Close-by New York ski resorts still the best option


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Chill winds may bode evil for some, but for skiers they are the welcoming announcement that flakes have already been falling and will soon cover the green that has bedecked trails at ski resorts.

Skiers out West believe that those in the East are fantastic on the slopes because of “the garbage” there is to ski on.

Let’s not tell them the truth or they might be liable to head here and crowd the trails.

While it is true that resorts such as the fabulous Park City/Deer Valley/The Canyons get an extraordinary amount of snow-sometimes up to 800 inches a year-and the Eastern resorts may top 100 inches; they have powder to ski on regularly while in the East snow is often packed and frequently icy, who cares as long as you are on skis?

The greater majorities of Eastern skiers are day-trippers and are fortunate enough to have a score of slopes within easy range of, say Times Square. Some are better than others, but that holds true at any geographical area.

The closest area is Campgaw Mountain in Northern Bergen County, less than 45 minutes from the George Washington Bridge and straight north on Rt. 17. Calling it a “mountain” is a bit of an imaginative reach. Frankly, it’s more like a hill with a gland condition.

Because it is so far south it often freezes, melts and freezes again providing more of a skating rink than a downhill ski slope. But they have a decent snow making capability and use it constantly though the season.

Campgaw is a terrific place for a couple of quick runs and the ski school there offers a great after school program. Because of its proximity students can get there and back from most any spot in the Metro area before dinner.

A bit further north off Rt. 17 is Sterling Forest, a Campgaw clone. The slopes are glorified moguls but again they offer ski school to tempt the kids to later expand their skills.

The main slopes for day-trippers are all about a half hour off the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway at exits, 19,20,21 for Belleayre, Hunter and Windham. The fourth area, Plattekill, is a bit off the beaten track.

Belleayre is owned and operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Despite efforts by various state administrations to cut its funding, the resort has managed to attract thousands of loyal followers. The Cuomo Administration last year killed the senior skiers program that permitted skiers over the age of 70 to ski free and now charges a discounted rate. Killing that program did little to enhance the bottom line and reduced the number of skiers who did come and spend money at the resort.

About a half hour from Exit 19, Belleayre is easily reached taking Rt. 28 West directly to the entrance in Highmount. The mountain is divided into two sections, Upper Mountain and Lower Mountain. The upper section has greens but is mostly blues and blacks while the lower is virtually all greens with a tiny blue section.

There is a high speed quad, the Super Chief that is about mid-mountain and whisks riders to the summit. Although there have been holidays where Belleayre has stopped selling lift tickets because they’ve reached a reasonable capacity, lift lines normally move along at a rapid pace affording more slope time as opposed to standing around time.

The main drawback to Belleayre is the lack of accommodations for those who want to make a weekend out of it. There are some in nearby Margaretville, but they are hardly 4-star. Some of the B&Bs are pretty decent but the neighborhood is in desperate need of upgraded rooms.

If you head a bit past Belleayre and turn right into Margaretville, then turn right at the only traffic light in town, you can wend your way to Plattekill. Signs are pretty clear. This is arguably the least visited of the region’s ski resorts. That’s not because of any failing on its part, but rather the others are simply more convenient.

Hunter Mountain is the most popular with high school and college skiers and riders and, as with the others, is about a half hour west of the Thruway off Exit 20. Weekends here can be a bit of a chore with the number of skiers and riders waiting to board the lifts, but the slopes are wide open and well-groomed.

Hunter offers a goodly variety of slopes for all abilities and has a program for adaptive skiers. Snowmaking covers the slopes and there is rarely a time that the covering does not offer a quality experience.

The drive to Hunter is arguably the most scenic of the area ski resorts and the road offers some twists and turns that are best taken slowly to avoid black ice and a ruined outing.

Possibly the most upscale of the resorts is Windham west of Exit 21. Signs should be carefully watched as it’s been not uncommon for visitors to miss taking the left side of a fork in the road and end up miles out of the way.

The lodge offers trippers a huge cafeteria on the main level and an excellent restaurant and bar upstairs where imbibers can spend their break watching football games.

Lift lines here can get a bit crowded but they usually move along fairly quickly. Windham has plenty of accommodations for those looking to extend the trip ranging from Windham Arms to smaller resorts.

Hunter and Windham work closely together and have frozen Belleayre out of the mix. Their complaint is that Belleayre is subsidized by the state and offers unfair competition. Perhaps, but they have managed to offer quality products and do not suffer from any major decrease in skiers and riders as the parking lots will attest to.

The season is here. Wax the boards, stretch those muscles and get going.