Story and Photos by Bob and Sandy Nesoff
There is a truism amongst ski resort operators that unless skiers see snow or other skiers with slats on the rooftop of the car heading north, they think there is no snow and they opt for dinner and a movie instead.
In the flatlands of Manhattan the chances of spotting a convoy of skiers heading for the Thruway is somewhat slim and, except for the odd blizzard the streets are bereft of the white stuff by morning. And, frankly, what little snow is left on city streets after a couple of hours is unattractive and uninviting, hardly the tantalizing white fluff that covers mountain resorts. Another little known fact is that there are more ski areas in New York State than in the mountains of Vermont and many of them offer the same terrain variety and enough diversity so as to cater to any skill set.
Some years back the Parks Department attempted to build an ant hill of a slope in the hopes of attracting skiers to some city parks. That idea went downhill faster than the skiers could muster any speed. Nordic skiers can often find enjoyment in skiing the flatlands of city parks, but for the downhill skier, a mountain is necessary. City skiers often prefer day trips to maximize their time on the slopes and many resorts within an easy day’s drive of Times Square are perfect for day trippers, there are some within that reachable circle that also offer overnight and weekend accommodations.
Three of the top ski areas located just a hair more than two hours away are Belleayre, Hunter and Windham. All three are an easy drive on the Thruway to Exits 19, 20 and 21 and then about a half hour on local highways.
Belleayre is an anomaly in that it is run by the New York State Department of Environmental Protection. That is a double edged sword because while it keeps the price of lift tickets reasonably low (to the consternation of Windham and Hunter) it is also at the mercy of Albany budget cutters who can’t think beyond the tip of their collective noses. Interestingly, it shows that some government operations can work. While privately owned resorts are able to budget for promotion and events such as the annual Manhattan meeting with ski journalists to inform them of what is new and improved, Belleayre was not permitted by DEP to participate.
In spite of this, Belleayre has a diverse field of slopes and ski lifts that range from double chair lifts carrying about 1,200 skiers per hour to a high speed, detachable quad moving 2,400 an hour. Belleayre’s six lifts and two rope tows are so efficient that even on holiday weekends the lift lines move along at a rapid pace.
There are 13 green trails, 24 blues and 9 black diamonds. For the truly insane there are 13 double blacks that’ll chill the heart of most city skiers. Belleayre also offers five Nordic trails located just off the Rt. 28 entrance. Belleayre is located about a half hour from Thruway Exit 19 on Rt. 28 West, just before Margaretville. If there is a downside to Belleayre, it is the fact that overnight accommodations are virtually non-existent. A move to build resort accommodations has been under fire from some locals while others point to the jobs it could create. No resolution in sight. For snow reports and information, check out:
Nearby Hunter Mountain has been a favorite for the high school and college crowd since its inception and weekends tend to be crowded, although skiers do spread out over the resort’s three mountains. Reached by Exit 20 and then following the well-marked signs, Hunter is also about a half hour from the Thruway.
There are a wide variety of skill trails with 16 greens over the three mountains, 14 blues, 18 black and 7 double black trails. Hunter West caters only to experienced skiers and offers no green trails. It has three blacks and three double blacks. Hunter One is best suited for the casual skier with nine greens, five blues and two blacks. The main Hunter Mountain covers all four skill designations. The resorts 10 lifts can easily handle an amazing 16,400 skiers per hour while the Handle Tow drags about 550 bunny slopers.
Hunter has installed one of the most enjoyable zip line adventures in the country. There are several that carry passengers through the tree tops and one that runs some 3,000 feet from the top of the mountain and across the valley in a spine-tingling ride. The zip doesn’t come cheap and it is not included in lift ticket prices, but it one of the most exciting rides you’ll ever experience.
There are a number of overnight and weekend accommodations in close proximity to Hunter. For information check out:
The third resort in this triumvirate is Windham Mountain off Exit 21, only about 118 miles from New York City, and about a half hour west as are the other two. The area around Windham offers a wide variety of accommodations, restaurants and activities.
The resort covers two mountain peaks with 265 skiable acres and 41 trails. The breakdown is 30 percent green, 45 percent blue, 15 percent black and 10 percent double black. The trails are serviced by seven lifts including two high speed quads, four triples and one double and an overall uphill capacity of some 1,600 skiers per hour.
The crowd at Windham appears to be just slightly older than those skiing at Hunter and some of the facilities reflect that. The bar upstairs in the lodge is a great place to relax and then have lunch or dinner in the adjacent restaurant. For information, check out:
The excellent road network connecting these three resorts to the Thruway, provide an excellent opportunity for day trippers to take advantage of limited time to get to and from the resorts.
Whichever one you choose you can’t go wrong. Close to the city and fun for the whole family is the name of the game here. Go and enjoy and laugh to yourself as you watch others travel all those hours to Vermont knowing that your skiing enjoyment is only around the corner.