The Catskills have a long history of recreation. The close proximity to the NYC metro area was a draw for the masses to escape the heat of the city during the summer months. With the popularity of skiing growing during the 1930s and after WW2, ski areas began to pop up throughout the Catskills.
New York State officially described and designated a ‘forever wild’ area of 286,000 acres the Catskill Forest Preserve in 1912. This area encompasses most of the higher peaks in the Catskills. It is usually marked on official NYS maps with a blue line. Being inside or outside of the blue line has a dramatic affect on how the land can be used.
As recently as 1999 the Catskill region had nine ski centers. The “Big Three” — Hunter, Belleayre and Windham — are still operating, and posting solid skier visit numbers. Of the “Little Six” — Bobcat, Highmount, Sawkill, Cortina, Scotch Valley and Plattekill — only Plattekill remains open. There is still the possibility that the Highmount terrain, as part of a new real estate development at Belleayre, will come back online.
The Catskills are located about 100 miles northwest of NYC are are home to more than 30 peaks that exceed 3500 feet in elevation. Depending on location and elevation, total snow amounts during a normal season range from 80 inches to over 150 inches. Naturally, lots of mountains and lots of snow is a recipe for skiing.
During the 1930s, various local groups, ski clubs, towns, railroads and department stores began to promote skiing in order to increase tourist visits in the winter. Trails for skiing were cut by local citizens and by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) on private land. The first commercial ski area to operate in the Catskills was Simpson’s Memorial Slope/Phoenicia Ski Center. It seems to have opened in 1935 without an uphill lift. The following season they added a rope tow. Belleayre Ski Center was opened by NYS in 1949 and was home to NYS’s first chairlift. There have been over 20 areas operating at various times in the Catskills. Now there are just 4 ski areas operating.
Catskill Quick Stats