Sit down, get comfortable and grab yourself a solid cup of coffee or a hot cup of tea, cause this is gonna be a long one, but an entertaining one. Before we set you loose on a journey that started in 1991 allow us to set the plot, there once was… eh, never mind, here is the story as I remember it.
Tales from the Mountain
The History of Polar Peak Ski Bowl
As told By Thomas A. Herishko
I suppose it all started one brisk December day, about a year after I first received my first pair of skis. I, then nine, my brother Mark then eleven looked at a vast mountainous pasture on our family farm and began to speculate the possibilities of skiing the snow covered hill. After putting in a year of work our project was ready, and on January 12, 1991 the journey begun. I remember. By the end of that day my cousin Scott, Mark and had enjoyed skiing from the upper reaches of the hill. Though a touch rocky we simultaneously agreed this hill had great potential, little did we realize the epic adventure we were about to embark on.Thomas A. Herishko
The Beginning (1990-1992)
We first started clearing the slopes on the southern flank in the fall of 1990. It was also at this time the idea of constructing a ski lift first occurred to us. Our first official day of skiing occurred on Saturday, January 12 1991 thanks to a mediocre storm which graced the peak with 7″ of snow. That season was short lived, we closed down on Saint Patrick’s day when the rest of the snow which was left melted due to a heavy rain storm. It was from the affect of that season that we knew we would need to some how discover a way to make snow. It was also during this season that we experimented with our first lift, a ropetow.
We first started construction on the ropetow March 7, I remember the day clearly. We had already dug small holes and placed a bunch of dilapidated 4×4’s with small pulleys attached to them. After feverously working on our technological advancement consisting of 600 feet of 3/4″rope, six pulleys, 6- 4×4’s and an orange 1976 Ford pickup truck, we decided to try it out. I with skis in hand, volunteered to be the first test rider. As I grabbed hold of the rope (which was probably doing 15mph) I could feel a tingling feeling, I later discovered the rope had eaten my glove up in a matter of a couple of minutes. I must of made two runs when I hear Mark yelling something at me, on my way back up the lift. All of a sudden I looked back and the base terminal, tower 1 and tower 2 were all coming up the hill behind me, so I made a quick dash for the side while mark slammed the old 76 ford to a screeching halt. We had bittersweet feelings about the day, Mark was disappointed to miss out on perhaps one of the last good days of skiing for the year, however we were both glad to see a ropetow was a do able deal. The lift was later dubbed “The Summit Express” for its speedy 15 mph deliverance during the first year.
During the winter of 90-91 we used ice which had accumulated along the stream and crushed it and added it on to the trail. This provided us with a narrow ski path for us to slide down for President’s week. It was just an experiment, it was a lot of work and the resulting surface was very rough. It was during the summer that we decided somehow some way we needed snowmaking to provide a long and viable ski season.
We didn’t know the first thing about snowmaking. We just knew that places we went skiing could spray a great mist in the air and it would form snow. So to gain information on snowmaking we selected five ski areas and told them about how we were interested in how snowmaking worked. We received responses from three of the five areas. One of which included a personal response from Mr. Israel Slutzky from Hunter Mountain, a ski area which is just about 45 minutes away from us. He invited us up to tour the snowmaking plant. We took him up on the offer he gave us a great tour and showed us around the everyday ski area operations. He gave us a tremendous amount of valuable information on snowmaking.
On October 27, 1991 equipped with 250 feet of garden hose and two 2 horsepower air compressors we set out to test our first snow gun. It was a high pressure nozzle used to wash off vehicles, we plugged in our air to the socket and it made a gentle mist. While we didn’t make snow (we actually made ice) we were impressed with our system. We repeated this procedure numerous times before the water actually crystallized on one chilly December 1 morning.
It was on December 30 we were starting to draw interest. It was that day when a crew of ambitious snowboarders pulled off the road and came and checked out our operation. They tried the lift out, built a jump, and snowboarded down Lower Glade after Mark and I had hauled close to 50 loads of snow from snow drifts with our 10 cubic foot carts behind our quads. The crew came again for some snowboarding one last time before the new year. They were locals, and loved the place. When they asked the name of our establishment, Mark proudly responded “Polar Peak”. The name Polar Peak was fabricated one day at our grandmother’s dinner table. I remember drinking a bottle of Polar soda, while Mark was thinking of a name for our newly formed area. We knew we liked the end name Peak, because from a distance the hill looks like a peak, not to mention Peak sounds better than hill, or mountain. So Mark put the two together and the name Polar Peak was born. It was that season which we operated the lift successfully.
