A Catskill Catalog: December 26, 2012

At Christmas 1958, eight ski areas in the Central Catskills were primed to open for their biggest season yet. “Enthusiastic Local Promotion is Vital If These Mountains Are To Be Developed Into East’s Foremost Winter Playground,” trumpeted headlines in the Christmas Edition of the Catskill Mountain News.

With Manchester, Vermont as their model, local boosters promoted our region’s close proximity to New York City as the reason why booming ski areas would do for us what Big Bromley Mountain had, so recently, done for Manchester, a once sleepy Vermont rural outpost converted into an $8 million-a-year economic dynamo, fueled by hordes of visiting skiers.

By Christmas that year, Belleayre Mountain’s chairlift had already “accommodated 14,000 folks on a three-day-weekend on several occasions,” the News reported. Surely the announced plans to improve and upgrade Route 28 would bring even more skiers. Winding and narrow, Route 28 certainly needed work, if it was to handle modern traffic, and plans to bypass village centers would speed-up visitors’ transit time.

“Today the Catskills with Belleayre chairlift and seven other developments, can dream of crowds of 50,000 on a three-day weekend,” the newspaper writer gushed.
Today, 2012, Belleayre attracts something like 175,000 skiers annually. Route 28 makes it possible for many of those visitors to bypass our village centers.

Back in 1958, skiing at Belleayre began with “the first 20-inch snowfall in October.” Now, that’s nostalgia!

Shayne’s ski center operated near Belleayre. I am not sure where, although its new ski-lodge was located in the old Belleayre Playhouse, converted, now, to recreational use. The Davenport family operated Highmount Ski Center, up beyond Belleayre, and, by Christmas 1958, the Slavin brothers had recently completed work expanding their parking.

DePitt’s Mountain Lodge, on the south side of the railroad siding in Fleischmanns, opened a new three-rope-tow ski slope, up behind their hotel building. Six trails wind down the slope from the top of the three tows. DePitt’s also boasted a skating rink: full outdoor winter fun.
Up in Meeker Hollow, Town of Roxbury, the Hinkley family was completing construction of their new ski facility. They reported plenty of snow, but needed to wait on insurance. That Christmas 1958 opening was, of course, the beginning of today’s Plattekill Ski Center, going better than ever up at the head of Meeker Hollow.

“The privately-owned Roxbury Ski Center at Vega and the Bearpen slope astride Halcott-Weskill ridge are going into their third and fifth seasons respectively,” the News reported.
“The state’s pioneer ski facility, the Simpson Memorial slope outside Phoenicia, also looks forward to a busy season. At a considerably lower level than the other slopes, Simpson must depend on the heaviest snowfalls to insure top skiing.”

As I write this, a few days before Christmas 2012, it is pouring outside. It has been raining all day, often quite heavy, our White Christmas running wetly down the gullies by the road. Two ski centers remain, and while they can now make their own snow, shushing down rain-slicked slopes is hardly a crowd-pleaser. Winter sports depend upon winter weather.

Off the slopes and in the villages, Christmas 1958 seems like a Hallmark card today. The front page of the newspaper reported holiday comings-and-goings. Martin Ford was home from university studies at Michigan State, staying with his father, Ivan. The Arkville Card Club held their annual Christmas party at Mrs. Snyder’s home. Trooper Charlie Geehrer would be leaving after New Years for a six-week course at the state police school in Troy.

Inside, the paper is filled with newsprint Christmas cards, display-ad greetings purchased by businesses to send holiday cheer to their customers, neighbors, and friends. There’s Douglas Kelly & Son. They sell farm equipment out of their big stucco showroom on Main Street in Margaretville. Crosby Brothers is in the same business in Arkville, you know, the big brown building at the Crossroads and Route 28. They, too, send “Joyous Greetings.”

Harrison and Lindon Morse send an “old-fashioned greeting,” from their Mid-Rox Cooperative Fire Insurance Company in Roxbury. And Sam, Paul, Harold, Lynn, and LeRoy all signed the “Christmas Greetings,” from Dugan & Tabor, Inc. Those fellows sold feed and grain out of the former opera house, the Margaretville Bridge Street building known as the Granery.

Of course, any Christmas edition means New Years’ is right around the corner, and, the good folks of our region, marking Christmas 1958 in the Catskill Mountain News, sure meant to celebrate. The Valli-Hi was a great little restaurant and tavern out on Route 28, just up past Canada Hollow. In sending their season’s greetings, Stan and Peg, the proprietors, were sure to include, “Open Until 1 A.M. New Year’s Eve.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. billbirns@gmail.com