Historic, challenging ski hill has been open to uphill skiers but wants to revive lifts
By Rick Karlin, Times Union
WARRENSBURG — A small but historic and challenging ski area is facing a deadline.
It’s not waiting for the first big snowstorm of the season, but instead, the operators of Hickory Ski Center need to raise $38,000 by Dec. 15 in order to pay the insurance premium required to run their modest fleet of ski lifts this winter.
“We have been open, we just haven’t had lifts,” Sue Catana, the area’s general manager, said explaining that for the past several winters the hill has been open to “uphill skiers” who ascend on their own power and ski down.
But this year, the center is trying to once again run the two Poma-style lifts and a T-bar that will allow far more skiers to ride uphill and ski down.
To reach their goal, operators have posted an appeal on their Facebook page and website, urging Hickory fans to buy a season pass/membership or to donate to an affiliated foundation.
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Skiers make their way toward the summit of Hickory Ski Center as wind fills the air with flakes of snow. Photo by Alan Wechsler
‘“We are at a crossroads. We have our lift inspections scheduled, sticks are on, the lodge is ready, the slopes are (almost) ready. What we are missing is liability insurance required for state certification of our lifts for operation,” the announcement states.
They hope to sell unlimited all-mountain passes for $500 and are developing a dynamic ticket pricing system, similar to what other major ski resorts are doing, in which prices would vary, generally rising the closer one gets to one’s visit.
An all-mountain day pass, for instance, might go for $70 if reserved a week in advance, rising to $150 if you reserve a spot on the day of your visit.
The season pass price and reserved tickets would be bargains, given the high cost of skiing, at least for the full sticker price that visitors would pay when they purchase single-day passes at the window.
To be sure, Hickory is a bit of a throwback.
There are no chairlifts, only the T-bar and Poma or platter pull lifts. For platter lifts, one rides them by tucking the platter between one’s legs and hanging on to a pole, that pulls people up the hill.
There is no snowmaking, making Hickory dependent on Mother Nature for a sliding surface.
But it has a respectable 1,200-foot of vertical rise or height from top to bottom. And the mountain’s upper reaches provide skiers with genuinely steep challenging runs with twists and turns. When there is enough snow, there are plenty of bumps as well.
Hickory was developed 77 years ago by a group of World War II veterans from the 10th Mountain Division who had been trained in skiing and winter warfare.
Some of those veterans returned to help build the Aspen and Vail resorts in Colorado, while others were affiliated with Sugarbush in Vermont as well as smaller areas nationwide.
Catana’s father, Hans Winbauer was among those skiing pioneers, and Hickory retains the same family-oriented, close-knit vibe it had when it was built in the 1940s.
The area is owned by 300 stockholders, many of whom live in the nearby Glens Falls area or the greater Capital Region and whose families have been involved in the area since the beginning.
The lifts have been closed since 2016 due to a combination of warm winters and a lack of funds for expenses.
But Hickory a few years ago opened for uphill skiers, who, when conditions are right, can be counted on to show up.
In uphill skiing, participants use special gear, which is a hybrid of Nordic, or cross-country equipment, and traditional downhill skis and boots. They can unlock the heel pieces on their ski bindings, strap mohair-like skins to the bottom of their skis, and climb up the mountain. Once on top, they lock down the heel pieces and ski down.
While a niche activity, there has been a boom in this type of skiing during the past few years. And should Hickory not get its insurance, it would likely remain open for these hardy uphillers, with season passes for $150 or daily tickets for $10, according to the center’s website. Season lift pass buyers would get refunds if the lifts don’t open.
For now, though, Catana remains optimistic.
Like many of the shareholders, she no longer skis. But she exhibits the positive outlook of a seasoned, veteran skier who is always looking forward to the next big snowstorm.
She said Hickory has already have received $8,000 in ticket sales as of Monday. And an affiliated organization, the Hickory Legacy Foundation, is seeking grant funding.
Moreover, as of Monday the snow season in this patch of the Adirondacks (Hickory is near the Gore Mountain ski center) was looking up.
The hill had 4 inches of snow last week, Catana said, and Monday morning brought another three inches of snow, albeit she said it was “wet and sloppy.”
One of Hickory’s selling points, she added, will be limits on the number of people who buy tickets at any one time, in order to save the best powder for their loyal customers.
“Snow is premium and it’s prime real estate and we are using that to our advantage,” she said.