First Construction (1992- 1993)
We first started major construction on the mountain during the summer of 1992. Among the items to be rebuilt were, the ropetow, the office, and the snowmaking system. We decided on building a ski lodge. Lights were installed to the summit to provide night skiing. We worked feverously that summer and fall constructing the articles on the mountain.
It was fun, but a lot of work. We cleared the slopes, rebuilt the ropetow, bought a new pump for snowmaking, rebuilt the office, and built the main base lodge. We also enlisted the help of our neighbor and friend Marc Riegel during this time, he would be very incremental in helping us develop the Peak in the years to come. By the end of the fall we were totally prepared for winter. On November 2 thanks to a cold snap, we produced some real snow. The new pump for snowmaking seemed to work well. We somehow convinced dad a pump for snowmaking would be a worthwhile investment. In the early days we used to run a garden hose from the shop which was supplied by our well. One morning Mark and I were making snow and Mark decided to go in and make a cup of coffee. So he went in the house turned on the faucet and all of a sudden a gush of air came out, needless to say it wasn’t long before we got a pump. The winter went very well we had an abundance of natural snow and when mother nature wasn’t willing to cooperate we now had the ability to make it. We also experimented with glacier making (spraying 120 gpm of water into the air and waiting for it to freeze on the ground eventually forming a glacier). The season lasted long thanks to yearlong snowmaking commitments and “The Blizzard of 93″ which dumped 26” of snow on March 13-14. We ended up skiing for 89 days from early November until Early April. We finally closed off the ski season successfully on April 9.
The Expansion Phase (1993-1994)
We worked extensively once again that summer to improve on the mountain. We rebuilt the summit express, expanded the office, expanded the baselodge and added to the snowmaking system. The lodge and office expansions were necessary, afterall the office resembled that of a Salvation Army store with all the snowmakers equipment lying on the benches in the morning after a hard night of making snow. (Yes, even as young people we used to stay up with a crew of four and run the guns all night.)
We opened for some skiing on October 18 that year. Our crew of snowmakers had expanded from four the year before to twelve. The lodge was getting good use. Each morning crumbs of pastries and dozens of Entemens boxes had infiltrated the quarters. Once again the lodge had been turned into a mess resembling that of the salvation army, there were beat up coats, boots which had been duct taped numerous times, shirts and pants. While one crew was tending to the guns the other crew would either be devouring what little food was left. In the hungriest of time people would eat bread which they toasted off the kerosene heater. Others liked hot chocolate minus the water. There were two types of snowmakers at Polar Peak: those who wanted to make snow and those who like to come out and would do anything for the free food and soda. By anywhich means everyone worked hard, and got the job done while having a fun time. It wasn’t uncommon to see the snowmakers out in front of the lodge sitting on lawn chairs enjoying a nice zero degree night of snowmaking.
That fall we went up to see Mr. Slutzky. There must have been around six people in the station wagon, driving was Mark who had just recently received his permit at the time. We arrived at the mountain and it was snowing up there. So we went up to the lodge and talked to Izzy, he once again gave us a tour and at the end he told us that we could search the junk pile for stuff which we wanted. So we did, and took some old ropetow rope which we graciously thanked him for. We all set out like a pack of vultures on the junk pile, afterall one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. We went back down the mountain with our station wagon sagging way down with the new goodies we had received, which was good because it contributed to the increased to the traction we needed to make our way down the twisted mountain road.
That season turned out exceptionally well with close to 125″ of natural snow and 300 hours of snowmaking, base depths during peak season ranged anywhere from three to nine feet. We were featured in numerous media articles that year including the local newspapers the Independent and The Register Star. We were also featured on TV-10’s Streeter’s lane and channel. 62 news. We held numerous special events including the “Rock the Park” snowboard series, The King of the mountain series, Polar Drop Inferno race, the spring bash, the snow tire slalom and the April 1 fun day. We called it quits on April 5 after 111 days of skiing operation, none stop since December 21.
That summer we once again did major reconstruction on the mountain. We retrofitted the Summit Express ropetow, refabricated the interior of the lodge, and most importantly retrofitted the snowmaking system for air with the arrival of our first air compressor on September 27. This air compressor would change the way we do things.
