Opening weekend at Plattekill, and this past Sunday, I finally made it out. Descending onto Meeker Hollow Road, I was welcomed by a bright, clear morning. Snow still clung to the windswept fields, and to every branch shouldering the road. The conditions seemed great.
Gearing up in the lodge, sunlight beamed in through the massive windows, lighting up the empty bar. There was only a handful of us – quickly getting ready, nodding to one another, eager to kick off a new season.
Finally out, I rode the triple thinking of a first run on Upper Face. They were blowing snow on the side (skier’s left) and there seemed to be good untracked lines along the tree line although there would be some maneuvering through the whales under the guns. I love riding these, before they ice up. These were nicely spaced and created a chute near the trees.
Being newly gunned, the snow was a little heavy, but the pitch was steep enough to push through it (with tight turns, staying forward and square to the fall line.) Once backseat I nearly ate it - that’ll wake you right up when you are so close to the trees/guns.
Halfway down I heard someone behind and I pulled to the side. A woman whished past, absolutely killing it. Effortless turns, absorption, completely fluid. As if she were carving perfect corduroy and not the chopped, bumped-up, completely UN-smooth UN-forgiving line we were on.
Impressed, I nodded to her. “Beautiful,” she said, grinning.
Yeah. That’s what it is.
On a groomer, in the trees, picking your way down the side of a trail between six-foot rollers, there are always opportunities (if you choose) for Plattekill to challenge, to push you.
Legs burning, I hit the lodge to warm up. And, in what seems to be commonplace at Plattekill - I recognized someone. A man was sitting up with his two young daughters a few tables away. I remembered him from the trail-clearing crew. He introduced himself as Brian, and his two daughters, Ava and Lia.
All three wore the cheerful, wind-nipped faces of a family who had already put in plenty of turns that day. We chatted for a while, and they invited me to take some runs with them. John and his family live in north NJ and rent a place near the mountain every winter, for years they’ve spent their weekends at Plattekill. He told me he wanted his daughters to continue to learn on this mountain, because it constantly challenged them, made them learn to handle any conditions.
From the way they slayed every run I took with them, their dedication to Plattekill paid off. We eventually hit Upper Face, and I barely kept up with them. They even managed a few jumps off the rollers.
When we met at the bottom Brian called out to the man running the lift, “Bob, how’s it going?”
“Living the life,” he replied. “One chair at a time.”
While you’re preparing for both turkey and the ski season, Isaac and I on the blog are reliving the past. Actually not reliving our past, we’re discovering it as neither of us was skiing in the 70s.
In 1971 Plattekill was keeping it real and still the hidden gem we know today. Stan Fischler (sports writer and hockey historian) wrote for New York Magazine: “I’m always amazed to discover that on any given weekend, long, maddening lines snake their way behind the chairlifts not to mention the cafeterias at such snow centers as Belleayre and Great Gorge [now defunct], while a resort like Plattekill, less than an hour past Belleayre [ed. note: it’s 20 minutes…] and with equally challenging terrain, remains a schussing wilderness and a beautiful one at that.”
Fischler lists these unheard of areas “in order of my favorites” starting with Plattekill, then Highmount [sadly also defunct], Catskill Ski Center [many recall as Bobcat in Andes and alas no more] and Noname [some of you know as Bearpen and also defunct, but rumored to be amazing if you can hike in]. His original text is below and the original image that ran in New York Magazine is above:
Plattekill in Roxbury, New York, is a gem, and good skiers have been tight-lipped for years in fear that it would be discovered. It hasn’t yet, and even on the weekends when conditions are ideal a five-minute wait on the lift-line is regarded as long. [ed. note: still true].
Owners Bonnie and Gary Hinkley [who first built the hill. Gary skis there every day it’s open] are a couple of young locals who are on the slopes as often as their customers. Their 3,000 foot “Plattekill Plunge” – with a 970-foot vertical drop—will gratify any expert, [still true] and the intermediate “Ridge Run” is high, wide and negotiable. A popular misconception is that Plattekill is mostly for advanced skiers. [people still think this] In reality it boasts some gentle novice and intermediate dips and a pleasant lodge with brown stain, red trm and Alpine background music [okay, that last detail has changed. The music is mostly of this century, though an ocassional track from the 80s has been played…]
THIS IS HOW I grew up skiing. Dog-eared ca 1972 copies of ski mags. Stacks and stacks of them. Which is to say I didn’t grow up skiing at all but spending my summer vacations in a ski house in Southern Vermont. I didn’t ski. But I read. I dreamed. I stared and studied and longed. I also grew up in Virginia, and my family wasn’t inclined towards winter. Mountains for us were hiking in the summers in Vermont on this little hill that was a ski area. Flash forward a few decades and I am living in the Catskills and I learn to ski. And then discover Plattekill, which is to me like the promised land (the promised land ca 1972—warm lodge, wooden beams, wood stove). I’d been skiing for maybe half a season when I first got there and the parking person said, “Look up there. It just opened. Macker groomed it perfectly.” He waved at the white ribbon of Northface. I had no idea who Macker was, but that the person parking my car said he skied it yesterday and promised it was fantastic, was also a warm welcome to the hill.
(Small aside: a nice thing about learning to ski in this decade is that I didn’t have to ski straight skis ca 72, and hence after a half season of skiing didn’t kill myself on Northface).
Flash forward another 2 years and I’m doing Platty’s blog. After the second post someone emails me, “It reminds me,” he writes, “of this little hill where I learned to ski in Vermont.” That little hill was where I learned to long for skiing.
But had I learned there, I probably wouldn’t be here. (I can play out a zillion alternate realities in my mind: Had my dad taken that job in Kalispell Montana where I’d have skied… Hhad they bought that place that every summer they talked of on that mountain in Vermont, where I’d have skied…. They didn’t. I ended up here and this place that keeps it real—and I still have one dog-eared copy of ski mag that I kidnapped from the vacation home when I was 15… Below images from said issue… Lange. New York. Wayne Wong in infrared.