Category Archives: Downstate NY
Having spent a good deal of my life on skis, I was always aware of that hole in my resume: nordic skiing. I resolved to fix it this season, with several opportunities for guiding on my winter calendar. I was looking forward to this trip, but I must admit, as an addicted downhiller, at first, I found it difficult to get excited for a nordic day when there was fresh pow in the mountains.
I’m familiar with Fahnestock Winter Park. I’d passed it so many times, both underneath it on Route 9, to get to the more popular Breakneck Ridge, and through it on the Taconic State Parkway. I have hiked there many times and the trails are often empty. The AT runs right through the park on its way to Connecticut, which in my mind, gives the place a little more character.
But nothing could have prepared me for my recent visit. The snow from Nemo released an explosion of pent up desire within the nordic community, and the volume of snow prevented the park from opening up at all the day before.
When I posted a history of cross-country skiing at Lake Minnewaska and Mohonk Mountain House a few weeks ago, I was pleased, yet frustrated. Pleased because I felt that it was a good piece, but frustrated because it was a bit one-sided. There was precious little information available about Mohonk.
After several weeks chasing down blind alleys, someone referred me to Mohonk Mountain House’s archivist, Nell Boucher. She kindly shared her knowledge, filling in many gaps about the dawn of time – er, skiing – in Ulster County. For example, the alpine operation at Mohonk started much later than I’d previously thought. Mea culpa: instead of brushing my error under the rug, I prefer to come clean.
So far as I’m aware at present, Mohonk Mountain House’s guests were able to ski cross-country in 1933. If this is correct, it was the first commercial skiing available in southern New York and perhaps the entire state, antedating Gore Mountain by a year.
There’s more to be written here. Comparing the arc of the Smiley family’s business fortunes to that of Ken Phillips Sr. and Jr. would be fascinating. But many of the players are no longer with us, and those who remain may choose not to tell their story. Herewith, our update to:
I wasn’t around for the very beginning of skiing at Lake Minnewaska. But in 1980 or ‘81, when my best friends introduced me to skiing, they dragged me to Lake Minnewaska on a wicked cold January day. Back then, you had to arrive bright and early. The parking lot would fill up quickly and you were out of luck. “Don’t go, it’s too popular.”
The lodge was in the old Wildmere Hotel. Perched on a cliff overlooking Lake Minnewaska, Wildmere had been a graceful example of the grand nineteenth-century wood frame resort hotel. But by 1980, it was a tumbledown shadow of its former self. It had been closed to lodgers, most of the furnishings auctioned off. Pieces of old furniture blocked staircases because the upper floors were unsafe.
The Hudson River was named for Henry Hudson, the English explorer who sailed up the waterway in 1609 for the Dutch East India Company. It’s 315 miles long and flows from north to south through eastern New York State.
The official source of the river is Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy, however, the waterway is known as Feldspar Brook and the Opalescent River, until it reaches Henderson Lake, above the old Tahawus Iron Works.