A New Frontier (1994-1995)
The winter of 1994-1995 showed from the beginning that the season was going to be unusually mild. The season didn’t start until November 17 due to a very mild November. Even on opening day the temperature rose to a balmy sixty degrees depleting the snow which we had made. Since we had the first snow in the county Mark called the newspaper, they came out to take the picture and we made first page.
That season was extremely mild with the temperature rising to sixty eight during a couple days in mid January. We had lost all of our base, however we bounced back fairly quickly with the return of colder weather on January 28. Despite the warm weather, thanks to imperior snowmaking we were able to cover the mountain, from summit to base with 6-36″ which lasted until April fifth. That year we skied 101days. We were extremely proud with our snowmaking efforts and our snowmaking crew. We received much attention from motorists driving by, and it seemed that the speed limit had been lowered down to 25 with people driving slowly to watch us either making snow or ski. We were also proud of our crew for giving it their all at least once a week to make snow. On January 10 a picture was taken from the midstation of us making snow. It was an AP picture and was seen world wide.
Record Season (1995-1996)
To this day, looking back, we still refer to this season as the year of the skier. After a year of unthinkable mild winter we decided to better equip our snowmaking system by beginning installing underground snowmaking pipelines with hydrants which emerge above the ground. We decided to first install snowmaking on Beginner Novice since it is the best place to preserve snow and would be an easy spot to work out our flaws. In August we started the major Beginner Novice renovation. In a period of two years we planned to make the Beginner Novice learning area more skier and rider friendly by installing snowmaking, a ropetow, and making the gradient more gradual. We also dug a new pond for the farm which was custom designed to fit our snowmaking needs during the winter months. More than 50 tons of fill were transported to the trail to redevelop its contour. A preliminary lift, The “Valley Brook Limited” was installed but it wasn’t going to be online for the season.
The season started off great from the start. We started making snow on November 6 on Beginner Novice. It was the earliest we had good quality snow production. We continued making snow on weekends and the skiing was fine. Heavy snows started to fall in December and each week we had at least a foot of new snow. By January natural snow bases up on the main mountain were close to five feet, and on Beginner Novice snow depths reached an all time depth of 10 feet, about eight feet was manmade. The Blizzard of 96 struck the region hard on January 6&7 dumping 26″ on the Peak. It was an interesting storm because down in the valley snow depths only reached one foot and in Albany there was less than three inches. We really made out on that storm. That whole season seemed to favor us, we receive copious amounts of snow, finally adding up to 137″ an all time record.
We enjoyed the longest ski season ever during that year 121 days of fine skiing finally ending on April 10. However things started to slow down. With Mark in college there was less people to help, we were fortunate to receive a lot of natural snow. We didn’t offer any summer activities like in the past due to lack of interest. Everybody was busy and no one had free time. Growing up and the world of work was upon us, whether we were ready or not.
The End of an Era (1996-1997)
We finished up our ski season with major changes and a plan to redistinguish the Polar Peak experience. While the weather had been poor, we had numerous attempts to make snow, and of course we had taken advantage of them. We opened that year on October 5, an all time record. Once again we planned to ski until May or atleast make snowand open for one day of skiing in May but we just never got around with it since we were so busy. During the winter Nick helped produce the first version of PolarPeak.com, our all involved website that in three years would involve an online forum for questions and answers for amateur snowmaking and backyard ski enthusiasts. This was a first of its kind. The year provided above average spring snowfall and a lot of mid winter rain which made it very hard to keep snow on the hill, not to mention very expensive. We had some great skiing and it was tons of fun. We finally closed for the season on Sunday, April 20 1997 after two massive April storms and 114 days of skiing and riding. It also turned out to be the longest season ever. And the longest season we’d have for a long time to come.New Beginnings (1997-1998)
On July 26, 1997 at 2am fire broke out on our farm, a fire that would last 6 hours claiming our entire barn complex, bringing more than 63 years of hard work of the Herishko family to nothing more than ashes. The combination of wiring from the 1930’s and a burned out compressor motor created the fire. At first we had decided that we would re-enter the dairy business, but after evaluating the significant financial capital required to get started again, the amount of hard hours and the condition of the dairy industry we (and others) decided it was in our best emotional and financial interests to abstain from farming, this would have a great impact on the way we would operate Polar Peak. The main reason we could operate Polar Peak was that we had an abundance of resources that was made available from the farm such as building material, fuel, and many other resources. The season was getting off to a bad start, things were changing quickly, our lives were changing in a flash. The season was one of the mildest ones we had ever seen here at the peak bringing very little snowfall and a lot of ice. We started off the season very late with our second latest opening ever on November 14. We had a fairly strong opening in November with skiing from the summit to the base on each weekend with a couple of inches of snow but the season went down hill from there. December through March turned out to be 3 to as much as 8 degrees above normal and the natural snow total only reached 36″! This season was also another landmark in Polar Peak history as it was the first time that both Mark and I could only operate the ski area on selected weekends since he was studying at Cobleskill and I was pounding the books at RPI. So the season had a great deal less charisma than previous ones with only 25 days of skiing and the earliest closing ever on March 22. A week later the temperature reached 89! And without having the resources of the farm we made snow only once!
