Hit the slopes close to NYC: Five of the best upstate ski resorts

Posted On Thu, January 3, 2019 By

Posted On Thu, January 3, 2019 By In Features, Getting Away, NYC Guides, Places to Stay, Upstate

Photo of Hunter Mountain via Flickr cc

Sure, you’ll find more snow and more serious skiing if you fly to Colorado or even drive up to Vermont, but there are plenty of ski hills located in New York State, including several located within a one-and-a-half to three-hour drive of Manhattan. To be frank, the main thing these hills have on their side is their proximity to New York City. If you want to reenact a trip to the Alps or Aspen, you’re going to be disappointed, but if you want to plan an affordable day or overnight ski trip, skiing in the Catskills region can be a great option. Ahead, we break down five of the best ski resorts less than 150 miles from NYC, along with everything you can expect when hitting these slopes.

What to expect?

Snow in the Catskills, via Pixabay

With the exception of hills located further north in the Lake Placid region where one will find real snow and serious elevations (remember, the 1980 Winter Olympics took place there), most New York State hills are best for beginner- to intermediate-level skiers. Let’s put it this way—the summit at Snowmass in Aspen is over 12,000 feet but in the Catskills region summits range from 1550 to just under 3800 feet. But once again, if you’re a New Yorker and you want to get up at 6:00am and be on the slopes by 9:00, you have to take what you can get. But what do you get?

First, be prepared for a lot of fake snow. It does snow in the Catskills (on average, 44 inches per year), but not enough to provide an adequate or consistent base. As a result, most ski resorts in the region rely nearly exclusively on snow manufactured on site. While the fake snow is a bit icier and not nearly as deep as the snow you’ll find on hills further north (Lake Placid’s annual snow fall is 104 inches), the fake stuff does do the trick. Just don’t plan on any off-piste skiing—if you veer off trail, you’ll most likely end up skiing on mud or grass.

Second, if you’re hoping to walk into a scene that looks like a page torn out of the Northface catalog, skiing in the Catskills is likely not for you, but this is also one of the best things about it. On the average day, you’ll find people from all backgrounds on the slopes busting their best moves. At most upstate ski resorts, there are a fair share of expat European families on the slopes (look for the stylish French and Italian ski outfits and high-end gear), but you’ll also find groups of Hasidic girls whizzing down the hill in long black skirts and just about anyone else you’ve ever seen riding the MTA.

Since this isn’t the Alps, Aspen, Whistler, or Mont-Tremblant, you’ll need to be realistic about your aprés-ski options. There are a few resorts designed to appeal to people with more upscale tastes, but the Catskills region is not exactly an oasis of Nordic spas and high-end resorts. You’ll primarily find rundown motels, modest resorts, and a few fun hipster accommodations.

Finally, if you want to get the best deals, book your tickets online in advance. Most resorts offer steep discounts (20 to 40 percent off) for advance online bookings. In addition, at most resorts, children under six ski for free or just a marginal fee and children and adolescents (up to 17) qualify for discounts on lift tickets and rentals.

Five ski resorts less than 150 miles from New York City

The following ski resorts are all located 150 miles or less from Grand Central Station. If you leave early on a weekend morning or holiday in decent weather, it is possible to reach all these ski hills in just two to three hours.

1. Holiday Mountain Ski and Fun

Photo via Flickr cc

  • Distance from Manhattan: 90 miles
  • Elevation: Summit—1550 feet; largest vertical drop—400 feet
  • Number of trails: 6
  • Cost: Adult lift tickets—$27 (half day) to $42 (full day)

At Holiday Mountain, the fun is more reliable than the skiing. Less than 100 miles from Manhattan, this hill certainly gets points for being close to New York City, but this also poses a problem—unlike hills just a bit further north, Holiday Mountain often can’t even produce enough artificial snow to open in the middle of winter (if you plan to go, always call ahead to confirm). When Holiday Mountain is open, you can ski down short and gentle slopes or just tube down a hill instead. The bottom line is that if you’re already a skier, Holiday Mountain isn’t a great choice. If you’re trying on skis for the first time or teaching a child to ski, it could be a good option. As an added bonus, the lift tickets and rental prices are by far the best bargain in New York State.

