Remembering Lake George’s Lost Ski Areas
In the years between the 1932 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid and the outbreak of World War II, small, single lift ski areas abounded in the Lake George area. Only a few remain.
According to Jeremy Davis, the author of the newly published Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks,
“The Adirondacks are filled with the ghosts of former ski areas. They range from the first J-bar in New York State in Lake George to large, planned resorts that were never completed.”
Davis, a meteorologist by profession, is a historian of vanished ski centers by avocation.
“This is my third book. The first was Lost Ski Areas of the White Mountains, the second, published in 2010, was Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont,” said Davis. “I’ve been collecting brochures, guides and newspaper clippings about former ski areas for twenty years, starting in college. I first posted my research on a website. The editors at History Press saw it, and they said this material should be published in book form. I didn’t set out to be an author.”
In Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks, Davis writes about ski areas in Bolton, Lake George and Warrensburg, in addition to approximately 30 others spread throughout the Adirondack Park.
“In Bolton, a rope tow was installed at the Sagamore Golf Club. Warrensburg had a ski area between the Schroon River and Harrington Hill known as Hull’s Slope. And Lake George had a J-bar at Prospect Mountain and a ski jump at Top of the World, as well as rope tows at lesser known areas near the present sites of Travel Lodge and Magic Forest,” said Davis.
Skiing in Lake George was promoted by a Winter Sports Club and served by Snow Trains from Albany.
While only two hotels – the Worden and the Ballos – remained open year-round, there were several rooming houses within walking distance of the slopes, which were just a few blocks away from Canada Street. “Experienced skiers consider Lake George facilities the equal of the most popular winter resorts in New York State,” claimed a January, 1938 issue of the Knickerbocker News.
According to Davis, the Prospect Mountain slope was developed by Fred Pabst, the brewery heir who built the first ski centers in eastern Canada and New England.
“What’s interesting is that even small areas like Top of the World hired European ski instructors and famous ski jumpers,” said Davis.
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Pabst dismantled the J-bar and moved it to Vermont, where he opened Big Bromley, Davis said.
The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid made skiing a popular sport for the first time, said Davis.
“Equipment was inexpensive, even during the depression,” said Davis. “People could even make their own skis and bindings if necessary.”
After World War II, skiing became a big business as investors and developers created ski resorts in the Rockies and in southern Vermont. The days of the single lift, owner and sometimes community operated ski area were over.
Davis said his goal is “to get the histories of these ski areas on the record before it’s too late, and no one is left who will remember them.”
Davis acknowledges that some people might regard his interest in vanished ski areas as “a peculiar hobby.”
“But,” he says, “you’d be surprised by how many thousands of people have responded to the web site and books and have contributed photos and their own personal accounts.”
“The lost ski areas are like other lost pieces of roadside Americana: the amusement parks, the drive-ins, the diners. People are nostalgic about them because they associate them with their families and their own childhoods,” he said.
“These are modern day archaeological sites,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly the ski slopes revert to wilderness. It’s almost instantaneous.”
He notes, for example, that the engine that powered the rope tow at the Ski Bowl in North Creek is now all but hidden in the woods a few hundred feet from the access road to the state-owned Gore Mountain Ski Center.
“It was the first rope tow in New York State,” he says. “Would people be interested to know that they’re driving by it every time they go to Gore? At least a few of us find that fascinating.”
Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks is available at Trees in Bolton Landing, the Lake George Historical Museum and the Lake George Steamboat Company in Lake George, the Warrensburg Historical Museum and Miller’s Art and Frame in Warrensburg and the Ticonderoga Historical Society in Ticonderoga.