Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Speculator: Oak Mountain Memories

oak mountain ski lift

As everyone knows, it’s been a tough winter for outdoor enthusiasts.  I like to ski on Fridays and the recent pattern seems to be a good storm Sunday through Monday, then by Friday, it’s been 40 degrees and rain.  I took a chance and drove to my favorite mountain on a recent morning.  Thankfully, the conditions were amazing. Well groomed, hard packed, and fast, but not crusty or icy. Everyone looked like an Olympian!

I learned to ski at Oak Mountain. Years ago, my mother and sister took me to the top, pointed down, and said “go”.  No bunny hill, no lesson, no tips as to how to snowplow! Oak is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with various activities.  I attended the nearby 4-H camp (a former CCC camp) in the 70s and recall the counselors talking about going to the “Acorn” (the pub/restaurant) on the weekends when there were no campers.

bear sculpture

On a sad note, one of our favorite lift operators passed away in May at only 42  years old. Ethan was quiet, with a ready smile.  We joked around with him every time we went up, and he teased us right back.  We usually hooked him up with chocolates or homemade cookies. Today, I shared with the owners how upset my mom and I were at this news.

They told me this story:  Right after Ethan passed away, a wedding was held on the mountain.  He would have been one of the “lifties” for the event.  The weather was beautiful for the entire ceremony.  As they were riding the lift back down, a rainbow appeared and seemed to follow them (seeming almost close enough to touch.) When everyone was safely at the bottom, it began to rain. Everyone felt Ethan’s presence. Oak is hoping to pay tribute to Ethan in some way during President’s Weekend.  They will post updates on their website.

If you go, be sure to visit the Speculator Department Store for some Woolrich clothing, Charlie Johns for some groceries or a souvenir, and definitely the Mountain Market for a slice of their amazing pizza.  Also, the Johnstown [Public] Library is currently holding their annual basket raffle fundraiser.  I am donating “The Last Chairlift” by John Irving, along with a gift certificate for one adult day ski pass and $20 to use in the Acorn Lodge or to buy merch. You can see all the baskets on the library’s Facebook page here.

Photos provided by the author.

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I am a retired teacher who enjoys the outdoors, especially the Adirondacks. My parents took us camping when we were kids, then we attended 4-H Camp in Speculator (a former CCC camp). As an adult, I served on the Camp board for 8 years. I went to my friend's camp in Bloomingdale (Saranac) for 10 years. We enjoyed cross country skiing, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, etc. I still hike, cross country and downhill ski, snowshoe. I bicycle and ride a Harley. I play the organ at a 300 year old church.

4 Responses

  1. wash wild says:

    Such a sweet, heartfelt post. Thank you Laura.

  2. Joel Rosenbnaum says:

    Thanks Laura B for this article. It brought back memories of my own, skiing at Oak Mt in the early fifties when they had a T-bar. At that time I was an undergrad at Syracuse,
    and I taught in the ski school on weekends. Ed Rickard, from Syracuse Univ ski club (SUSKI) was the head instructor. I remember the snow being good and the people being friendly, and Speculator being a great little town!

    • laura bellinger says:

      Hi, Joel! Yes, my parents and I rode the T bar as well. We would usually go over a hole or a bump and get knocked off! Good times!

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