Renewal and Repair (1998-1999)
One of the greatest projects ever undertaken at Polar Peak initiated on August 1st 1998. We officially started on Phase 2 of our original millenium project. We had to modify the original plans so that we could operate for skiing under our new circumstances, these circumstances being we can only operate on weekends and the fact that we don’t have the abundant resources available to us anymore. Our goal was to make the peak self sufficient, a “push button” turnkey operation requiring little winter maintenance but allowing for tons of skiing and winter fun. The first stage was upgrading the base facilities which begun in the fall of 1997. The next step was to move on and replace the Summit Express. After nearly 5 years of service and multiple upgrades, it was finally time to retire the old lift and move on to a more reliable model. The lift towers had seen their days, the drive (truck) was shot and the base terminal wasn’t in the best of shape. Getting things going was tough and the lift was no longer reliable. On top of that the mid-station needed to be replaced and expanded, so that was exactly what we did. Mark worked feverously everyday after work while I chipped in on weekends. It was like old times, and with a new coat of paint things were looking good. We put in new towers for the Summit Express, which are 20’ft tall and pressure treated so that they last for at least 2 decades. The mid-station was rebuilt with pressure treated timber and locust wood so that it would last. Making facilities that could stand up to the elements is the main idea behind all construction now at Polar Peak to bring it in to the new millenium. Unfortunately we weren’t able to finish construction on the mountain.
The season started off very late, after having the warmest November on record we were finally able to start up the system on a narrow 2 hour window of opportunity. The season would once again be mild as the past two and with little resources to make snow we have decided to save up for improvements. In October Mark accepted a full-time position as a night snowmaking foreman up at Hunter Mountain, I would also join him up at the mountain as a Marketing Intern, we both learned the tricks of the trade from the experts, the pioneers of eastern skiing, the Slutzky brothers. The experience was very rewarding, and as a result we brought a great wealth of ideas back to Polar Peak to implement in the future.
The New Millennium (1999 – 2000)
While we never completed construction on the peak during the summer we were able to kick off the ski season bright and early on Monday November 8th. Mark along with long time resident and mountain operations assistant Marc Riegel started up the system on Lower Glade. The morning snowmaking proved successful, providing a nice blanket of snow to get in some early runs. However some flaws were discovered in the system that needed attention. A significant investment would be required to operate snowmaking throughout the rest of the season.
In October we decided to remove the old Valley Brook Limited Ropetow and Beginner Novice learning area. We planned to focus on the main mountain all season long, making Lower Glade our capstone trail once again since it has the best contour on the mountain, we felt it was only fair to focus all efforts there with winters becoming what they are.
The new millenium brought tons of cold weather and snow. We re-opened for skiing in mid January after a November 8th opening. The snow piled up fast, the skiing was good and each day we continued to wish that we had the Summit express operational. The unusually warm March weather melted off the mountain’s cover, however we were able to open back up for some skiing after an April storm dropped 8″ of snow. We finally called it a season on a snowy April 8th, one of our later closings.
The 10th Anniversary Season (2000 – 2001)
It was hard to believe it was ten years since we first ventured on to the side hill and started our ventures into running the ski area. November brought pleasant weather up until the 20th, when we discovered that winter had begun, and wouldn’t relent until well into the following April. Due to delays we didn’t get the Summit Express turning until February 2, 2001. However, when we did the reward was sweet with snow conditions that were unsurpassed. The mountain’s base depth held up extraordinary well despite a number of sunny days, and temperatures that were fair to moderate. The lift towers were painted, the lodge sported a clean new shiny look, the new bullwheel was installed, displaying a new icon of the times, and the workers continued well into the winter for the 10th season.
