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Weekend at Ski Windham

Weekend at Ski Windham

Travel East
By Casey Seiler
posted: 11/30/2000

In the Catskill Mountains, the average skier has more choices than a Manhattanite scanning Zagat's for a Saturday-night dinner. And that's an especially apt metaphor, considering how much of the Catskills' clientele consists of urban warriors who hack their way through city traffic snarls to emerge, gasping with relief, on Interstate 87, the main artery connecting zippy downstate to supposedly sleepy upstate.

And just as every New Yorker has his or her favorite restaurant, Catskill skiers have their favorite resorts. Feeling funky? Try Belleayre Mountain (close to rural rock aerie Woodstock). Looking for peace and quiet? Head to Plattekill (see page 12E). But when urban refugees want to treat themselves well, they head to Ski Windham, where rows of spiffy SUVs make the parking area look like a dealer lot.

Located in the northern belt of Catskill resorts, Windham is just more than a two-hour drive from New York City. This is Rip Van Winkle territory, where the names of the creeks and rivers feeding the Hudson end with "kill," and the fading signs of pre-Jet Age tourist splendor exist close by similarly well-worn mill and mountain towns. Windham was founded as a private club for city escapees during the Catskills' pre-war heyday. Today it is smack in the middle of gracious second-home land. Its motto: "The Cure for the Common Life."

"To be honest, it's a bit more upscale," says Rhonda Turman, Ski Windham's director of marketing.

Like many Windham locals and customers, Turman is quick to distinguish the resort from its neighbor, Hunter Mountain (less than 30 minutes away). Hunter has a reputation as a party-hearty resort for thrill seekers-the exact opposite of both Turman's buttoned-down delivery and her operation's smooth-running family feel.

"We really find that people tend to prefer one or the other," she says. "There's not a lot of crossover. Our clientele tends to be people who are focused on the overall quality of the experience-not just the skiing but the other amenities: the setting, the lodge facilities, the valet parking."

Think of Windham, then, as the tidy family Victorian-albeit one with a slopeside business center offering everything from on-mountain paging to secretarial services-located next to the rambunctious frat house.

Friday Night
For antiques buffs and rock 'n' roll fans, the road to Windham can be as rewarding as the final destination. While the most direct route from Interstate 87 runs from the town of Catskill, the scenic route heads west from Saugerties, a small town that has transformed its downtown into an antiques arcade.

A slight detour takes you through Woodstock, where Dylan recorded "The Basement Tapes." Woodstock and neighboring Bearsville teem with both counterculture funk and chardonnay style. It's the sort of town where someone trying to sell a BMW will simply park it by the roadside with a sign on the dash and the keys in the ignition. What the Catskills lack in altitude, they make up in drama.

Whichever route you take, the gradual ascent from the Hudson Valley catches you by surprise. If you're not bombing up late Friday or before dawn Saturday, try Routes 32 and 23A, close by the hard splendor of Kaaterskill Creek and on through the high-mountain towns of Tannersville and Hunter. Head north on Route 296 and you're in Windham, on the northern border of Catskill Park.

We stayed at the Windham Arms, a former motel that's been redesigned by the resort to emerge several notches above its former station. Our room was well-appointed in Comfy Rustic décor. Had we brought the kids, they'd have had to choose between in-room movies and the compact ice rink out back.

While Windham's lodging options include a number of affordable motels, the region shines at the upper end of the market. The 21-room Victorian mansion Albergo Allegria has collected a number of kudos, including four diamonds from AAA. Slopeside condos are available, too, but Windham isn't the sortf resort where the slopeside lodging hogs all the guests. It's another way to thin out the crowd, keep down the noise and ensure that the weekend is relaxing.

Saturday
All the usual caveats of Eastern resorts apply at Windham. Its summit elevation is 3,100 feet, with a 1,600-foot vertical drop-not bad, but not big-mountain skiing. And you can't trust in the friendly skies to provide an all-season base. Conditions can change in a day, requiring the resort to have snowmaking on 97 percent of its terrain. This is not such bad news: Resorts that depend on snowmaking are invariably better at it than those that don't.

