Bad Reputation

East
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East
hunter.1

When I told Rus Coloton, the president of Hunter Mountain, that I'd come to his ski area in search of its famed party scene, he stared at me like I'd just run over his dog. "When is someone going to do a story about what a great family ski area we are?" he moaned. "All we hear about is the partying. We're a good ski area." He was right about one thing: In the ski world, Hunter's reputation is widely held¿and it has never been about the skiing.

This is why, at about eight o'clock on a Saturday night, I'm halfway up Hunter Mountain with a lit road flare in each hand surrounded by almost 40 Hunter Mountain employees who are similarly aflame. We're about to ski in a torchlight parade. As I see it, this is the last step in a concerted attempt to convince me that Hunter's reputation¿that it's nothing more than a crass bridge-and-tunnel bar scene with a ski area attached to it¿is unfounded.

I had spent the daylight hours with three of Hunter's finest skiers: instructor and PSIA Demo Teamer Michael Rogan, ski-school director Charlie Knopp, and director of skiing Ron Hawkes. All three seemed intent on showing me Hunter's serious-skiing side. We'd hammered the unforgiving bumps of Annapurna; snapped off short turns on the icy steeps of West Way; and talked at length about race programs, ski equipment, and various other topics that almost had me overlooking the occasional blur swiveling by in a New Jersey Devils jacket.

Michael, Ron, and Charlie could all ski my ass off. Standing at the top of a steep pitch, Charlie would say to Ron, "Short turns or medium?" Whichever Ron would choose they would then execute with Teutonic precision, carving the shiny Catskill hardpack as if it were packed powder. And as I watched the ski instructors ski very much like ski instructors, other highly skilled snow sliders whipped by: Snowboarders carved through icy bumps, new schoolers threw helicopters on their twin tips, and racer geeks chased gates that weren't actually there.

But now, it's time for those of us bearing torches to show off. We split into two groups and begin to snake back and forth down the mountain. Everyone is whooping and hollering, spewing red sparkles, and trying not to run over the person in front of them. We crest a swell and come into view of the hundred or so onlookers at the base area. They're going nuts. Neil Diamond's "America" blares from the sound system set up outside. And I have to admit, it's pretty freakin' awesome.

We arrive at the cheering crowd and extinguish our flares in the snow. As two little kids slide by on lunch trays, Neil Diamond gives way to Springsteen's "Glory Days." The place goes berserk, and I find myself touched by the scene around me. Sure, the flavor here is distinctly New York-New Jersey, not the quaint Vermont or the laid-back Colorado that I'm used to; but there's something genuine happening. A family scene? Not exclusively, but it's also something more than big hair, thick accents, and lousy skiers.

Suddenly¿midsong, actually¿the music cuts out. A technical problem, I presume¿it couldn't have been intentional. But as techno beats quickly usurp the silence, I realize that it was. What's going on? I mean, this is (almost) New Jersey, and that was definitely the Boss. I'd expect people to be crying sacrilege, but no one seems to mind. Slightly confused, I decide to continue the search for Hunter's true identity in town. As I'm leaving, Ron invites me to come back tomorrow morning at seven so we can rip fresh groomers before the lifts open to the public. I tell him I'll be there.

The bouncer who checked my ID and took a 20-dollar cover looked like a castoff from the WWF. It's 11 o'clock and I've just wandered into Slopes nightclub. What looked from Main Street like a door into an inauspicious ski-town bar is essentially a portal into a New York City club scene. Now thisis the Hunter I'd heard about. On a large dance floor, hundreds upon huneds of young revelers are pulsating in unison to the frenetic techno beats spun by the DJ situated high up on a platform. I'm first struck by the crowd's size¿then by its attire: There's not a piece of fleece in sight. It's all leather jackets, leather pants, DKNY, and Tommy Hilfiger. Grooming, too, is decidedly non-ski town. Haircuts are short and perfect, and facial hair is visible only on those who have to shave twice a day. According to one of the flyers laying around the door, Slopes gets the biggest-name DJs from the hottest clubs in New York. Tonight it's Eddie Baez from Club Exit.

After an hour or so of people-watching bemusement, I approach three women¿all knockouts¿in an attempt to figure out precisely what the hell is going on here. "I come up here mostly for the partying, to have a good time, and occasionally to ski," Courtney Schram shouts over the music. A 22-year-old student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Courtney is here with her friends Elisa Waldman, 27, and Pam Yula, 30, both of whom are teachers in the Bronx and rent a three-bedroom apartment for the winter with 15 other people. Though Elisa does like to ski, the girls see Hunter as the winter equivalent to the Hamptons, where they rent a house in the summer. For them, Hunter's not a ski area or a ski town but a booty-shaking refuge from NYC.

"I've been coming up for three years and I've never skied," Pam explains. "Today, I slept till eleven, I exercised, did my toenails, showered, talked on the phone, and sang into my karaoke machine¿Jessica Simpson's 'I Want to Love You Forever.'" Now she's rested and ready to go¿possibly until 4 a.m., when the bar closes. Hardcore skiers? Not these girls. Hardcore partyers? You betcha.