2. Hunter Mountain

Looking up at Hunter Mountain; photo via Flickr cc

  • Distance from Manhattan: 124 miles
  • Elevation: Summit—3200 feet; largest vertical drop—1600 feet
  • Number of trails: 67
  • Cost: $47 to $75 (if purchased in advance online)

A huge step up from Holiday Mountain is Hunter Mountain. With 67 trails, there are a lot of options for skiers at all levels. There are also a few trails with steeper drops, making Hunter Mountain the ski resort of choice for anyone looking for a challenge in the Catskills region. At the end of the day, you can either drive back to New York City—in decent traffic, the drive will take about two-and-a-half hours—or stay overnight. If you stay at Hunter Mountain’s own resort, also check out the Mountain Club Spa, featuring its signature Candy Cane Aromatherapy Massage.

3. Belleayre Mountain Ski Center

Belleayre Mountain via Flickr cc

  • Distance from Manhattan: 131 miles
  • Elevation: Summit—3429 feet; largest vertical drop—1404 feet
  • Number of trails: 51
  • Cost: Adult lift tickets—$32 to $51 (if purchased online in advance)

Created by New York State itself back in the 1940s, this family-friendly Catskills ski resort is now operated by the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, which was created by the State of New York to manage the facilities used during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid. While Belleayre is certainly not an Olympic-class ski hill, with a summit at 3429 feet and vertical drop over 1,400 feet, it is home to some of the better skiing available in the Catskills region. It is also an efficiently-run and affordable resort. When you’re not on the slopes, you can get cozy in front of the fireplace in the resort’s retro lodge, which coincidentally doubles as a wedding venue in the summer months. Finally, if you do opt to stay the night, there are no accommodations at Belleayre Mountain, but a number of nearby motel and hotel options are listed on their website.

4. Windham Mountain

Windham Mountain via Flickr cc

  • Distance from Manhattan: 141 miles
  • Elevation: Summit—3100 feet; largest vertical drop—1600 feet
  • Number of trails: 54
  • Cost: $49 to $80 (if purchased online in advance)

Windham isn’t Holiday Mountain, but it is generally known for its easy terrain. Again, if you’re an experienced skier, Windham may not offer exciting skiing, but the resort does feature multiple hills that are challenging enough to keep experienced skiers happy for a least a few hours. As an added bonus, Windham has one of the best cafeteria selections of any upstate ski resort. In addition to the prerequisite chili, chicken fingers, and fries that you’ll find in any ski-resort cafeteria in North America, at Windham, you can gorge on sushi or get a Ramon bowl instead. Located in a small Catskills village, there are also many places to stay if you do decide to stay overnight. If you want to go upscale, check out the Eastwind with décor that may be best described as Brooklyn hipster meets West Elm in the Catskills. A bit less pricey but still clean and well-equipped is the Winwood—Windham’s own lodge. In addition to the large selection of rooms and condos, Winwood has its own restaurant, the Rock’n Mexicana, where you can wash memories of the day’s skiing away with a fine selection of tequilas.

5. Plattekill Mountain

Plattekill Mountain via Flickr cc

  • Distance from Manhattan: 148 miles
  • Elevation: Summit—3800 feet; largest vertical drop—1100 feet
  • Number of trails: 38
  • Cost: $67

Located just a bit further from Manhattan than the previously mentioned ski resorts, Plattekill Mountain is still in reach if you’re a New Yorker who wants to do a day trip to the slopes. The resort offers access to 38 trails and 4 lifts. Like Belleayre, Plattekill Mountain is home to a throw-back lodge that will make you feel like its 1960 again. If you want to go full-on retro, you can also stay the night and rent a room at the nearby Roxbury—a contemporary Catskills lodge where every room features a unique retro theme.

Getting to the Slopes if you don’t drive

Don’t have a car and still want to go skiing just for the day? If this is your dilemma, you’re in luck. On weekends, holidays, and every Wednesday from January until late March, Paragon Sports offers day trips to Hunter Mountain. A combined bus and lift ticket costs $95. If you would prefer to ski at Belleayre Mountain, hop on the I Love NY Ski Bus. Tickets are $99 and include transportation from mid-town Manhattan to Belleayre Mountain and a full-day lift ticket.

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