‘Good place to be’
Area ski resorts welcome cold, snow
Not everyone in Western New York is complaining about the recent snow and cold. For ski resorts in the area, those conditions are just right.
Holiday Valley in Ellicottville has been open since Dec. 3, and was originally encouraged by the snowfall that came near the end of November, but the relatively calm remainder of the month forced them to put their snow making equipment to the test.
“We’re thankful we have a super powerful snow-making system,” said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley’s director of marketing before last week’s storm. “The natural snow has been a little on the sparse side this year.”
So far, Eshbaugh said there have been times where they’ve only been open on the weekends, closing during the week to preserve the snow they had while making more snow. But as COVID-19 cases in the area continue to rise, weather isn’t their only concern. Eshbaugh said they learned a lot from how last year went and realized they’re in a better position than some other businesses.
“We realized that outdoors is a good place to be,” she said. “We don’t have to make people wear masks outdoors on the lift lines or chair lifts, which was a struggle to get people to do last year.”
Eshbaugh said Holiday Valley still requires masks in buildings and are encouraging people to not spend a lot of time inside, which has been tough on the food and beverage services, but also noted that it’s going smoother than last year.
One new challenge Holiday Valley faces this year is, because they have more than 100 employees, everyone has to be vaccinated or test for COVID-19 once per week if they’re unvaccinated. Though that can cause problems for a place that large, Eshbaugh said they have a good system in place to manage the new guidelines.
“We have a lot of different departments and we have to keep track of who is vaccinated and who isn’t while being discreet about that,” Eshbaugh said. “We have a good system in place and we’re giving everyone plenty of heads up.”
Eshbaugh said the Tubing Park opened earlier this month and can be accessed by pre-purchasing lift tickets, which is another change Holiday Valley adopted last year that they’re maintaining this year.
While Holiday Valley has many past years of experience to build on, Cockaigne Ski Resort in Cherry Creek is still trying to find their footing. After 10 years of being closed, Cockaigne reopened under control of Lynn Development and Senior Executive Jason Spain. Spain said reopening last year put a big focus on regaining a client base.
“We are historically the oldest but with the reboot, we’re the newest resort in the Southern Tier,” said Spain. “We’ve been working to regain our previous skiers who are somewhat local to us and get the ski clubs back in. Clubs are what we’re known for with the size of our hill.”
Spain said that Cockaigne’s key feature is their learner hill, which he thinks is the best one around. Because of that, Spain thinks Cockaigne serves as the best place for beginners to come before moving on to other courses like Holiday Valley.
“We’ve been working a lot on speaking to that kind of skier and reintroducing learner products and beginner classes,” Spain said.
The lack of snow has been more of an issue for Cockaigne, which opened earlier this month.
Spain said that last year served as the scenario that “nobody would have wanted.” As they were trying to reopen for their first season back, they did so in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the different requirements and guidelines were so fluid, Spain said last year was about navigating the tumultuous climate.
“Originally when we opened last year, we had temperature screening so no one came in with symptoms, people had to have masks on unless they were eating, and we had the hurdle of not being able to serve alcohol without food,” said Spain. “That impacted delivery times. By the time you got to the slopes, it was like an airport check.”
As the COVID-19 climate continues to change, Spain said he’s thankful to have people like Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel and State Sen. George Borrello who are looking out for small businesses. This year, the conditions at Cockaigne will be more friendly to those visiting.
“There won’t be a COVID hut, but everyone will need to distance based on symptoms,” said Spain. “We’re still having people wear masks inside the building but they can take them off to dine. We have a new concessions area that’s super fast, and it makes quick dining a lot better in the COVID environment, while still keeping the sit-down pub menu. It’s a lot better than it was in the previous year.”
Not only overcoming COVID, Cockaigne was also overcoming all the hurdles a first year ski resort has to go through, which includes certifications. With certification and recertification out of the way for this year, Spain said they’re able to get back in the schools and advertise.
While Mother Nature can’t be predicted, Spain believes Cockaigne will be open through around mid-March, while Eshbaugh said that Holiday Valley will be open a few days into April. Additionally, Peek’n’Peak Resort near Clymer is also open for the season, and has passes that can be purchased on their website.