The Hamptons is the summer escape for sweltering New Yorkers, but when the winter snows lie thick in Central Park, it’s the pine-clad ski slopes of the Catskills and the Adirondacks that beckon these urbanites. Of course, for us, Europe has every kind of ski adventure imaginable; but as the Brits charge off en masse to the Alps, why not beat the crowds and head west to combine a city break in the Big Apple (Christmas shopping, January sales, craft beer and cocktails), with some scenic skiing in the US’s largest ski area, Upper New York State.
Just a couple of hours north of the city, you enter the Catskill mountains; further north still the Adirondacks, a protected wilderness larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. The whole region is dotted with homely ski resorts – ‘ma and pa resorts’, as they’re affectionately called – often state or family run, that cater for all abilities. As you journey northwards, the verticality and the scope of the resorts increases, until you nudge up to the border with Canada and the mighty Whiteface Mountain, host to the winter Olympics of 1932 and 1980 at Lake Placid.
A three-hour drive from Manhattan, you arrive at Plattekill Mountain, a boutique resort run by husband and wife team Laszlo and Danielle Vajtay, who met on the slopes and live and breathe skiing. They’ve created a cosy up-country vibe in their alpine-style lodge, Skiers Bistro, serving piping-hot dishes and pints of steaming cider without the euro-hike we’re used to. Don’t be surprised if a local band arrives for some live entertainment – the vibe here is pretty chilled – they are mostly neighbours, after all. There’s a two-mile beginners’ cruising trail with the longest vertical at 1,100 feet. Outside of weekends you could have the 38 pistes and the terrain park all to yourself.
Hunter Mountain is a much bigger affair, with exciting and fast runs, owned by generations of the quirky-named Slutzky family (since the 1940s, ski pioneers colonised Upper New York State for leisure). Like the rest of the region, it’s snow-sure, due to the fact that the resorts syphon off water from the numerous rivers and turn it into snow. In 1980, Hunter became the first ski area to have snow-making coverage on 100 per cent of its trails, and because the resorts have had to make this investment, they are world-leaders in the manufacture of snow. They open the slopes in late November and ski snow-sure all the way into March.
The resort at Windham Mountain covers 284 acres, with 52 pistes and 12 lifts. The club-house, Base Lodge, with its wool-upholstered armchairs and ubiquitous moose antlers mounted above roaring fires, has the most wonderful panorama looking east and west over the snow-covered, tree-lined pistes. Skiers thunder downwards from 1,600 vertical feet to arrive on the doorstep.
The locals may be weekending here, in one of their timber-clad holiday chalets dotted around the resort and beyond, costing northwards of seven figures, but there are cheaper all-American clapperboard hotels in nearby North Creek (budget hotels aren’t really option). Browse the village’s antique, souvenir and tea shops and delicatessens, but when the sun goes down, head for a drink in Bar Vino, run by two hipster brothers with a passion for wine.
Things get serious as you head up to Gore Mountain, with around 100 trails over four peaks, graded as 10 per cent beginner, 60 per cent intermediate and 30 per cent expert, with the longest run at 3.7 miles. It’s intimidating but stunningly beautiful, with wide-open pistes bordered by glades of Scotch pine, oak and silver birch, heavy with snowfall. The Rumour black run has one of the steepest pitches in the eastern US, and the US Olympic team heads up here and to Whiteface at Lake Placid to train.
Whiteface at Lake Placid is a full-on, year-round destination, hosting luge and bobsled competitions as well guided snowshoe hikes. Whiteface Lodge hotel and spa is the place to stay here, furnished in a lavish-rustic style that celebrates the Great Camp traditions of the Adirondacks a hundred years ago, when the Guggenheims, the Astors, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts holidayed here, loving the city and the mountains. They knew a good thing when they found it: alpine scenery without the crowds.
NEED TO KNOW
American Airlines fly from London Heathrow three times daily to New York JFK from £417pp return. To book visit aa.com
For more information on skiing and touring New York State, including packages with the ski train and ski bus, visit iloveny.com