I had stayed at Slopes as late as I could keep my eyes open, and now the sounds of ski boots descending the stairs outside my motel room are rousing me from a prolonged sleep. There are no alarm clocks at the Sun View Motel in downtown Tannersville, no telephones either. In fact, except for the towels, there's nothing in the rooms that could be stolen, not even a remote for the TV. I haven't worn a watch in years, and when I walk outside, skis in hand, by the slant of the sun I can tell that I've missed my seven o'clock meeting with Ron¿by a lot. An assortment of food and beverages line the walkway outside each motel-room door. Half-drunk gallons of screw-top wine, cases of beer, half-eaten sub sandwiches, the occasional jar of salsa, and small coolers that presumably contain more food. The rooms in the Sun View Motel don't have refrigerators, either.

I drive the five minutes to the mountain and get to Ron's office at eleven. My arrival is greeted by shaking heads and rolling eyes. I tell Ron and Charlie about my night, and they react like I'm talking about another country, not the bar scene that's just down the road. "That's not Hunter," Charlie laughs. "Those people don't come up here to ski."

Charlie is only half right. The party scene is not all of Hunter, but it's some of Hunter. And there's more than a dichotomy going on: Hunter has a personality that's split three ways, maybe more. There are the serious skiers, like Ron and Charlie and all the others I saw. There are the serious partyers, like the girls I met at Slopes. And, yes, there are the serious New Jersey Devils fans, who, I might add, are out there having as good a time as anyone. That's the trouble with stereotypes: They're often somewhat true, but never tell the whole story. Yeah, the bar scene was going off. Yeah, I met a few meatheads. Saw some big hair, too. But I also skied with three guys¿and saw plenty of others¿who made melook like the weekend hack. Hell, I saw kids sliding by on lunch trays.So from now on, when the topic of Hunter comes up, I'll offer this neat summation: Hunter may be the most complex ski area in North America. Now that's a stereotype worth perpetuating.

DESTINATION: HUNTER MOUNTAIN
Top Elevation: 3,200 feet
Vertical Drop: 1,600 feet
Annual Snowfall: 150 inches
Skiable Acreage: over 230
Terrain: 30% beginner, 30% intermediate, 27% advanced, 13% expert
Lifts: 3 quads, 2 triples, 5 doubles, 1 handle tow
Info: 518-263-4223; www.huntermtn.com
Reservations: 800-775-4641
Getting There: Hunter Mountain is located 30 minutes west of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 87), off 23A. It's just over two hours north of New York City, and three hours west of Boston.
Prices: Full-day weekend lift
Ticket: $46 adult, $40 ages 13-22, $29 ages 7-12 or 65 and over, kids 6 and under ski free. Two-day adult pass: $84; three-day, $121.
Lodging: For slopeside lodging check out the Liftside Condominiums (800-775-4641); you can't beat the location and they have great package deals. Other options for lodging at Hunter are the Forester Motor Lodge (888-446-4555) and the Hunter Inn (518-263-3777). Nearby Tannersville offers a variety of accommodations within walking distance of the famed Hunter nightlife.
Food & Drink: Maggie's Krooked Kafe on Main Street in Tannersville is a great breakfast spot with big portions, creative food, and fresh juices. The Restaurant at Hunter Mountain offers elegant dining with a gorgeous view of the mountain and the surrounding Catskill wilderness. The New York City club scene is transplanted to Tannersville every weekend all winter long, with the beats pumping in both Slopes and Powder nightclubs. If you're looking for a more traditional ski bar, check out Six Mile Cross.
¿Dan KasperDESTINATION: HUNTER MOUNTAIN
Top Elevation: 3,200 feet
Vertical Drop: 1,600 feet
Annual Snowfall: 150 inches
Skiable Acreage: over 230
Terrain: 30% beginner, 30% intermediate, 27% advanced, 13% expert
Lifts: 3 quads, 2 triples, 5 doubles, 1 handle tow
Info: 518-263-4223; www.huntermtn.com
Reservations: 800-775-4641
Getting There: Hunter Mountain is located 30 minutes west of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 87), off 23A. It's just over two hours north of New York City, and three hours west of Boston.
Prices: Full-day weekend lift
Ticket: $46 adult, $40 ages 13-22, $29 ages 7-12 or 65 and over, kids 6 and under ski free. Two-day adult pass: $84; three-day, $121.
Lodging: For slopeside lodging check out the Liftside Condominiums (800-775-4641); you can't beat the location and they have great package deals. Other options for lodging at Hunter are the Forester Motor Lodge (888-446-4555) and the Hunter Inn (518-263-3777). Nearby Tannersville offers a variety of accommodations within walking distance of the famed Hunter nightlife.
Food & Drink: Maggie's Krooked Kafe on Main Street in Tannersville is a great breakfast spot with big portions, creative food, and fresh juices. The Restaurant at Hunter Mountain offers elegant dining with a gorgeous view of the mountain and the surrounding Catskill wilderness. The New York City club scene is transplanted to Tannersville every weekend all winter long, with the beats pumping in both Slopes and Powder nightclubs. If you're looking for a more traditional ski bar, check out Six Mile Cross.
¿Dan Kasper