Caveats aside, the resort's twin summits offer a terrific variety of terrain. The less trafficked eastern hill is dominated by three long, challenging expert runs-Why Not, Wing 'N It and Wicked-and a boundary-hugging beginner run, Wanderer, which provides the best view of the surrounding countryside. To the west, the main mountain runs the gamut from intermediate cruisers to the brutal double-diamonds Wipeout, Wedel and the encouragingly named Wheelchair. (Yes, all the names of Windham's runs begin with a W, which makes it hard to sound macho as you suggest, Gilbert & Sullivan-style, a descent from Wraparound and Whisper to Warpath and Wiseacre.)

We visited during a bright, chill February weekend when Windham's staff was working overtime to make up for a freak Friday-afternoon rainstorm. By Saturday, the temperature had plunged again. In short, the most rotten conditions known to man. Which made the irrepressible cheer of our fellow skiers all the more impressive.

We rode the lifts with teenagers who had caught a bus on the farthest tip of Long Island before dawn and fathers who had trundled their brood into minivans only slightly later.

These were New Yorkers-with a certain representation from the tony bedroom communities of northern New Jersey-who weren't going to let something like the weather get in the way of their weekend of skiing. So what if the snow guns were thundering all day and night? You gotta break eggs to get an omelet, right? Hey, like Manhattan doesn't get loud?

The crowds kept to the Whirlwind quad serving the main mountain, leaving the parallel Whistler triple almost unused. From the summit, the best runs (Warpath and Wiseacre especially) were broad boulevards that did a good job bearing heavy traffic of various ages and skill levels. The crowd might have been from New York, but the attitude seemed to have been left at the Tappan Zee Bridge. Significantly absent were bash-by bombers and cigarette-smoking 16-year-olds.

After lunch, we headed farther west. While lines were still long on the quad, there was no waiting at the Wheelchair lift, which serves the westernmost, mainly expert runs.

From the top, we found ourselves returning to Upper and Lower Wolverine, a perfectly paced run that plunges from the summit through medium-sized moguls before leveling off into a delightful wide avenue that empties out at the base lodge. The real treat: This classy run was almost empty. It was the downhill equivalent of finding no one on Fifth Avenue on a summer Saturday.

Saturday Night
While Windham's lodge features the school-cafeteria look so popular among Eastern resorts, the main bar/restaurant on the upper floor was wide open and airy. Here, the well-tended skiers outnumbered the baggy-pants crowd. The outfits were snappy, the chat was subdued, and the makeup was astonishingly in-place.

With a class of customer such as this, it's no wonder we had a tough time choosing a restaurant that night. More than any other aspect of Windham, the nearby eateries reflected a New York state of mind. While standard small-resort-town fare covers all the bases from burgers to pizza, sleepy Windham (which has no chain restaurants) and its surrounding towns offer Greek, Chinese, Northern Italian, Mexican, French and even a fondue house.

Downtown Windham covers barely three blocks of Route 23, but the homes are generous and dominated by stately porches. There's the standard handful of antique stores and a tidy gallery maintained by the Greene County Arts Council, but the outlet stores and mini-malls of larger resort towns haven't caught on yet. The only real hotspot seemed to be the quonset-hut community center, which doubles as the town's movie theater. For city kids used to the newest in stadium seating and THX sound, a Saturday night screening of "Scream 3" at this hall would be a trip in a time machine.

We started the evening just outside Windham proper at Brooklyn Bridge, a cozy tavern with an exceptional jukebox. Here, as elsewhere, the atmosphere was amiable and tasteful, summed up by the soothing white icicle lights garlanding the room-evocative of a place where even Martha Stewart could throw down some Jaegermeister (available on tap) without feeling gauche.

Five minutes away in tiny Hensonville, we had dinner at Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant that suggested the affluent Jersey 'burbs of "The Sopranos" (that's a compliment). The Old World style included plenty of statuary, yards of fabric cascading from the center of the ceiling and a crackling fireplace, playing host to both large family groups and pre-Valentine's Day couples. And the pasta and veal? Exceptional.