The snowpack begun to accumulate on the peak on December 15th, and would remain well into March with the final patches finally melting in mid April. This made final preparations on the Summit Express difficult, in fact the tractor was used in the final stages to get to the summit to finalizing work on the drive. The snowpack on average was 15″ with areas as deep as 40″ at times. We decided to stay away from making snow for another season in order to make some additional improvements.
The season finally came to an end on March 25 after many weekends of continuous skiing. It was nice that the peak was back in action, now that things were back on track, it was time to continue renovating and making Polar Peak once again ready for the extremes.
Small Progress (2001 – 2002)
The autumn started out with the continued work on the Summit Express Ropetow. Mark and I continued on with the contiued construction on the all new ropetow. The season saw the installation of the the all new flagship base terminal. The base terminal we call the flag ship for it is a sign of the lift, that along with the bullwheel adds character to the ski area as a whole. We opened for the season on December 9th, after a 4 inch snowfall. After grooming out the ski area we were able to provide top to bottom skiing off of the new Summit Express (after scurrying on the 8th to get it up and running for the season).
The Quiet Years (2003 – 2005)
There were combined good and poor years, however we decided to hold off on the improvements and operations during these years. We operate for a maximimum for about 5 days per season
Back in the Game (2006 – 2007)
In December of 2006 we sat down and decided that it was time to get back into the game, and to full committ to the future of Polar Peak. We had the infrastructure in place and a plan that was proven to work. We just needed to make some improvements to the operation to finally complete the last stages in making Polar Peak the turn key operation we envision. What we needed to do was replace the drive on the Summit Express, clear areas on the hill that had grown in, and invest in new odds and ends, from fences, mazes, tables, hoses and piping. The biggest thing we discovered was it would require something that we both finally had again, having found stablility in our careers, time!
We made efforts to focus on what worked on the past and what no longer worked, this was important in helping us operate the hill in a new socio-political climate. When we considered the bottom line and keeping our operations sustainable we discovered a few things that differed from the past: A.) We no longer had the means to operate full force on the ends of the typical December to March/April season, the cost was too high. Early and late season skiing would rely on natural snow pack. B.) The high price of fuel made snowmaking before December (when the water and ground got cold enough to produce good snow) and outside of 2 week long windows prohibitive. C.) We needed to become more efficient, this meant replacing the drive to the Summit Express with a smaller motor, spacing folks out, and cutting back on electric use. D.) Future equipment purchases to repair snowmaking had to take into consideration scale, cost and portability. We phased out the idea of permanent hydrants and snow guns. E.) Snowfarming would be integral in preserving snow and allowing us to squeeze as many days out of natural or man-made snow. Attention would be paid to the exposure, drainage, and micro-climate on the hill.
Our plan of operation redefined Polar Peak to be a much more efficient and lean run hill. It also allowe d us to achieve our goal of becoming a turnkey operation.
Work immediately begun on clearing the base area, growth up on the slopes, installing a new drive (the one that was graciously donated to us by Hunter Mountain) and replacing the old rope. After clearing a lot of the slopes, base area, bringing the lodge and wiring to the pumps back online we were ready to go. On February 5th we finally had a window of good snowmaking weather and the guns burst back into action. We opened for the ski season on February 10th, and after a Valentines Day snowstorm we were able to offer top to bottom skiing. Our season was enjoyable, we got in over 25 days and nights on the slopes. We finally closed on March 27th.
Polishing the Gem (2007 – 2008)
Our committment continued with polishing the gem known as Polar Peak. Truly a diamond in the rough, our attention now turned to sprucing things up and getting things back to par with where we were in the early 90’s. With the help of some committed friends we went to work painting the lodge, office, lift towers, and base terminal. We installed new flag poles, cleaned up odds and ends at the base area and continued to make minor improvements. We were able to get in about 20 days of skiing and riding. Not a spectacular weather season, but not half bad either, the season started on December 19th and lasted until March 10th.
Work Continues (2008 – 2009)
Taking off from the following year’s improvements the focus was on making the smaller nuances more streamlined. We ran a new wire to replace some lighting, continued low cut mowing on parts of the north bowl and re-introduced Arctic Alley as a newly re-contoured slope. Polar Drop was also re-introduced wiht a cleaner cut making it approximately 15 feet wider. Another coat of paint was applied to the lodge and office, a water pump was repaired, new lift signs, fencing and a new lift maze and base area netting was purchased. Wind guards were added to the Summit Express to allow for more reliable operation in strong winds. Despite a serious ice storm that knocked out power to the area for over a week on December 11th the season started off strong with a December 20th opening after a 12″ snowstorm. Despite some thaws and small storms that included mixed precipitation we were able to log in over 25 days once again. The season fizzled out by mid February. With the economy in a dire state we decided to reinvest funds into the hill for the following season instead of focusing on snowmaking recovery.
