A reader of my column recently wrote me about the lost ski areas of our region and whether I was aware of them. That took me down memory lane since my father was an avid skier and got me started in the sport when I was only 6 and at a time when skiing was a relative novelty. He loved exploring new ski areas and took me to places that have long gone out of business.
It was also a time when a double chairlift was considered an ultra-modern lift and rope tows, T-bars, poma lifts and J-bars were the primary means of uphill transportation.
My first experience on skis was at the Simpson Memorial Ski Slopes in Phoenicia in the southern Catskills, and the ski area only had rope tows but I caught the ski bug.
The Shawangunk Mountains had three ski areas at one time, including Bonticou, near Mohonk, Ski Minne, in the Minnewaska State forest, and Mount Cathalia, just outside of Ellenville. I skied at Bonticou and Ski Minne but never made it to Mount Cathalia. I also skied at a small area that was run by Orange County.
Sullivan County had about as many ski areas as there were resort hotels in its heyday. The biggest was Big Vanilla at Davos and it produced Hunter Mountain-like crowds in its day, competing with Holiday Mountain, which managed to survive in a scaled-down version of its former self.
The biggest, closest mountain that closed was Dutchess Ski Area on Mount Beacon, which featured over 1,000 vertical feet and some serious expert slopes. Also lost was Mount Storm, in Stormville, and Fahnestock off the Taconic Parkway, and I skied at both.
Then there was Silvermine, in the Harriman State Forest, and Ski Stony Point, adjacent to the Palisades Parkway. I never skied Silvermine but did ski Stony Point with its modern lodge and chairlift on a 250-foot vertical drop.
A more recent casualty was Tuxedo Ridge, formerly Sterling Forest, which closed a few years ago. The Catskills had some very large ski areas that closed many years ago and I skied all but a few. They included Highmount and Shaynes, next to Belleayre; Bobcat and Andes Ski Center, both in Andes; Roxbury Ski Center in Vega; Scotch Valley in Stamford; the Princeton Ski Slopes, near Prattsville; and, Cortina Valley in Tannersville.
Long awaited return
After about a 40 year absence, I returned to one of our backyard ski areas, Thunder Ridge, in Patterson. Thunder Ridge is 48 miles from Middletown and right off Route 22 north not far from Interstate 84. It’s the biggest of the neighborhood hills, with a respectable vertical drop of 600 feet. Thunder Ridge has two double chairs, a triple chair and four magic carpets serving 22 slopes and trails. The ski area also has, by far, the most challenging terrain of the local hills with trails like Fool’s Delight, The Face, Wildcat and Eagle’s Lair and several other black-diamond rated runs that are closer to intermediate level when nicely groomed.
I was extremely impressed by the thickness of the bases on Thunder Ridge’s slopes and they should be able to make it through March even with relatively mild temperatures. Everything at the ski area is convenient, including parking and ease of access to the lifts, and rentals in a base lodge that has the best view of the slopes of any ski area I’ve ever visited. It’s a round-the-clock ski factory with night skiing every night except Sundays. It’s also a terrific learn-to-ski and beginner’s area with long and gentle runs from the summit and dedicated “never-ever” practice slopes.
The ski and snowboard season heads into the final quarter with Mother Nature winning the second and third quarters. January and February produced mild temperatures with virtually no snow in our area and plenty of rain. The good news is that because of advances in snowmaking technology, ski resorts have been able to produce deep bases in very short windows and resurface the slopes with good quality snow.
March and early April can often be the best times of the season, with a brighter sun in the sky, warmer temperatures, and delicious and buttery corn snow.
On Sunday I headed for some “powda” which happened to fall in large amounts at Plattekill, Mother Nature’s snow catching machine in the western Catskills. Plattekill picked up about six inches of ultra-light perfect powder, a rarity in these parts this winter. The entire mountain was open, which included about two thirds of the natural snow-only trails that wind their way down the fall-line of both mountain peaks.
I managed three runs each on Plunge, Northface and super steep Blockbuster, which leaves your legs rubbery by the time you reach the chairlift. There are no “run outs” at Plattekill – you earn every vertical foot from top to bottom. Novices should not be intimidated because the Powder Puff trail from the triple chair side of the resort is the best, longest bonafide green circle run in the Catskills. The snowmaking trails at the area have very deep coverage and should last through March and even into April.
Happy skiing and riding!