Lake George Was Home to Longest Ski Lift in America
Countless Northway motorists speed past Prospect Mountain in Lake George, with no idea of its place in the history of Adirondack region skiing.
The site, first opened in the winter of 1937-38, was called Cobble Mountain, owned by Fred Pabst whose family owned Pabst Brewing Company, maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Fascinating details are found in the book, “Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks,” whose author, Jeremy Davis, recently published a companion book, “Lost Ski Areas of the Northern Adirondacks.”
“Lake George had the first step up beyond rope tows in the entire state of New York, with an overhead cable tramway, what is now referred to as a J-bar,” Davis said during a recent presentation.
The system was 2,400 feet long, attached to trees and wooden towers, and whisked people uphill at 4.5 mph. Trails had a 500-foot vertical drop, and came to an end near the present-day site of a pedestrian bridge over the Northway.
A huge “ski-tow” sign directed skiers to the slope from the village of Lake George. A wide-open slope 500 feet wide and with a maximum pitch of 34 degrees provided a good challenge for skiers.
The slope was located quite close to the bottom of the former incline railroad that had served the summit of Prospect during the earlier portions of the century. Additional trails were constructed with such names as Sky Way, Will Wood and the Indian Trail, though some of those required a hike to the summit first
For some reason, historic signs at the base of today’s hiking trail tell about the incline railway and the hotel that once stood atop Prospect Mountain. But there is no mention of the pioneering area, Cobble Mountain, which was located on a ridge of Prospect Mountain called Rattlesnake Cobble.
In his book, Davis tells how in 1936 the Winter Sports Club of Lake George purchased a large tract of land on the Cobble with assistance from local and Glens Falls businesses. Ski trails had previously been cut on the mountain in the early-mid 1930s, but it was not until the winter of 1937–38 that a ski lift was installed.
“Fred Pabst was the first person to start a chain of ski areas,” Davis said. “He had 17 at one point in such diverse locations as Iron Mountain, Michigan.; Wausau, Wisconsin; and Plymouth, New Hampshire.”
However, most of them went bankrupt. Apparatus from many of them, including Lake George, wound up at his most successful venture – Bromley Mountain in Vermont.
The Great Depression was still in full swing when Cobble Mountain opened. First-year receipts totaled just $238 from ticket sales, and the area was described as being fairly expensive, at $1.50 per day, when nearby rope tow areas typically charged 50 cents or a dollar. Despite the low turnout, a reporter described the area as “worth visiting, not only for the quality of skiing but for the view of the lake and surrounding mountains,” Davis wrote in his book.
However, the site’s popularity grew six-sold the next year as revenues reached $1,223. In early 1939, Cobble Mountain even hosted ski races such as one sanctioned by the United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association (USEASA) with a combined downhill and slalom.
By 1939-40, slopes were expanded all the way to the summit with names such as Black Spruce Trail off Big Hollow Road and Milt’s Trail, named after the former president of the ski club who had recently died. This trail started from the summit and ran down the west side of the mountain to the bottom of the ski tow and was intermediate in nature.
In addition, a branch of Otto Schneibs’s American Ski School out of Lake Placid taught lessons at Cobble Mountain. His ski school was the leading authority of instruction across much of the Adirondacks in the late 1930s and 1940s, with instructors at many areas.
The 1939-40 season turned out to be Cobble Mountain’s best with receipts totaling $1,651. However, business fell to less than half that the following year (1940-41) while Bromley, which Pabst also owned, was much more profitable.
The onset of World War II also brought about gas rationing, which hurt the ski industry. So Pabst closed Cobble Mountain and moved its J-bar to Bromley where it operated for another 20 years before being replaced with a modern double chairlift.
However, another brief chapter in the mountain’s history was still to come. Howard Macdonald, who had previously skied there, decided to reopen it in the mid-1940s under a new name, Cobble Slopes. He installed a rope tow, cleared trails and reactivated the area, assisted by Melvin Brown, who had also skied at Cobble Mountain.
While not as large as the J-bar area, it had a 1,000-foot rope tow, a ski shop and charged an affordable $1.50 per day. Two trails named Cobble Slope and Top-of-the World were lighted for night skiing.
Cobble Slopes closed around 1950 and never reopened.
Today, the former ski area is overgrown and indistinguishable except for the most trained observer who knows exactly where it was. “You can see the view from the top of the ski slope at the first turnoff on the Prospect Mountain Highway,” Davis wrote.
One can’t help imagining, as local officials and business leaders seek ways for Lake George to become a more year-round destination, how much of a draw this might be if the center had survived to the present-day.