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Weekend at Gore Mountain - Ski Mag

Weekend at Gore Mountain

Travel East
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Until recently, Gore Mountain, N.Y., was a ski area with a big-brother problem. In the case of this southern Adirondack resort, located just outside the quiet town of North Creek, the older sibling was Whiteface, the larger and altogether glitzier resort, about 90 minutes north in Lake Placid. Like Whiteface, Gore sits on state land and is run by the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA). But unlike Whiteface, Gore has never hosted the Olympics or enjoyed the sustaining afterglow of international fame. ORDA and its board are based in Lake Placid, too, which might account for why many North Creek residents used to discuss their hometown resort as if it had just been sent away to military school.

"The state used to use the slogan, 'New York's best-kept secret.' Well, jeez, we don't want that," says Laurie Konis, a North Creek resident, restaurateur, shopkeeper, PR agent and all-around civic booster. "We've always been kind of the stepchild, and for a while Lake Placid got everything."

But like the kid who suddenly sprouts 4 inches in a single season, Gore isn't going to be the quiet sibling much longer. And if the rest of the country has a weekend as terrific as the one my own little brother and I enjoyed last March, the Adirondack resort family might have a new favorite son.

I should pause here to note that, in terms of weather, we got not just lucky but royal-flush, Cincinnati-Kid, bankrupt-the-house lucky, arriving in North Creek on a Friday night during the final throes of a once-in-40-years nor'easter that had been pelting New England for the better part of a week. Although it had turned to rain south of the Adirondacks, Gore and the rest of the State Park had picked up several feet of new snow¿just another layer of the monster snowpack that made last spring a dream season for Eastern skiers.

The town of North Creek, roughly four and a half hours from New York City and 90 minutes from Albany, edges up to the banks of a smaller, wilder Hudson River than downstaters might be used to. In the summer, raft companies and kayakers work the whitewater, and anglers flock to summer homes and camps, both great and modest.

Slowed by cautious traffic on the I-87 Northway, we pulled into North Creek just as the snow was tapering off and checked into the Copperfield Inn, a small but deluxe hotel at the north end of the town's three-block business district. The Copperfield stands out, and not just because of the jewel-box exterior lighting: While most of Main Street is given over to gift shops and a few solid but by no means gourmet restaurants (also more than its fair share of blank storefronts), the lavishly appointed hotel seems to have been airlifted from another town entirely. Aspen, perhaps.

We had dinner in Trapper's Tavern, a hyper-rustic-themed bar where the menu reads like a historical novel. (An elaborate open-faced turkey sandwich called the Dieskau comes complete with a short essay on the career of the Revolutionary-era mercenary. For non-graduate students, a pasta dish called the Snuffy Miller recalls that "Snuffy was a mild-mannered, unselfish, friendly kind of guy.") The food had flavor as well as narrative value, and the beer on tap told its own story with a lovely finish.

We woke early and fueled up on the home fries at Marsha's, a jam-packed diner just down the street from the Copperfield. Five minutes up the mountain road, Gore's parking lot was beginning to fill up: The week-long storm was pulling in elated skiers from points south; by the end of the day, both sides of the access road were lined with overflow from the slopeside lots.

Gore's network of trails and 2,100 feet of vertical are strung across two summits. The spanking-new Northwoods Gondola was, like everything at Whiteface and Gore, paid for in part by state funds. As a New York taxpayer, I can finally say my money is going somewhere worthwhile: With a line that on the busiest day rarely amounts to more than a fe minute wait, the roomy cabs zip you up to Gore's secondary summit, Bear Mountain.

This frontside of the mountain¿also served by the comparatively pokey Adirondack Express triple chair¿contains enough wide avenues to keep most weekend skiers occupied for the better part of a day. While Wild Air, running just under the gondola, might not quite earn its black diamond, it was just the thing to start the day off, and we had a good time on a combo run down Showcase and Lower Sleighride. Just north of those trails, Twister offers what veteran skiers term "candy-ass heaven," a long and winding road that features all the charms of the liftline runs without any of the traffic.

If the top of the gondola was the end of the line for Gore, it would be a nice little resort. The real treasures, however, lie just beyond on a cluster of trails that plunge from Gore's 3,600-foot summit to Straight Brook, a high mountain draw that dead-ends at the Straightbrook Quad.

You could spend the entire day on the Straightbrook Quad without complaints¿except, perhaps, exhaustion. These single- and double-diamond runs range from narrow, circuitous alleys such as Chatiemac and Hawkeye to the steep, straight boulevard named Lies.

The week's colossal snowpack had left these well-traveled runs bumped up, but it had also allowed for the opening of almost all of Gore's 62 trails and 292 acres¿including one new run, under the upper half of the Straightbrook Quad, that had never been opened before. (Seeing a rope fall for the first time is a sight to bring tears to the eyes of any Eastern skier, and I wish it for you and yours.) The abundant glades were lovely, dark and deep, especially the area between Chatiemac and the resort's southern boundary.

This split between family runs below and grown-up stuff above is a classic ski-resort layout. The only drawback at Gore is an exceedingly long run-out on the Cloud trail, which connects the two summits. Even in the best conditions, this transit requires a huge burst of speed to cover two-thirds of the distance to the mid-mountain Saddle Lodge, and we saw several daddies pole-towing young charges. (The resort's next big project, reportedly, is a lift that will obviate this grinding march.)

