Author follows Adirondack trails of ski areas that once flourished but are since closed
For Jeremy Davis, skiing is more than a heart-pumping zig-zag down a snow-covered mountain. He gets a thrill from exploring Northeast ski areas that no longer exist.
For 14 years, Davis has been using the Internet to hunt for photos and memories of ski areas that closed years ago. He travels to those places, uncovering trails hidden in the woods, abandoned, rusted machinery and lodges that have been shut down for decades.
His most recent quest was the Southern Adirondacks, where he documented 39 ski areas that operated in the past 75 years and then shut down.
“We’re 99 percent sure that we got them all. They are everywhere,” he says.
Davis, a 34-year-old meteorologist who lives in Wilton, is the author of “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks,” published in 2012 by The History Press.
The 160-page paperback has 75 black-and-white photos, including a 1934 picture of Schenectady’s snow train to North Creek, and is divided into four regions: Gore Mountain, Lake George-Schroon Lake, Sacandaga Lake-Foothills and Speculator-Old Forge.
The story of each ski area and why it disappeared is based on Davis’s interviews with local historians and the people who operated the areas, worked or skied there. He provides instructions on how to visit lost ski areas and tells readers which ones are off limits because they are on private property.
Many Adirondack residents invited him into their homes and shared albums packed with ski photos.
In Old Forge, he met 86-year-old Jim Ehrensbeck, who worked as a ski instructor and manager at McCauley Mountain and installed ski lifts around the country for Hall Ski Lift.
Then there was Larry Wilke, who researched the old ski areas around North Creek and put together an exhibit about them at the North Creek Depot Museum.
Wilke had to get special permission to drive Davis up old mining roads, which are on private land, and then hiked with him to a ridge that once was the Barton Slope ski area.
“He found the top of the rope tow at Barton that was closed for 60 years,” Davis says. “It was deep in the forest.” Trees grow fast in the Northeast, so ski trails can be lost in a few decades, he says. “Out west, it takes a hundred years.”
Not that long ago, just about every village or town in the Southern Adirondacks had a ski area. Many were developed during the Depression years, when people were looking for affordable fun, and after the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid introduced skiing to the masses. Local ski clubs would cut trails up the mountains so skiers could hike to the top with their gear.
“Once skis were purchased, the sport became essentially free,” Davis writes. “All one needed to do was find a nearby hill, climb up, strap on the skis and ride down.”
In 1934, the Schenectady Wintersports Club launched the snow train that carried hundreds of passengers to North Creek, where trucks would ferry them up to the back slope of Gore. “Pretty much anyone in Schenectady who loved the outdoors belonged to the club,” says Davis.
In 1935, Carl Schaefer, a club member from Schenectady, built the first rope tow for North Creek skiers. “Their arms would be exhausted and their mittens shredded by the end of the day, but they would have had a tremendous amount of fun,” Davis writes.
As the ski industry grew, J-bars, T-bars and chair lifts appeared, and in the 1950s and 1960s, ski areas were busy as parents taught their baby boomer children how to ski.
But in the 1970s, Adirondack ski areas went downhill for many reasons, including inflation, gas shortages and insurance rates. By the 1990s, most of the 39 areas described in the book had closed.
Davis, who grew up in Chelmsford, Mass., took his first ski lesson in 1989 at Nashoba Valley, northwest of Boston. When he was 13, his family went on a ski vacation in New Hampshire and drove past a boarded-up ski area.
“This was cool, a big lost ski area,” he recalls. “I was interested in what happened there. It’s like a ghost town or an archaeological site.”
There was no Internet back then, so he started collecting information from old guidebooks, postcards and ski magazines.
In 1998, he used this research to launch the New England Lost Ski Areas Project website, www.nelsap.org, with the purpose of tracking down even more information.
“People started to find it,” he says.
The History Press found his website, too, and asked if he was interested in writing a book.
In 2008, he authored “Lost Ski Areas of the White Mountains,” and followed it in 2010 with “Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont.”
He found 60 lost ski areas in Southern Vermont. “Vermont has larger lost areas. Adirondack areas are smaller, more locally oriented,” he says.
In the southern Adirondacks, Alpine Meadows in South Corinth, with its three T-bars, was the largest of the lost ski areas. Alpine, which was close to Saratoga Springs and popular site for high school and college ski races, closed in 1991.
Davis dedicates his books to everyone who founded, operated, worked or skied at lost ski areas and salutes “their enterprising spirit, hard work and love of skiing.” But the other reason he continues this research is to preserve the stories of the oldest generation of Adirondack skiers.
“They’ll fade away in the not too distant future, unfortunately,” he says. “I don’t even want to think about how much that has been thrown out.”
Davis, a board member at the New England Ski Museum in Franconia, N.H., encourages people to donate unwanted ski memorabilia to their local historical societies and museums. They can also contact him through the website.
He is a senior meteorologist at Weather Routing Inc., a private consulting firm in Glens Falls that supplies marine weather forecasts to yachts, cruise liners, oil rigs and commercial ships. “We talk to people all over the world every day,” he says.
During the winter, like every skier, he keeps a close watch on the weather and takes off for the mountains when there’s snow.
“I like to go all over,” he says.
He skis at Gore Mountain, the big resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire and smaller places in New York. Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg, Oak Mountain in Speculator and Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake are all on his downhill list. Those areas are also featured in the final chapter of the book, “Open Ski Areas,” about the 10 Southern Adirondack ski areas, including Gore and West Mountain, that continue to operate.
Davis and his husband, Scott Drake, are also members of Ski Venture in Glenville, a small ski area with two rope tows that has been in operation since 1937.
“It’s such a neat treasure in this area and no one knows about it,” says Davis. “It’s amazing what you can do on 110 vertical.”