From Olympics to Olympics: The History of Skiing in New York

Last night, Mappy Hour NYC featured Dave Skibinski – the owner of adventure guiding company Live More Adventures. As an Adirondack local and ski enthusiast, Dave was the perfect person to talk about the history of skiing in New York State.



Here’s a quick timeline:

1932 – Lake Placid hosts the third Olympics. There were only four skiing events including cross-country and ski jumping. It’s almost hard to imagine how different skiing was at that time. During the ski jump, almost no one stuck the landings, in fact, if you stuck the landing there was a good chance you’d get a medal.

Some of the challenges for downhill skiing at the time included:

  • Safety – The equipment was very rudimentary, the skiers didn’t even have helmets.
  • Logistics – The mountains were far from where people lived and cars weren’t ubiquitous at the time
  • Cost – The depression was in full swing at this time, and just the cost to get to the mountain was prohibitive

During the Olympics, a group of men from the local village of Schenectady came to watch and were thoroughly impressed. Excited about this new sport and intent on bringing it to their home state of New York, one of them, Vincent Schaefer started flying around in helicopter to scout locations for a ski mountain in New York. North Creek, the home of Gore Mountain today was chosen.

1933 – By the next season, “Ski Bowl Park” in North Creek was being advertised as New York’s first public ski mountain. Yet every weekend it rained. The following summer, Schaefer and his crew returned to North Creek to continue building trails, unable to give up their dream of a ski mountain.

1934 – This year, better conditions and even ski trains led to the first downhill ski mountain in New York State. The lack of infrastructure was made up for by enterprising locals who, for a fee, would host and feed visitors in their home as well as drive them up to the top of the mountain so they could ski down. That year, Vermont had launched the rope tow and the Ski Bowl Park soon followed, not only with a rope tow but a new slogan’ Ride Up, Ski Down.

WWII Era – During WWII, the number of people skiing in New York State decreased significantly leading some mountains to close their doors. Yet, when soldiers returned, specifically the 10th Mountain Division, having seen the technology in Europe’s mountains they were ready to keep building.

1950’s: Skiing continues to grow as a sport. New York State changes its constitution in order to open Belleayre Mountain (publicly owned).  It’s crazy to imagine but season passes were as low as $5 back then! This is the decade that the first chairlift opened in the U.S.A. The one person chairlift was housed at Belleayre in New York State and though slow, was an improvement from walking up or needing to find a truck to give you a lift.

As the century, marched on, more technology improved accessibility and experience. Hunter Mountain started snowmaking, waterproof clothing became available, and more and more people started spending their time outside.

1980 – The Olympics again are hosted in Lake Placid. This time, there are 19 skiing events, artificial snow was used  and women are included. To this day, New York State continues to own Belleayre along with two other mountains: Whiteface and Gore.

Any New York State Ski Trivia we missed? Comment below and we’ll add it in! 

Header photo by Horace Cheng at Solas Bar

New on the Blog