On Track (2009 – 2010)
For the 2009-2010 season the most notable improvements were the use of a new trail mower to mow this hill, this allowed us to use less fuel to mow the hill in a shorter amount of time and enjoy skiing on as little as 6″ of snow. Also pump #2 was replaced and 5o’ of new snowmaking hose was tested. We also rigged one of our ground mounted snow guns to work on a tower to test its performance in varying conditions.
The season kicked off with a bang on December 6th after a small 7″ snow storm. Mark submitted some photos to CBS 6 in Albany where the local meteorologist and ski enthusiast showed a picture of a beautiful sunset on our opening day from the Peak. The rest of December ended up being decent and enjoyable though the season ended up being a challenge with little natural snowfall.
The season as a whole was fair, January was cold and dry and February to the end of the season was unusually mild. We decided to start making snow in mid February, and were able to get Lower Glade online. A freak snowstorm dumped close to 2′ of heavy wet snow on the area in late February which gave us enough snow to ski through mid March. Snowmaking and snowfarming in late March gave us enough snow to be able to once again make tracks right up through our closing day on April 2nd!
Overall the season was enjoyable and a success with close to 35 days of skiing and riding, and of course many spring days and Ski-B-Q’s on the Carinthia Deck!
The 20th Season (2010 -2011 )
For our 20th season we pulled out all the stops making the single largest purchase and the biggest improvement to the skiing surface to to date, a new snowcat! On August 27, 2011 Arctic 1 came cruising down County Route 10 from the East, after a 3 hour trip from Pine Mountain Ski Area in Goshen, Vermont. Once used at Pico Mountain in Vermont, Arctic 1 is a Thiokol 2100 Packmaster snowcat. The plan is to revitalize Arctic 1 over the next 5 years. Additional improvements included replacing 2 snowmaking hydrants, replacing a water pump, replacing over 100′ of snowmaking hose, adding new netting and new lift signs. Additionally we experimented with adding a new snow fence on Upper Glade which proved to be very worth while by extending our top to bottom ski season. The season begun on Sunday, December 19th with top to bottom skiing on Upper and Lower Glade after a few nights of great snowmaking. The season was strong with significant snowstorms on December 26th and January 12th (our official birthday). The season went strong well into April and finally ended on April 24th, Easter Sunday, our latest closing ever. When all was said and done we logged in over 74 days of skiing and riding for the season. Snow preservation techniques, late season snowmaking, and a solid winter season helped make our 20th season a huge success.
October Suprise (2011 -2012 )
For our 21st season we continued to improve the physical plant. Repairs to Carinthia Lodge and the base area were the main focus, this included a new roof for Carinthia Lodge, the deck was replaced, additional cool chairlift seatings were added to the front, a new ski rack took the place of the old racks equiped with pegs to hold the skis, the fire pit was rehabed, a new coat of paint, repairs to Arctic 1, the addition of K-2000 snowguns to our snowmaking fleet, a new trail signage system, and of course continued repairs to Arctic 1, phew, I run out of breath just thinking about it. Despite all of that off season work we were still prepared to enjoy the first early season turns on the East Coast on Friday, October 28th after a 5″ snowfall and we set another record for 2011 when we spun the Summit Express on October 29th for our earliest ever day of top to bottom skiing and earliest lift serviced ski day in our 21 year history after a 19″ snowfall. We also enjoyed some great skiing on Halloween, certainly a treat. From there the season was a challenge, we finally fired up the snowmaking system on January 15th covering Lower Glade from the mid station, as temps and weather conditions didn’t look promising. Despite many freeze thaws we hung in there, making snow twice in March, wrapping up the season with our annual Ski BQ on March 17th under clear skies and 75 degrees. The last skiing was to be had on April 1st on the very last patch on Lower Glade.
