By the time westward travelers reach Holiday Valley, the craggy Adirondack Mountains have long since given way to the lesser-known rolling hills of New York's modest Allegany range. But while the vertical may wane, the number of skiers and their enthusiasm for sliding certainly don't.
Holiday Valley tops out at about 750 feet of vertical, yet more than 500,000 skiers cruise down its slopes each winter, making it the most popular ski resort in New York. It even racks up more visits than big-name Vermont resorts like Stratton and Stowe. With three base areas spread along a three-mile-long access road, the resort's terrain rambles across a single ridge, but distinctive folds and drainages give it surprising variety. The Tannenbaum lift, for example, serves Happy Glade—big-trunk treeskiing through a forest of old-growth Norwegian spruce planted in the '30s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. More than 60 percent of the trails are lit for nightskiing, and all the lifts—including two high-speed—are thoughtfully planted and continue to be modernized, thanks to the significant capital reinvested in the resort. To date, the snowmaking and grooming fleet are state-of-the-art and the base lodges are less than a decade old, with stone-and-beam architecture recalling that of posh resorts like Beaver Creek, Colo.
But Holiday Valley does posh with a twist. Picnicking is welcome in all their lodges, and those who brown bag aren't made to feel like second-class citizens. At the Tannenbaum Lodge, the upper level is ringed with table-high outlets, so families who prefer a down-home lunch can set out their crockpots, a Holiday Valley tradition. And tradition is not something to be messed with at this locals' favorite.
The TownHoliday Valley's nearest town, Ellicottville, where most skiers stay, is dotted with good restaurants and bars, interesting shopping and even an art gallery or two. Evenings, visitors stroll the three-block downtown, a mix of pastel buildings and storefronts, for après-ski drinks and the perfect small-town dinner, i.e., one eaten in a historic building undoubtedly converted from a farmhouse or blacksmith shop into a charming restaurant or café.
Where to Stay
>The Ellicottville Inn Built in 1890, the Inn is at the center of the town's historic district. Restored and refurbished in 2001, it has the charm of a Euro-style boutique hotel with 23 guest rooms. From $109 per night; 716-699-2373; ellicottvilleinn.com
>Inn at Holiday Valley Having ushered in Holiday Valley's current building boom, the 10-year-old Inn has 95 rooms and seven suites, and is conveniently located at the bottom of the Sunrise Lift. Families will feel right at home in the hotel's indoor/outdoor pool and hot tub. From $127 per night; 800-323-0020; holidayvalley.com/reservations.cfm
>Black Dog Lodge This B&B set on 50 acres five minutes north of Ellicottville features suites with great views, luxe linens, fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. But it's the breakfasts—homemade juices, streusels, breads and cooked-to-order treats—that make it hard to leave. From $110; 716-699-6900; blackdoglodge.com
Where to Eat
>Dina's There aren't many restaurants equally adept at serving hearty breakfasts and elegant dinners, but Dina's pulls it off, relying on local, fresh ingredients. 716-699-5330
>Ellicottville Brewing Company Try après or dinner at this classic brewpub, with well-prepared American cuisine, craft beers and a European-style beer garden. 716-699-2537
>The Silver Fox This elegant restaurant is housed in a barn formerly used for stretching and drying fox pelts. Its eclectic menu serves fresh fish, pasta, lamb and steak. 716-699-4672
Where to Play
>Griffis Sculpture Park A 425-acre preserve and outdoor sculpture collection, the park is a good spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, with meadows and ponds wending around 200 giannt sculptures. griffispark.org
Holiday Valley 270 skiable acres; 750 vertical feet; 180 annual inches; 53 runs (37 lit for nightskiing and riding); 12 lifts, including rwo high-speed quads.
Tickets: adult $46; junior $34
Getting there Holiday Valley is one hour from Buffalo, NY, three hours from Cleveland, Ohio, and three hours from Toronto, Que., by car. Detailed directions are on the resort's website.
Information 716.699.2345; holidayvalley.com