A sleepy state-run ski area wakes up -- but good.
Gore Mountain is one of the better-kept secrets in Eastern skiing: a no-frills throwback that, thanks to an enviable $30-million long-term capital-improvement plan, is slowly but surely embracing the 21st century. Since 1995, Gore has added new trails, quads, and other lifts; quadrupled snowmaking; and replaced its grooming fleet. And last season, the upstate-New York ski area unwrapped a $5-million eight-passenger gondola serving a brand-new peak with four trails.
The new Northwoods Gondola, which replaced a creaky four-person gondola dating from the mid 1960s, runs from the base area to the summit of Bear Mountain, the new peak. The smooth, heated ride -- on cushy, carpeted benches, no less -- takes only seven minutes, but it has literally transformed the way Gore is skied. From Bear's summit, where the four new trails begin, skiers can now access every one of Gore's corners. And Gore has many of them -- there's skiing and riding on seven faces of three peaks.
Despite all of Gore's current and planned future improvements -- which include adding a stylish summit lodge, another new quad, and four more trails by 2002-03 -- it could never, will never, be mistaken for a resort. Opened by New York State in January 1964 and run ever since by two state agencies, Gore is totally free of glitz, glamour, and slopeside condos. It has reasonable lift rates, only rare lift waits, varied and challenging terrain, and a thoroughly backwoods feel. A visit last March reminded me of my first trip to Sugarloaf in Maine years earlier: unadorned skiing on the edge of an enormous, remote wilderness -- skiing on the edge of nowhere.
That's because Gore's located in northern New York's Adirondacks, part of the six-million-acre Adirondack State Park. It's the largest state or national park in the contiguous 48 states, a land of spectacular wilderness, heavily forested with scores of streams and lakes and a collection of high peaks (4,000 feet or higher), topped by New York's highest summit, Mount Marcy (5,344 feet).
Gore's terrain includes classic Northeastern fall line trails (personal favorites: Twister and Upper and Lower Darby) that snake their way down through hardwood forest and long blue and black cruisers (try Sleeping Bear, Tahawus, Cloud, Hawkeye, and Chatiemac). Then things get serious, with backcountry trails that, because of numerous climbs, are recommended only for expert backcountry skiers and snowshoers (many of whom pack snowboards); four black-diamond glades; and two of the East's most challenging double-black-diamond trails, The Rumor and Lies.
Sister trails in Gore's Straightbrook area, The Rumor and Lies are the primary reasons expert skiers from Albany (about two hours by car) and metro New York City (four and a half hours) come for a day trip or extended stay. The Rumor, opened for the 1994-95 season, is Gore's toughest test. It earned its name this way: Gore's undeveloped terrain had long been known for its expert potential. When it became known among locals that the area would be cutting a new trail on one of its gnarliest faces, their conversations often began, "Have you heard the rumor?" And so The Rumor it became.
The Rumor forces you to pay attention immediately -- or risk bodily harm in a fall that could send you snowballing. (A large, cautionary sign posted at the trail's entrance warns as much.) It begins with a heart-stopping headwall -- 120 feet wide and 350 feet long, too steep for bumps to form, with a sustained pitch of 50 to 55 degrees. After the headwall, it's still no cruise in the park -- a 1,500-foot descent with an unrelenting 40- to 45-degree pitch, usually bumped but groomed flat when the moguls become too big and hard.
Lies -- the natural companion to The Rumor, don't you think? -- was opened in the 1998-99 season. Located skier's left of The Rumor, it has a bit more personality and isn't quite as wide or steep.. Its upper section is a long sweeping S with a 45- to 50-degree pitch. The trail, usually bumped from top to bottom, then descends like a staircase -- one wall and transitional shelf after another.
Of Gore's four glades, Twister glade (not to be confused with Twister trail), at nearly a mile-and-a-half long, is one of the East's longest. Tahawus glade (not Tahawus trail) is the most difficult and a locals' favorite -- north facing, it gets more snowfall and holds it longer than the others. The two remaining glades also share names with trails -- Chatiemac and Straightbrook.
When the morphing of Gore is complete in a couple years, it will certainly rank with Whiteface Mountain, its Adirondack neighbor 100 miles north, and New Hampshire's Cannon Mountain as one of the three best state-run ski areas in the East. Indeed, its stats are impressive: Gore has a 2,100-foot vertical drop from its 3,600-foot summit; 62 trails, nearly 90 percent of them rated intermediate, advanced, or expert; an average annual snowfall of 150 inches; and 95-percent snowmaking coverage (with water pumped two miles from the upper Hudson River). Its nine lifts include the new detachable gondola, two quads, one detachable triple, three doubles, and two surface lifts.
Future plans call for the worn 35-year-old base lodge, which strains to handle weekend crowds, to be significantly renovated in 2002. And the new Bear Mountain summit lodge, slated to open next season, will provide a much-needed upper-mountain dining option. The lodge promises to be a looker -- it's being designed after the rustic Adirondacks Great Camps that were built as summer retreats by wealthy 19th- and early 20th-century industrialists.
Ever mindful of the Adirondacks' legacy and yet clearly committed to providing a 21st-century skiing and riding experience, Gore Mountain doesn't figure to be a well-kept secret much longer.
Destination: GORE MOUNTAIN, New York
Getting There: Take I-87 (the Northway) to exit 25. Follow Route 8 west for 11 miles. Turn right in Wevertown on Route 28; go north to Peaceful Valley Road.
Prices: Weekend adult, $44; teen/senior, $35; junior, $19. Midweek adult, $34; teen/senior, $29; junior, $19.
About Town: North Creek is a quiet mountain hamlet (not a rowdy ski town) with little more than a supermarket and a few restaurants and shops.
Lodging: Overnight accommodations in and around North Creek range from motels and ski lodges to condos, town-houses, and private house rentals. The 25-room Copperfield Inn, with a superb restaurant (The Gardens) and Trapper's Tavern, is one of just two places in town with live musical entertainment (the other being Casey's North restaurant on Route 28).
Food & Drink: The aforementioned Trapper's, an upscale re-creation of a 200-year-old Adirondack wilderness cabin, with hand-split log beams and a great stone fireplace, is definitely worth the five-minute drive into town.
Information: 518-251-2411; www.goremountain.com