If those daddies' shoulders were aching, we could relate: By the end of Saturday, we were well and truly whupped, so we crawled back to the Copperfield to let our muscles unwind. Before dinner, we visited Casey's North, a roadhouse just outside of town on Route 23. It was packed with well-heeled young execs snuffling cigars and attempting to select the proper bourbon. We had a round and headed to the Riverwood, which had been recommended to us the previous night by our waitress at Trapper's Tavern.

The Riverwood Restaurant & Tavern is a few miles north of town on Route 28, and on a Friday or Saturday night it's more of a house party than a bar. Every ski resort should have at least one nightspot like this, where tourists can imagine themselves to be locals for at least three pints. The crowd includes everyone from skiers and second-home owners to snowmobilers and local working stiffs. Let's put it this way: The golf video game and the deer-hunting video game seemed to be getting equal play.

We heard about a winter afternoon a few years ago when a couple from New York rushed into the bar looking a little shaken up, and explained to a clutch of sympathetic regulars that they had just hit and killed a deer. Where, everyone wanted to know, had it happened? Just down the road, said the couple¿at which point the bar emptied out. Fifteen minutes later, the luckless deer was being divvied up in the parking lot.

We played pool with an enormous bear of a man with a V shaved into his thunderclap of a brow; half the patrons called him John, but he told us to call him Brutus. We did.

Sunday dawned gray and stayed that way. Although visibility above mid-mountain was poor, the dividend was even more snowfall, which filled in the troughs of Saturday's fluffy bumps. After burning up breakfast on several Straightbrook runs, we headed to Gore's north side, where especially narrow runs such as Hullabaloo and Lower Darby offer a challenging contrast to the rest of the mountain. On clearer days, the High Peaks double chair¿which returns to the Straightbrook trails¿offers some of the best views of the southern Adirondacks. Farther down the north slope, another quad chair serves a number of long but sedate family cruisers.

The mountain's future might lie even farther down this north slope. In 2000, ORDA got the go-ahead from the state to develop the town-owned North Creek Ski Bowl, which opened in 1932, making the town a destination for Hudson Valley "ski trains" in the pre-interstate era. Town leaders and Gore management dream of first resurrecting the Ski Bowl, with its 800 vertical feet and 35 skiable acres, as a stand-alone area with a chairlift. (It now operates weekends only, with one T-Bar). Next, a chair linking the Ski Bowl and Gore would add 400 feet to the larger resort's vertical drop (making it the sixth biggest in the East) and reintegrate the ski area and downtown North Creek, just a few hundred yards from the Ski Bowl's base area. No firm timeline has been set. There's also talk of amping up rail service to the region¿a return of the old Snow Trains, which once brought skiers from New York City. Existing track is being upgraded to accommodate passenger-train speeds.

What Gore has right now is great terrain and short lines, and that's quite enough for the skiers and snowboarders on the Northwoods Gondola. Maybe it was the conditions, but we were struck by how glad everyone seemed to be there. If these skiers had fought their way up from Long Island or New Jersey the night before, they had left any metropolitan edge behind when they off-loaded the kids in the parking lot.

And even the occasional bit of edge we did detect was cutting in the right direction. After lunch, we rode the gondola with a silent father, his young daughter and a guy from Albany who kept saying how "frickin' great" Gore was, how "un-frickin'-believable" the snow was and how he got up here "as frickin' often" as he could. We waited with trepidation for either the father to object or for the guy's language to take a turn for the really blue. But neither unpleasantness occurred. And for seven minutes we sat there in a state of tolerance and amity. Like the rest of our experience at Gore, it was frickin' awesome.ven more snowfall, which filled in the troughs of Saturday's fluffy bumps. After burning up breakfast on several Straightbrook runs, we headed to Gore's north side, where especially narrow runs such as Hullabaloo and Lower Darby offer a challenging contrast to the rest of the mountain. On clearer days, the High Peaks double chair¿which returns to the Straightbrook trails¿offers some of the best views of the southern Adirondacks. Farther down the north slope, another quad chair serves a number of long but sedate family cruisers.

The mountain's future might lie even farther down this north slope. In 2000, ORDA got the go-ahead from the state to develop the town-owned North Creek Ski Bowl, which opened in 1932, making the town a destination for Hudson Valley "ski trains" in the pre-interstate era. Town leaders and Gore management dream of first resurrecting the Ski Bowl, with its 800 vertical feet and 35 skiable acres, as a stand-alone area with a chairlift. (It now operates weekends only, with one T-Bar). Next, a chair linking the Ski Bowl and Gore would add 400 feet to the larger resort's vertical drop (making it the sixth biggest in the East) and reintegrate the ski area and downtown North Creek, just a few hundred yards from the Ski Bowl's base area. No firm timeline has been set. There's also talk of amping up rail service to the region¿a return of the old Snow Trains, which once brought skiers from New York City. Existing track is being upgraded to accommodate passenger-train speeds.

What Gore has right now is great terrain and short lines, and that's quite enough for the skiers and snowboarders on the Northwoods Gondola. Maybe it was the conditions, but we were struck by how glad everyone seemed to be there. If these skiers had fought their way up from Long Island or New Jersey the night before, they had left any metropolitan edge behind when they off-loaded the kids in the parking lot.

And even the occasional bit of edge we did detect was cutting in the right direction. After lunch, we rode the gondola with a silent father, his young daughter and a guy from Albany who kept saying how "frickin' great" Gore was, how "un-frickin'-believable" the snow was and how he got up here "as frickin' often" as he could. We waited with trepidation for either the father to object or for the guy's language to take a turn for the really blue. But neither unpleasantness occurred. And for seven minutes we sat there in a state of tolerance and amity. Like the rest of our experience at Gore, it was frickin' awesome.

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