, a new PistenBully 600 groomer, and upgraded snowmaking. Also, the Inn at Holiday Valley has refurbished rooms, resurfaced the pool and renovated John Harvard’s restaurant in the Tamarack Club (holidayvalley.com).
Plattekill Mountain, Roxbury widened its “I Think I Can” trail, to expand beginner terrain, added new snowmaking and improved the base lodge. New ski and snowboard demo equipment can be rented for up to two hours per day. Plattekill has partnered with 25 mountains to offer free and discounted tickets for anyone who purchases a Plattekill Seaon Pass. They have also added “Platty Perks” to their season passes too that will get holders discounts to local area businesses and restaurants when the pass is shown (plattekill.com)
West Mountain, Queensbury has made improvements in the base lodge added more lighting for night skiing, two new snow groomers, and made improvements to the base lodge. (westmountain.com).
Thunder Ridge Ski Area, reachable by Metro North, is really geared for families – from the ease of access, ease of reserving lift tickets, rentals, lessons (book online, since walk-ins are only accommodated if the mountain has not reached capacity), serious snowmaking. ThunderRidge offers private lessons from age 4, family private lessons, group lessons, Mommy/Daddy & Me, and race teams. Open Mon-Fri, 10 am -9 pm, Saturday, 9-9 pm, Sunday 9 am to 5 pm. Located 60 minutes from NYC. You can ride Metro-North ski train from NYC and metro areas, and take advantage of free shuttle service to and from the Patterson train station,(137 Birch Hill Rd & Rte 22, Patterson, 845-878-4100, ThunderRidgeski.com.)
Hidden Gems in Adirondacks: Uncrowded, Affordable, even Free Skiing
One of the best-kept ski secrets in upstate New York is that The Adirondack Mountains have a handful of hidden gem ski areas ideal for novice to expert skiers, including two ski areas that offer skiing free of charge. Nestled into historic mountain towns with a distinct Adirondack feel, all of these under-the-radar ski areas offer visitors the opportunity to ski, snowboard or snow tube on uncrowded slopes with the spectacular scenery for which the Adirondacks are renowned. Many of these fun, smaller hills also offer ski schools, snowmobile trails, snowshoeing or Nordic skiing.
Adding to the appeal of these charming community ski areas, many offer extremely affordable ski experiences that make snow sports more approachable for all. Ski passes start as low as $15; a couple even offer free skiing!
Some of the less-explored ski areas, with tips on accommodations and local eats include:
Oak Mountain, a quaint ski area popular with families since 1948, offers 22 trails (snowmaking on 40%), a 650-foot vertical from base at 1,750 feet to the summit at 2,400 feet, and four lifts (quad, two T-bars and a surface lift). The longest run is 7,920 feet. In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Oak features four lanes of snow tubing and miles of snowshoeing trails that take you through a majestic forest. Oak Mountain is a three-season resort in the Southern Adirondacks, an easy drive from Albany and Lake George. Oak Mountain’s website lists nearby accommodations and “Play and Stay” packages. Check out Lake Pleasant Lodge or Cedarhurst Motor Lodge for accommodations. The Lorca Adirondacks is just down the road (thelorca.com, 518-300-3916). Oak Mountain, 141 Novosel Way Speculator, NY 12164 518-548-3606, www.oakmountainski.com
McCauley Mountain (Old Forge): A charming resort near the Adirondack wilderness. Get a great night’s sleep at the Adirondack Lodge Old Forge, stop by Keyes’ Pancake House for breakfast and Tony Harper’s Pizza and Clam Shack for lunch/dinner.
Mt. Pisgah Recreation Center (Saranac Lake): A welcoming community ski hill with night skiing and tubing, with half-day weekend ski passes available for $15. Kick off your boots at Traverse Lodge or Hotel Saranac and enjoy dinner at nearby Bitters & Bones.
Titus Mountain (Malone): A family-friendly ski gem a short drive from Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Watertown and Northern Vermont, with terrain for all levels. Check out the rustic cabins at Deer Valley Trails (and stay for dinner) and stop by The Pines Tap & Table for evening revelry.
Two community ski areas actually offer free skiing:
Newcomb Ski Slope is an ultra-local and community-owned ski hill which offers free skiing. For the last 50 years, the town of Newcomb has owned and operated this two-run ski slope, where generations of residents have learned to ski. The hill also boasts a trail through the adjacent woods along its 200 vertical feet. At this low-elevation summit, skiers are treated to a view of the snowy High Peaks.
Indian Lake Ski Hill also offers skiing free of charge with the local feel and charm of a community-owned establishment. The recreation area comprises a small hill, two ski trails, a t-bar lift and even ice skating.
SKI NY Passport Program-Kids Ski Free
The SKI NY Passport Program-Kids Ski Free returns this season with more ski areas accepting it during holiday periods. The Passport is valid seven days a week except for holiday periods at certain ski areas.
The program is open to 3rd and 4th graders from any State or country and no reservations at ski areas are required.
The program offers free skiing for your third and fourth graders with an adult purchase, it can be used up to two times per participating ski area. A valid adult ticket purchase is one on the ski area website or at the ticket window and includes season passes as well. ($41 processing fee per application; rentals and lessons arenot included).
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