Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hickory Mountain: Skiing The Old-Fashioned Way

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI put the Pomalift disc between my thighs and waited.  Within a second, I was airborne and launched six feet forward, then settled back to Earth.  At Hickory Ski Center, sliding up the mountain can be as exciting as the trip down.

The first thing you’ll notice about Hickory is the large percentage of skiers with telemark gear or powder planks.   Snowboarders are welcome, but you’ll rarely see them.  This is a skier’s mountain.  No matter what they have on their feet, almost everyone here is an expert or aspires to be one.  That’s a hint.  Hickory is for those that have developed their skills at lesser venues, not for neophytes.

Your trip to Hickory will start with a T-bar ride from the parking lot to the top of the Upper Peabody trail, where you’ll ski down to the lodge and buy your ticket.  From there, catch the lower Pomalift, which will launch you into mid-air before you return to terra firma for a two minute slide to mid-mountain.  If you’ve never ridden a Pomalift before, expect your first attempt to be a miserable failure, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.  Warm up for the day with a run down Top Notch, one of the easier black trails, before heading to the upper mountain.

With no snowmaking facilities, Hickory is dependent on the cooperation of a fickle Mother Nature.  On the fortuitous occasions when it’s open, you’ll contend with narrow trails littered with unmarked tree stumps, rock outcroppings and gnarly six-foot drops, making this some of the most extreme territory in the East.

The minimal grooming insures that you’ll also have plenty of bumps to navigate, so if you’re not a mogul skier Hickory isn’t the place for you.  What you won’t have at Hickory is long lift lines  –  even on this week’s blue bird Presidents’ Day, it seemed like I had the place to myself.

Hickory 6 - Feb 2014You won’t see meticulously manicured corduroy cruisers here and there isn’t a chairlift in sight.  These no-frills trails are for diehards who want a backcountry experience without the hassle of hiking up a mountain.  This is old-time skiing the way it was when Truman was president and ski boots were made of leather.

Hickory is one of the smaller ski areas in New York, with 18 tight trails totaling only five miles, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.  Hickory has over 200 acres of glades full of birches and maples (but inexplicitly, no hickory trees) and a 1,230 foot vertical drop.  Skiers of lesser skills may dismiss Hickory as a small, poorly-groomed mountain, but experts will welcome it as a challenge  –  and perhaps as a lesson in humility.

A few of the trails are rated beginner and are within the ability of anyone who can make a snowplow.  They’re short and uninteresting, though, with inconsistent grooming, so novices will be disappointed and quickly bored.  But no one goes to Hickory to ski the bunny slopes  –  the steeps, glades and bump runs are where the action is.

Hickory is located in Warrensburg, about 10 minutes from Northway exit 23.  The mountain is open on weekends and holidays at 9am, but don’t be in too much of a hurry to get there.  The north facing trails will be in flat light until about 10.  With no lift lines to contend with, a late start will still give you time for plenty of runs.

Editor’s Note: Hickory received an additional 6″ of snow on Tuesday night. The mountain will operate both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.


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Marty Plante was born and raised in New York City, but now lives in a log cabin in the Adirondacks. He has hiked and paddled on four continents, but feels most at home in the North Country. Marty can be found in the Adirondack woods playing with his skis, hiking boots, snowshoes and disturbingly large collection of canoes.

One Response

  1. John Jongen says:

    I remember this lift too well. Both, the Pomalift and the J-bar had this spring feature that could get you airborne. As a novice I made the mistake of concentrating on the mechanics of getting ‘seated’ while my skis were crossed. As the lift spring fully compressed attempting to get me unstuck I had to let go and the seat came whizzing past my head. And those were the days before ski helmets. I never lost anything other than my pride. But I gained a lot of humility and respect for these legacy ski lifts. Most of my early skiing skills were learned going UP the slope on rope-tows on un-groomed tracks.

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