For ski enthusiasts, there is nothing sadder than an abandoned chairlift, rusty and rotting, creaking in the wind. Skiers at Belleayre are often intrigued when they spy the empty lifts at nearby Highmount Ski Area, which closed in the early 1990s. “It’s such a waste that those trails sit empty,” laments one slopes aficionado on a skiing Web site.
Read more: The Valley’s top 10 ski areas today
Have you ever wondered what happened to the favorite ski areas of your youth? Jeremy Davis of Massachusetts has taken the wondering to a whole new level with his New England Lost Ski Areas Project Web site (www.nelsap.org), which chronicles more than 580 lost ski areas in the Northeast, including a handful in our region. Many were smaller operations, like the tiny slope with just two trails and a rope tow at the Millbrook School.
Some lost ski areas have found a second life. For skiers of a certain age, the words Silver Mine conjurs up a flood of nostalgic images. By 1941, this resort in Harriman State Park became a popular place to ski. Arguably at its commercial zenith in the ’60s, Silver Mine had a 15-acre open slope for beginners, and a cozy lodge with a fireplace and snack bar. Not to mention (cutting-edge for its day) snowmaking machinery. All for the price of $3.50 ($2.50 for a half day).
“People thought there really was a silver mine there, at the turn of the last century,” says Susan Smith, restoration and development director for the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. “Apparently, even Thomas Edison went searching for silver there; nobody ever found anything.” Although Silver Mine shut down in the 1980s due to inconsistent weather, it has risen, phoenix-like, as a place for sleigh riding, tubing, and tobogganing.
Photograph courtesy of Paul Gromkowski
For those of you old enough to wonder, “Wasn’t there a ski jump at Bear Mountain?” you are correct. Ski jumping began there in 1927 and drew large crowds into the 1960s. (The Doerr Memorial Cup competition held there on January 16th, 1960, drew 10,000 spectators.) There were more ski-jump competitions held at Bear Mountain than at any other similar spot in the U.S. Jumping has not occurred there since 1990, however.
One of the bigger — but now defunct — ski areas in the Hudson Valley was on Mt. Beacon. Opened for the 1967-68 season, the Dutchess ski area eventually grew to have 11 trails (including three black diamonds), three double chair lifts, snow-making facilities, night skiing, and a mighty popular lounge at the base lodge. Renowned ski instructor Walter Foeger (who created a popular approach to teaching skiing and helped found Vermont’s Jay Peak ski area) even set up a school at Mt. Beacon. But skiing on the mountain actually began before the big resort came to town. Paul Gromkowski, now the Town of Fishkill housing director, grew up in Beacon; he recalls learning to ski with Bill Kaputa, who owned a sporting-goods store on Beacon’s Main Street. “Bill had developed a ski area with two rope tows and a ski jump at the base of Mt. Beacon,” he says. Prior to that, another local man had constructed a ski slope and ski jumps in his backyard, which was adjacent to the mountain. “From what I recall, it was built with plastic poker chips and army metal. He had a tow rope, and in the summertime, he would teach everyone to ski and to jump,” says Gromkowski.
But the new resort quickly became the center of social life for many area teens. “What I remember most was the night skiing,” Gromkowski continues. “That was something new to this area. I remember my friend’s parents would drop us off there after school, and we just wouldn’t stop. We tried to see how many runs we could get in before nine or 10 p.m., and then we’d go home and go to sleep. On the weekends, I was there constantly.”
Things were much more relaxed in those days, according to Gromkowski. “There was a lodge with cafeteria-style service. There were no lockers. You just shoved your shoes under a bench and put your lunch there and hoped nobody stepped on it. Right next to the cafeteria was a little bar called the Snowflake Lounge. It would even operate in the summertime. There were bands, it was continually packed.”
Mark Bolger, the morning show host for Star 93.3 FM in Poughkeepsie, also remembers the mountain as “a big part of my childhood. It’s a place where all the kids from Beacon went. We would just ski every day after school. It was such a great thing to have; there was nothing else like it around.”
Illustration by Ed Murr
The mountain may have been wildly popular — “you would wait 45 minutes for the chairlift on the weekends,” recalls Bolger — but the conditions were often less than ideal. “The centers of all the slopes were just one slick sheet of ice because they were so heavily skied,” says Gromkowski. “They were making snow but it didn’t last more than an hour or two. But the slick, mogul conditions prepared me well. I was able to ski all kinds of trails at other mountains, like Belleayre or in Vermont.”
Apparently no one was immune to the slippery slopes. “There were a lot of my friends, who were experts, who ran into trees with their faces,” says Gromkowski. “I ran into a tree with my face. I had a nice black eye. I think even Walter Foeger ran into a tree and broke a tooth. The place was pretty hazardous.”
The ski area eventually closed in 1975 — the victim of several warm winters, high costs, and bigger resorts farther north. But those who skied it will never forget.
“I probably would never have tried skiing if it wasn’t for Dutchess,” says Bolger, who says he now skies about 10 or 11 days a year. Adds Gromkowski: “As far away as Hyde Park, you could see the ski area lit up. From the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge you could see little dots going down the hill. We were very lucky to have such a modern ski area right there.”
Ed. note: This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Hudson Valley Magazine with the title “Lost Opportunities.”