Ski Maynia (2013 -2014 )
A little bit later start to our ski and ride season than the previous year had us starting off the ski and ride season on November 8th after a smal snowfall. The season would have its high and low points, as many seasons. The summer of 2012 kept us busy as we replaced the Glades trunk line and replaced the aging hydrants 1 and 2. We also continued an investment in efficient snowmaking replacing hose, replacing the old gas pump with a higher pressure style and other efficiency projects throughout the area, including adding some sound to Lower Glade. After some correspondences with Ratnik Manufacturing we discovered they had just the snowgun for us, a Ratnik Baby Snow Giant X-2, we purchased this snowgun in October and put it in service in January. This snowgun provided a larger crystal size and provided us with a durable snow and base. We were able to pile up snow on Lower Glade over 8′ deep! Towards the end of the season we piled up snow over 10′ deep at the base area and Lower portions of Lower Glade. Thanks to snow preservation and a cold spring we were able to preserve snow until May 5th!!! A lifelong dream accomplished!
Skiing ‘Til June (2013 -2014 )
We started out the gates running, with an early opening on November 4, 2013 on Lower Glade after a successful few hours of snowmaking. Harvey Road’s popular NY Ski Blog ran an article on Polar Peak, which we were grateful for. We re-opened on December 15th for skiing and riding and adding the inital grand opening of Tundra Tubing, our 132′ tubing area located on part of Jericho’s Gulch. Snowmaking operations resumed in early January and the season was amazing with above average snowfall and a very deep base on Lower Glade, averaging 80-100″ We had amazing skiing all winter long top to bottom, including a Valentine’s Day storm that dropped well over 20″, making the average snowpack over 30″ and making getting around the hill difficult. Rick Karlin from the Albany Times Union did ran an awesome story on Polar Peak in February that made the front page, one of our favorite stories of all time. The skiing was amazing well in to March with top to bottom skiing and Tundra Tubing lasting until March 24th. The regular season came to an end on May 11th, and the last day of skiing was on Lower Glade on June 8th!! The ski and ride season had spanned over 7 months, and we were proud to now say we have skied in every month at Polar Peak from October until June!
Summer Ski (2014-2015 )
As we look back on all of the season that we had at Polar Peak through the years, I don’t think any stick out more than the 24th season. We opened up for skiing and riding on Friday, November 28th after a modest snowfall with skiing from the Summit to the Base serviced by the Summit Express. December was a little lean but we squeeked out a few turns, but come January it was on. We fired up snowmaking and boy did we make snow. We covered Lower GLade and the Tundra tubing slope in well over 12 feet of snow, by late January the snow drought was a thing of the past and the entire Peak was skiable. Of course we continued to make snow well into February. When all was said and done the Lower Glade was built up as high as the lift towers. Snowtubing on Tundra extended wel into April, and skiing on Lower Glade was awesome in May and even June. On Sunday June 7th we leveled out much of the snow that was still over 4 feet deep for Zeke’s birthday. The temps were well into the 80s and all had a great time. Lance Wheeler stopped out and we were featured on Fox 23 (WXXA Albany) and in the June 8th edition of the Register Star newspaper (see the media Gallery). But that wasn’t it, there was sufficient snow for skiing and riding well into July, we finally called it quits on July 6, 2015, which warranted a picture in the Albany Times Union.
Silver Anniversary Season
After a much celebrated season hopes were up for the silver anniversary season. Cold temps on October 19, 2015 would have allowed us to best opening ever, had it not been for a lack of water. Unfortunately the issues of the season never got much better as we were dealt one of the warmest seasons in recent history, we (and others) didn’t get the season going until January, with snowmaking firing up in February. By time the season was underway the season was over, after a very mild spell overtook the northeast on March 7th, by the 9th much of what we had made had vanished after over a month of mild weather. While we were ready to call it quits for the season Mother nature dealt us a pleasant surprise in April when we picked up over a foot of fresh snow, teh biggest storm of the season. We were able to ride into April, while it was different than skiing into July we were definitely enjoying what we could. The lack of snowmaking conditions and water lead to us spending the winter investing heavily in snowmaking infrastructure. By the summer of 2016 Polar Peak had the capability to run two Ratnik snowguns (which we fired up in February), and a new pond “SnowFlake Lake” Was built in August 2016. Eliminating the water supply problem.
A Maple Sweet Season (2016-17)
Our 26th season heralded a new pond, new snowguns, modernization of the Summit Express lift and other items throughout the area are making this season look better than ever. In August 2016 ski area extraordinare Alex Kaufman stopped by and we did our first radio interivew for the Wintry Mix Podcast.