We wound up the evening at the bar at Weatherby's, where the locals outnumbered the tourists and the children dodged from the dining room to the video games, hustling quarters as their parents tucked into their prime rib.

Sunday
Sunday's dawn came up bright and absolutely freezing as we rolled out to join the half-dozen skiers taking advantage of "First Tracks," a weekend program that allows powderhounds-well, manmade powderhounds-a chance to hit the slopes an hour before the lifts open to the public. Escorted by patrollers, we were able to get in four runs despite the skin-bracing dawn chill and the vestigial effects of Friday's thaw. The guns, which had been pumping through the night, had made more than ample headway against yesterday's chattery conditions.

Dr. David Broznya was there, shouting his delight over the roar. He's a First Tracks veteran who sometimes skis hard before breakfast and calls it a day. A Rutherford, N.J., psychiatrist, Broznya's practice didn't prevent him from racking up almost 50 ski days last season ("I don't like to brag about it, but I do take calls on the chairlift"). He might be the archetypal Windham customer: faithful but not exclusive (although he's more apt to wear a helmet at Hunter), rooted in the area (with a second home in Lexington, less than 15 minutes away) and willing to do almost anything to get out of the city and onto the slopes-even if it's just for a few hours.

Broznya has sampled the Catskills buffet and found the most dependable fare here at the range's northern edge. He knows the slopes, and he knows whom he's sharing them with."I'd call it stockbroker-oriented," he says, describing the clientele with a broad top-of-the-mountain grin.

And in a bull market like this, what in the world is wrong with that?ks of Route 23, but the homes are generous and dominated by stately porches. There's the standard handful of antique stores and a tidy gallery maintained by the Greene County Arts Council, but the outlet stores and mini-malls of larger resort towns haven't caught on yet. The only real hotspot seemed to be the quonset-hut community center, which doubles as the town's movie theater. For city kids used to the newest in stadium seating and THX sound, a Saturday night screening of "Scream 3" at this hall would be a trip in a time machine.

We started the evening just outside Windham proper at Brooklyn Bridge, a cozy tavern with an exceptional jukebox. Here, as elsewhere, the atmosphere was amiable and tasteful, summed up by the soothing white icicle lights garlanding the room-evocative of a place where even Martha Stewart could throw down some Jaegermeister (available on tap) without feeling gauche.

Five minutes away in tiny Hensonville, we had dinner at Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant that suggested the affluent Jersey 'burbs of "The Sopranos" (that's a compliment). The Old World style included plenty of statuary, yards of fabric cascading from the center of the ceiling and a crackling fireplace, playing host to both large family groups and pre-Valentine's Day couples. And the pasta and veal? Exceptional.

We wound up the evening at the bar at Weatherby's, where the locals outnumbered the tourists and the children dodged from the dining room to the video games, hustling quarters as their parents tucked into their prime rib.

Sunday
Sunday's dawn came up bright and absolutely freezing as we rolled out to join the half-dozen skiers taking advantage of "First Tracks," a weekend program that allows powderhounds-well, manmade powderhounds-a chance to hit the slopes an hour before the lifts open to the public. Escorted by patrollers, we were able to get in four runs despite the skin-bracing dawn chill and the vestigial effects of Friday's thaw. The guns, which had been pumping through the night, had made more than ample headway against yesterday's chattery conditions.

Dr. David Broznya was there, shouting his delight over the roar. He's a First Tracks veteran who sometimes skis hard before breakfast and calls it a day. A Rutherford, N.J., psychiatrist, Broznya's practice didn't prevent him from racking up almost 50 ski days last season ("I don't like to brag about it, but I do take calls on the chairlift"). He might be the archetypal Windham customer: faithful but not exclusive (although he's more apt to wear a helmet at Hunter), rooted in the area (with a second home in Lexington, less than 15 minutes away) and willing to do almost anything to get out of the city and onto the slopes-even if it's just for a few hours.

Broznya has sampled the Catskills buffet and found the most dependable fare here at the range's northern edge. He knows the slopes, and he knows whom he's sharing them with."I'd call it stockbroker-oriented," he says, describing the clientele with a broad top-of-the-mountain grin.

And in a bull market like this, what in the world is wrong with that?

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