They were as un-self-conscious and raucous as if they were watching at home in a den on Long Island, or in Brooklyn, the Bronx or Hoboken, N.J. As I used my sharp elbows on my fellow Noo Yawkers, trying to carve out a clear view of my Giants, it occurred to me that we were all so comfortably at home in the Catskills.
In the ancient Catskill Mountains, a 21
2-hour drive from Midtown Manhattan, the peaks reach 3,000 to 4,000 feet, the forest hides many valleys and hardscrabble towns, and Hunter and Windhammountains provide experiences different enough to sate anyone’s snow-sliding jones.
As a native New Yorker — and a resident of northern New Jersey for the past 25 years — I’ve skied Hunter and Windham on dozens of day trips. In fact, my very first day on skis, when I was in high school in the early 1970s, was at Hunter — wearing cotton long johns, rolled-up blue jeans, multiple sweatshirts and a baseball cap.
The resorts are only 10 miles apart along a winding, scenic country road but much more distant in attitude and identity. Despite their proximity, I’d never stayed overnight to ski Hunter and Windham on successive days until last month, when my non-skiing wife, our son (22 and an expert), our daughter (18 and an intermediate) and I made the Hunter Inn our base camp for three nights.
Nowadays, I can call myself an advanced skier, and I wear perspiration-wicking, high-tech base layers; polyester fleece; waterproof and breathable pants and jacket; and a helmet.
Some things don’t change, though.
Long known as a party-loving singles’ destination and the self-proclaimed “snowmaking capital of the world,” Hunter still attracts hard-chargers from Manhattan, New York City’s outer boroughs, Long Island and northern Jersey. When temperatures cooperate, it still lays down huge quantities of machine-made snow on nearly 100 percent of its terrain, a commitment pioneered by its founders, local brothers Orville and Israel Slutzky. (Across the Catskills, annual natural snowfall averages only 100 to 130 inches.)
In the base lodge, you can still get authentic Jewish deli food at Jerry’s, Italian at Santini’s Pizza, and Mediterranean and Asian cuisine in the Plaza Cafe, or loosen your ski boots sitting at a second-story sushi bar.
And on prime weekends and holidays, you can still expect crowds everywhere.
But on the Friday after New Year’s, we had Hunter, then about 60 percent open, largely to ourselves.
Experts head to Hunter West, which has only black and double-black diamond trails. Intermediate and advanced skiers and riders spend their time on the main mountain, as we did, on classic narrow trails cut between rocky ledges and on several broader boulevards (personal favorites: Belt Parkway, Broadway, Kennedy Drive, Eisenhower Drive).