Top 5 Old-School New York Ski Resorts
Where a nostalgic ski culture lives on, uninterrupted.
When I was little kid, my parents owned a ski shop in southern New York State. While they’d be illuminating the selling points of latest Lange ski boot to prospective customers, I enjoyed nestling myself against racks of puffy jackets, but there were other benefits. Before Internet ubiquity, ski resorts gave shop owners free lift tickets to build word-of-mouth advertising.
As if each lift ticket were water in the desert oasis, my dad and I would frenziedly pack our Volvo, drive early and late along Upstate two-lane roads, and skied from bell to bell. Every week.
No mega-resorts, no $25 hamburgers. We skied mom-and-pop resorts where, in the morning, you’d hunch down next to the lodges’ 1950s-era baseboard heater to put on your still-chilly boots. Fog clung to the windows, and the floors puddled with melted snow. We’d pack peanut-and-jelly sandwiches and eat them on rickety two-seater chairlifts. On a good day, there was enough snow to ski right to the parking lot.
New York was like that and, in most places, still is. An old-school ski culture is alive there, uninterrupted. No one cares about fat skis or rocker-camber snowboards. No one cares about slopeside day spas. Frills aren’t welcome, and neither are uppity attitudes.
If you have a nostalgic longing for what your childhood ski resort was like, before skiing was about après, hot stone massages, and base area shopping, then don’t worry. There are places you can still you go.
1. Snow Ridge Ski Area, Tug Hill Plateau
Image courtesy of Snow Ridge Ski Area
The Tug Hill Plateau is the source of East Coast skiing lore. Tales of otherwise elusive powder days stem from the Central New York hill, Snow Ridge Ski Area. Located in Turin, NY (population 761), this ski area sits smack in the middle of the New York snow belt. As cold, westerly winds cross over Lake Ontario, it picks up moisture and dumps more than 200 inches a year on the 2,000-foot-high plateau.
“A powder day at Snow Ridge is a truly unique, surreal experience,” says general manager Nik Mir. “If you're coming from out of town, odds are the weather will be totally fine. Driving North from Utica or South from Watertown, you could have bluebird skies and not a flake in sight. But as soon as you enter the Tug Hill Region, you drive into a totally different world. It's not uncommon for us to receive 50+ inches over the course of a two or three day storm, while only 30 minutes down the road they may have only seen a few inches.”
“Pulling into the parking lot you'll see the diehards who camped out the night before or got in before sunrise just to get first tracks,” Mir adds. “With plenty of terrain to go around, fresh turns can be had until the chairs stop turning. On top of the insane snowfall, we also have some of the most underrated trees and steeps around. The North side of the mountain is a natural playground, with some zones that will get even the most experienced riders heart's pumping.”
2. Gore Mountain, Adirondacks
Image courtesy of Gore Mountain
Skiing here isn’t for the faint of heart. Quite possibly the coldest mountain range in New York, the Adirondacks are famously rugged. No Gore-Tex can prepare you for the bone-chilling Upstate wind you’ll encounter. However, if you want to understand what East Coast skiing is really about, then you’ll have to ski glades on a Gore Mountain powder day.
Emily Stanton, Gore Mountain’s marketing manager, explains that “the meaning of a ‘gore’ is a tract of unsurveyed land. “Our true summit was left undiscovered, and therefore left off of the earliest maps,” she adds.
“We’re still a bit undiscovered,” Stanton points out. “You won’t find a slopeside shopping village, long lift lines, or loads of ski-in ski-out accommodations. What you will find is a quality ski experience, undeveloped wilderness views in every direction, and friendly employees that are local to this special area.”
3. Mount Peter, New York-New Jersey Highlands
Image courtesy of Mount Peter
In the 1960s and 70s, my grandfather would drop off my then-adolescent father at the top of Mount Peter on NY-17A, let him ski down to the base, and meet him for the next lap. It’s not exactly Colorado’s infamous Loveland Pass sidecounty, but these road laps became part of my family’s skiing history, something my dad continued with me and my siblings.
Mount Peter, the closest ski area to New York City, has only two chairlifts and one base area. But what it lacks in size it packs in character. From the top, you can take in views of the Hudson Valley’s undulating forested terrain. Holiday and some weekends can get apocalyptically crowded. Week days, and storm days before office types and school kids run free, are a hot-lapping paradise.
Marketing Director Carol Forshay explains that Mount Peter is an easy day trip for skiers in the Tri-state area, a mellow ski area tucked away from all the hustle and bustle. Part of the mountain’s appeal is its laid back, family-friendly vibe.
“Mount Peter encourages visitors to slow down and enjoy life,” Forshay says. “Regulars might not even not the mountain till 9am.”
“This mountain has heart,” she adds. “The smiles are warm and genuine. This is a mountain where kids can ski or board by themselves; where everyone seems to know everyone. Or, surely by day’s end, you will have met some awesome staff and made many great new friends!”
4. Belleayre Mountain, the Catskills
Image courtesy of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center
The Catskills, where financially endowed hippies turn 18th-century barns into live-in art studios, Manhattanites get lost trying to find the latest farm-to-table restaurant, and fanatical anglers cast their lines for trout in Delaware River tributaries.
This quirky, pastoral mountain range has five different ski resorts, thanks in part to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, including this quaint eight-lift ski area in the town of Highmount. Belleayre Mountain’s moderately steep terrain makes you feel like you’re skiing off an unintimidating headwall pocketed with narrow, gladed chutes.
5. Labrador Mountain, Finger Lakes
As storms roll over Lake Ontario, they pick up moisture from the long-and-skinny Finger Lakes and then unleash monstrous lake effect snowfall on the Central New York’s small, rural towns and surrounding hills. The town of Truxton is southeast of two of Finger Lakes, Otisco and Skaneateles Lakes. It’s also home to Labrador Mountain, a three-chairlift ski area with mostly intermediate terrain.