By Bob & Sandy Nesoff
Members: North American Travel Journalists Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Eastern Ski Writers Association
North American Snowsports Journalists Association
Skiing is one of the most time intensive sports with an amazingly short window. Most areas, especially in the Northeast, do not open until late November or December and that is weather dependent.
This year has been good to ski resorts, especially in the Northeast. Some on the West Coast have been almost wiped out by warm and dry weather. But even in the east it is a chancy situation.
A recent snowstorm blanketed New York and Northern New Jersey but never made it up the Thruway to most of the ski areas. The saving grace there was the fact that temperatures were cold enough to make snow…and the guns ran constantly.
Belleayre, in Highmount, NY and only a bit more than two hours from New York City and Northern New Jersey, is arguably one of the most underrated ski resorts. Its nearby neighbors, Hunter and Windham, attract far more skiers, but for those who enjoy a day of skiing without horrendous lift lines, Belleayre has become the destination of choice.
Until recently it was operated by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. A year ago responsibility was turned over to the Olympic Regional Development Agency (ORDA) that also has responsibility for Whiteface, Gore and West Mountain. And that has opened up possibilities.
Belleayre had become somewhat run down with very little done to upgrade its facilities. The slopes were always in excellent condition with a crew of dedicated workers making sure they were groomed properly and safe. But little was ever done to improve the lodges and other facilities that began to deteriorate from lack of funding.
That has all changed. A recent visit was an eye opener.
Standing outside the Discovery Lodge (the Lower Lodge to regulars) was a brand new groomer. This is no small investment but something the folks who run Belleayre felt was necessary to provide a top of the line experience for skiers. The new machine and the groomer it supplements were covered with snow and ice. The weather was in the single digits.
A look upslope showed the beautiful corduroy, groomed surface waiting for first tracks. The groomers had done their job. One of the benefits of skiing at Belleayre-or most other slopes-on a weekday other than a holiday, is that there are no crowds. In fact, often there is almost no one else.
There are 10 new mobile electric fan snow guns that blast 65 gallons of water per minute for each machine that will quickly cover bare ground. They are also green and energy efficient. A new 9,000 foot network of air and water pipes serve the snow guns help blast out a terrific cover.
The rental equipment area downstairs has all new skis, boards, boots and poles as well as moveable storage racks that permit personnel to easily and quickly serve customers.
Inside Discovery Lodge the brand new furniture was immediately noticeable. All the old tables were gone. A brand new food court that offers a wider range of eats with a new system that cuts down on lines waiting to be served was front and center. A staircase leading to the lower level had been closed off and the food service area extended.
One of the downsides of Belleayre is the lack of accommodations for skiers who would like to either overnight or make a weekend out of it. Nearby Margaretville has a motel, but the in-town accommodations are less than attractive. Much the same could be said for Fleishman’s. About 15 miles east of the slopes on Rt. 28 is Emerson Place with some top grade accommodations. www.belleayre.com.
For those who would like to roll out of bed and hit the slopes immediately the Alpine Osteria on the Belleayre access road is a good bet. The Osteria is located just yards off Rt. 28 and at the base of the mountain and the ride to the lodge is only a couple of hundred yards.
Run by Scott Fawaz, the Alpine Osteria is an immaculately kept accommodation with comfortable beds and amazing vittles for breakfast. While it only has seven rooms, there is a good variety of choices from suites to connecting rooms. Some of the rooms are a bit on the small side, but there is a communal room with a warm and inviting fireplace for guests. Some rooms have their own fireplace.
The showers are arguably far more modern than those found in even major upscale hotels with heads that blast from above, at the waistline and some even from both sides of the unit. Nothing like a warm, soothing shower-like massage after hitting the slopes.
The rooms are warm, the beds exceptionally comfortable and the in-room television sets offer more than 60 stations. For a B&B the Alpine Osteria rates at the top of the chart. www.AlpineOsteria.com.