The history the Catskills as a winter sports destination dates back to at least the 1920s, but the attempt to create a year around vacationland did not meet with immediate success. In fact, some spectacular showings at a few of the hotels over the ensuing years notwithstanding, the effort was still largely hit or miss well into the 1950s.
Grossinger’s had entertained more than 850 guests over the Christmas-New Year holidays in 1929, and had its largest weekend ever up until that time, winter or summer, on Washington’s Birthday weekend in 1941, but no hotel – not even Grossinger’s – was able to do that kind of winter business on a regular basis.
Even on the heels of that record-setting weekend at Grossinger’s in 1941, the Liberty Register newspaper editorialized that “many people have not taken the winter resort business seriously, and the slow development it has shown seemed to justify this skepticism.” The paper added that for “four or five years” spokesmen for the area, when asked about skiing conditions here had to “in frankness admit that the skiing was no good.”
Still, many refused to give up the dream of the county as a year around tourist destination.
“Big Hotels Increase Effort to Build Up Winter Sports” read a headline in the January 22, 1953 edition of the Register, over a story that focused almost exclusively on Grossinger’s and the Concord, while mentioning two other Sullivan County hotels — the Young’s Gap and the Avon Lodge.
“Greater effort than ever before is being made this winter to make Sullivan County in the Catskills a year around vacationland,” the article began. “More hotels are open, and four ski centers are operating. At two resorts, snow-making machines guarantee skiing as long as the temperature is below freezing.
“The vacationist who spends his holidays in Sullivan County this winter will also benefit from off-season rates. Besides skiing, the county offers ice skating, sleigh riding and sledding, all amid a panorama of snow-covered mountains.”
According to the article, Grossinger’s was introducing snow-making that winter, and the Concord, which had begun a snow-making operation a year earlier, was expanding its capacity.
“Grossinger at Ferndale is using a snow-making machine for the first time while the Concord at Kiamesha Lake is expanding its snow-producing unit, installed last year. Skiing facilities at these resorts are open to the public,” the Register reported.
“Grossinger has added a fourth slope and a new chalet to its winter sports pattern. The slope runs about 1,500 feet and is served by a rope tow. Besides skiing on three other slopes, Grossinger offers ice skating on both natural and artificial outdoor rinks and tobogganing with an electric tow that carries both toboggan and passenger to the top of the run.
“Sigo Baum, ex-Norwegian champ, Gene Beckman, and Jerry Dudinsky instruct skiers at Grossinger’s, and three-time Olympic champ Irving Jaffee is the ice skating instructor.
“The Concord has a new cable ski sled for the use of tobogganers. At the top of the Concord ski development is a fieldstone and rough timber Swiss chalet. The slopes are served by a platter-pull lift. There are two new instructors at the center, Tlno Koch from Switzerland and Jim Ehrensbeck from upstate New York. The figure skating team, McGowan and Mack, give ice skating lessons both on outdoor and indoor rinks.”
The Young’s Gap had been trying to capture a piece of the winter sports market for a number of years, and would eventually build both an indoor pool and indoor skating rink. By 1964, the hotel would sell out several winter weekends in addition to the Christmas-New Years holidays. In 1953, they were expanding their skiing facilities, trying to keep pace with the two pacesetters.
“Two slopes and a two-mile trail, served by a rope tow mark the ski development at the Young’s Gap hotel near Parksville, which is open to the public. Other sports include tobogganing and ice skating.
“Another resort in Sullivan County offering skiing to the public is Avon Lodge at Woodridge. Here, the holdidayer can enjoy skiing, ice skating, and tobogganing during the daylight hours, and the usual Sullivan County entertainment in the evening.”
The article went on to tout the exquisite cuisine to be found at all the hotels, and the Broadway and Hollywood stars who provided the entertainment there in the evening. Winter or summer, these staples remained the hallmarks of all Catskills hotels.
Photo: A promotional postcard for the ski area at the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, Sullivan County, NY.