Jeremy Davis is founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP) and author of two books on that subject. Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Davis about NELSAP, his books and lost ski areas of the Adirondacks.
Jeff: So, just what is a “lost” ski area?
Jeremy: It’s a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important.
Jeff: And what is NELSAP?
Jeremy: NELSAP is the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, which I founded in 1998 in order to document and preserve the history of ski areas in New York, New England and elsewhere that are no longer in operation.
Jeff: What was the inspiration behind your founding of NELSAP?
Jeremy: As a kid, not long after I had first learned to ski, we took a family trip to North Conway, New Hampshire. On the way up I saw this mountain called Mount Whittier that had closed down about five or six years earlier, and it made me wonder what had happened. At the time it was still pretty visible, but now it’s almost completely grown in. A short while later, on another family trip to Jackson, New Hampshire, we saw another lost area from the top of Black Mountain, called Tyrol. Seeing those two abandoned areas sparked my curiosity and made me want to learn more about them, but there weren’t any resources back then. After that, whenever we took family ski trips, if we saw an old area on a road map that we knew wasn’t open, I’d drag my parents there to check it out. They were really supportive about that and found it fun. Gradually I collected more and more information – postcards, brochures and trail maps, old ski books. Then, while I was in college, I decided to put what I had on the web. That was October of 1998. Gradually, more and more people began to see it and they would send me more information. The thing that really catapulted the website was a Boston Globe article in December of 2000 on the front page of the New England section of the Sunday paper. By 7am I had more hits than I had gotten in a year. The traffic shut down the site and overloaded my email. The AP picked up the Globe story and it ran in what seemed like every New England newspaper over the next few weeks. The project just mushroomed from there. What we have up on the site now is just a fraction of all the information that we’ve collected over the years. It’s a lifetime of work.
Jeff: You’ve got nearly 700 lost ski areas listed on the website now, 19 of them are lost Adirondack ski areas.
Jeremy: Right, in fact those 19 areas are just the start. I think the real number is probably between 50 and 60 areas within the Adirondacks. We’re always looking for more information. If we can get to the owners, or the people who ran the ski school or managed the areas, that kind of primary source information is invaluable.
Jeff: Are there any lost Adirondack areas that you’re particularly interested in, areas that you’re looking for more information on?
Jeremy: Paleface, near Jay, is one. Paleface was run like a dude ranch, an all-inclusive resort with lodging, a bar and restaurant, indoor pool, and skiing. There was a double chair, a T-bar, and a dozen trails with 750 feet of vertical. It operated from 1961 until the early 1980s, and had been re-named Bassett Mountain near the end. Mount Whitney, also near Whiteface, is another one we’d like to gather more information about. And there are lots of other Adirondack areas that we have to research.
Jeff: What factors led to these ski area closures? Were there any factors that were particular to the Adirondacks?
Jeremy: Well, you have the same factors that caused ski areas all over the Northeast to close down: insurance and snowmaking costs, the gasoline shortages in the ‘70s, bad snow years, competition and changing skier preferences. But there are some interesting cases in the Adirondacks: Harvey Mountain is a good example.
Jeff: What happened there?
Jeremy: Harvey Mountain was a classic, family-owned ski area on Barton Mines Road in North River, just a few miles up the road from state-run Gore. It had a T-bar, 400 feet of vertical, and operated from 1962 to 1977. It was a great alternative to Gore. But they weren’t allowed to have a sign advertising the mountain on Route 28 at the bottom of Barton Mines Road. They got around that by paying somebody to park a truck with a sign for Harvey Mountain each day at the turnoff for Gore, but eventually regulation and competition from Gore caused the ski area to shut down.
Jeff: It seems like there’s a good number of lost Adirondack ski areas that have been re-born: Hickory outside of Warrensburg, Oak Mountain near Speculator, Big Tupper. Is that unusual?
Jeremy: It is pretty unusual for a lost area to re-open, and there’s a unique, interesting story behind each one of those. Besides those three that you mentioned, several towns have their own rope tows that are still open: Indian Lake, Long Lake, Chestertown, Newcomb, Schroon Lake. A lot of people don’t realize those areas exist and are completely free. There’s also Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake, which is municipally operated and very affordable. You’ve also got places like Willard, West Mountain, Titus Mountain (near Malone) and McCauley Mountain (Old Forge) that still have that local, more intimate feel. So we’re really lucky in the Adirondacks to have these smaller areas that can introduce people to the sport and be an affordable alternative to the big areas. Hopefully the number of ski areas has stabilized, and short of some economic catastrophe, we won’t lose any more.
Jeremy: Eventually there will be. I don’t know what region we’ll do next, but the series will probably continue with a new book every two years or so until we’ve covered all of New York and New England. That will be eight books in total, so that’s a lot of work.
Readers who may have information to share with NELSAP are encouraged to visit NELSAP’s website or contact Jeremy Davis at [email protected] Reader input has been a critical part of NELSAP’s success over the years.
Photos: Top: Spring skiing at Harvey Mountain (courtesy Ann Butler and NELSAP). Middle: Paleface Mountain (courtesy NELSAP). Bottom: Davis at Gilbert’s Hill outside Woodstock, VT, site of the first lift-served skiing in the United States (courtesy Jeremy Davis).
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.