16-17 really was the season of more for us. Between enhancements we made and the introduction of our all new rudimentary sugaring operation I can say we had 100% fun. The season started off ok, nothing to write home about, though once we got into April things amped up slowly but surely. We had some excellent snowmaking opportunities, especially in March where we were able to lay down a massive stockpile once again. The main issue late season was with winds so we had to switch things up slightly and focus on Tundra for late seasons skiing. Lower Glade has proved to be a more suitable option for late season skiing. March delivered heavy snow, and absolutely amazing skiing, the blizzard of 17 dropped just shy of 30″ of snow. We finally put the season to rest on May 14th after a very wet and warm spring.
Solid from Start to finish (2017-18)
I rarely look back at a season and say “that season had it from start to finish”, but looking back I think 17-18 was one of our best main course seasons in modern history. We started off out the gates making snow on November 11th and had tubing on November 12th for two solid weekends. From there we fired back up on December 14th and put down a superb base on Lower Glade and Tundra Tubing. We had excellent conditions right through the end of December, and when the temps dropped two well below zero in early January we had some of the best early-mid season conditions I can remember in modern day.
The mid season slacked off, which was fine, as we were getting things ready for sugaring, however come March, the ski season came back like a lion. March was the best we ever had, after two massive blizzards that left Taghkanic and this section of Columbia County and over to the Berkshires in the bulls-eye of heavy snow. The snow pack and seasonable temps made for an excellent sugaring run as well. We enjoyed the late season conditons so much we decided to solely focus skiing and riding and the snow that we had. We finally called it quits on March 27th, we closed with skiing on every slope, just before a rain knocked out the lower routes a few days later. Other than that we had some turns to be earned the first weekend in April once again on Polar Run. We were still using the sled to get around to our taps in April to pick everything up.
Slow to Start (2018-19)
A summer and fall of over abundant rainfall took its toll on getting things ready for the ski and ride season. The last of the main work didn’t complete until late December, a full month behind schedule. Despite rain we did have a 10″ snowfall allowing us to get some early season turns in on November 17th.
Things were interesting + 30th season present… (2019-21)
We really kicked off season with gusto and snowmaking prowess after a brief cold snap on November 9th in 2019 We made a good amount of snow on Tundra tubing to get the season going over there and enjoy some snow sliding for much of November. The rest of the season was really lack luster, providing little snowfall or snowmaking opportunities. Sugaring continues, in our record season we made almost 8 gallons of syrup of different varieties, and in January 2021 we purchase a new (to us) snowcat, a Bombardier BR-100, a smaller version cat with 24″ tracks and ability to really negotiate the hill nicely, just in time for our 30th season!
A look towards the Future
We are excited as we look at the past and forward to future possibilities. One of the greatest things about Polar Peak is our infrastructure hasn’t changed significantly since 1994. We don’t develop or modernize. Our plan is to keep it simple, and fun. While our future plans include replacing worn out infrastructure with solutions that are identical to what you see now our long-term focus continues to be on becoming more energy and resource efficient. We have replaced all night skiing lighting with bulbs that use less energy and directed lights for best slope coverage with very minimal light pollution, utilize mowing techniques and scheduling that cuts back on fuel consumption and utilizes less fuel per season than the average home uses per year, use weather monitoring technology to pin point where on the hill we can make snow, when and operate when conditions are most favorable, and finally use all natural snow preservation techniques to make snow on our south face out last similar northern exposures, requiring less fuel and less of an impact per person. Our immediate focus is on modernizing the snowmaking plant with more efficient equipment, focusing on shorter runs, and making more snow, cutting back on fuel, resources, and time. Essentially our goal as we look towards the next 10 years is working less on keeping things going and enjoying more time on the hill skiing/riding/and tubing.
The Last Run
Operating Polar Peak has been the best experience one person could possibly have. The skiing is free, there are never no liftlines, conditions are the way you like them. The lodge is small, is packed with all your favorite snacks, and there is room to kick off your boots at the end of the day. I have learned a lot from the experience. Despite quarrels Mark and I have always made one great team. We both worked hard, and have been rewarded by the experience. In the upcoming years we plan to operate Polar Peak for our families as our family haven and backyard vacation. We plan to enhance the Peak at every opportunity.We want our future on the Peak to replicate the past… entertaining, adventurous, and of course fun.
We would personally like to thank Mr. Israel Slutzky, Mr. Orville Slutzky and all the staff at Hunter Mountain for helping us along and taking the time to show us around. We would also like thank all of our friends and neighbors who showed support to Polar Peak during all of these years. Polar Peak will never die, it will always be there providing the best skiing experience on the East Coast.