Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Local Ski Hills: Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a Saturday afternoon and a really rare bluebird day in the Adirondacks, so mild that I have my gloves off.  I’m riding up the T-bar lift on Mt. Pisgah, one of the most beloved ski mountains in the North Country.  There’s a smattering of kids and grown-ups on the slopes.  This is a place where my own son grew up learning to ski and we’ve spent many happy hours here, so it’s kind of a great spot.

Up at the top, I find myself looking over a great little tangle of trails.  Pisgah’s not a huge mountain, but there’s a surprising amount of terrain – fun little choices, small crowds, and perfect snow.  After pulling on my gloves, I launch.

Especially for beginners, these smaller hills are a perfect, bite-sized way to enjoy a few runs without feeling intimidated.  It’s also nice that that they’re a cheap option – my lift ticket today cost just 12 bucks.  That means you don’t have to spend a whole day to make it worth your while.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERADown at Pisgah’s pretty little lodge – complete with moose head over the fireplace and a case full of historic knick-knacks – I meet with the mountain’s manager Garrett Foster.

“I grew up skiing here,” he says.  “I lived right on Pisgah road and started working here and ended up taking over as manager.”

Over the decades Pisgah has been a popular ski hill, but it’s also just a great place to hang out, with a little snack bar and big bay windows that look out over the white slope.

“One of our features here is that the whole hill can be seen basically from the lodge.  Parent seem to enjoy that they can sit by the fireplace and watch their kids ski,” Foster says.

On this day, one of those parents, Kathy Samperi, is sitting outside on the picnic tables soaking up the sunshine and a rare bit of warmth.  I ask Kathy why her family comes Pisgah, not just to ski but to sled on innertubes and to snowshoe on the new trails.

“It’s a really great family mountain.  You can pretty much drop your kid here, they’ll meet up with their friends.  It’s a really great deal, there’s night skiing.  I grew up skiing on this hill.  So we enjoy it.”

There are amazing views from Pisgah, looking along a winding, icy stretch of the Saranac River.  The low northeastern Adirondack foothills dwindle in the distance.

I take a couple more runs, skiing back through the trees, watching local kids hang out with their skis and snowboards.

I know this sounds sort of school-marmish but it’s great to see them away from their computers and smartphones – just hanging out, talking, laughing, and racing fearlessly down the slope.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAPisgah has been operated by the village since 1948 and there’s a big community of volunteers and donors who’ve kept it going.  Garret Foster says Pisgah has really found its niche in local ski culture.

“Three years ago, we put in a new t-bar lift.  Twelve years ago we put in the handle tow for the tubing hill.  This summer, we’re putting in another handle tow for the beginning skiers.”  Foster points out that a lot of ski teams from around the region come to train at Pisgah.

I can’t help but think that during a hard winter like this one, a backyard ski mountain like Mount Pisgah becomes even more important.  Especially on a day like this, it manages a kind of alchemy, translating frosty air and great mounds of snow from a trial and a burden into something magical and inviting.

Photos: Above, a view from near the summit of Mt. Pisgah; middle, the Pisgah lodge’s big stone fire place boasts a moose head and a collection of historic ski gear; and below, the lodge trophy case. All photos by Brian Mann.

A version of this story originally aired on North Country Public Radio.


Brian Mann

Originally from Alaska, Brian Mann moved to the Adirondacks in 1999 and helped launch the news bureau at North Country Public Radio.

In addition to his work at NCPR, Brian is also a frequent contributor to NPR and writes regularly for regional magazines, including Adirondack Life and the Adirondack Explorer.




Comments are closed.