December: the time of year when the quiet white mist takes over the mountains, and the winter ready cars head up winding ski roads across the Hudson Valley. So where do you go to play in the snow? If you're one of those whose idea of a good time involves steep slopes and serious velocity, you've got a slew of possibilities in the area. Five local centers offer downhill skiing and snowboarding (some offer snow tubing), and each has its own unique character and charm. Decades of experience combined with the latest in upgrades and innovations and exceptional hospitality combine to create skiing memories that will keep you cool all summer long.
Windham Mountain has an elevation of 3,100 feet, with 46 trails, 265 skiable acres, and 11 lifts. A high-speed quad lift, which holds four people and can transport up to 2,600 people per hour, was added four years ago, moving at 1,000 feet per minute. The peak also boasts the highest vertical drop in the Catskills at 1,600 feet. Windham has undergone over $5 million worth of upgrades, including several thousand new pipes and snowmaking equipment, and 45 new snow guns in recent years.
Windham also features a Mountain Top Adventure Park for snow tubers, featuring 15 lanes and three tows. Windham begins their season the weekend of December 8 with the Ullr Festival, when the Norse ski god will join Windham Mountain for a Fire and Ice ceremony to pray for a great winter.
On December 31, look up at the sky on New Year's Eve at Windham Mountain for a fireworks display.
Rt. 23, Windham. (800) 754-9463; Windhammountain.com
Off the beaten path in the Delaware town of Roxbury, Plattekill Mountain is a great place for families, as the slopes are less crowded than at other marquee ski areas in the Catskills. There's almost never a wait, even on busy holiday weekends. There's skiing, snowboarding, and tubing on 35 trails, with 1,100 feet of vertical drop. The varied terrain features everything from two-mile long beginner cruisers to continuous top-to-bottom double black diamond slopes.
Plattekill Mountain Road, Roxbury. (607) 326-3500; Plattekill.com
Hunter Mountain, at 4,040 feet, is the highest mountain in Greene County––and with 240 skiable acres, including 54 trails and 11 lifts, has even been dubbed "the snowmaking capital of the world." The Mountain was the first in the state to install snowmaking and first in the world with top-to-bottom snowmaking. A gladed section was added on the east side of the mountain three years ago, where the trees were thinned out so that intermediate skiers may experience more thrilling conditions. Hunter has two terrain parks, one of which, Park Avenue, is specifically for skiers and snowboarders who want to experiment and perform tricks.
Hunter Mountain is also home to many events and festivals. Throughout the winter, the center hosts competitive and casual races for skiers and snowboarders of all ages. New Year's Eve festivities include a torchlight parade followed by a fireworks display.
Rt. 23A, Palenville. (800) HUNTERMTN; Huntermtn.com
Catamount Ski Area
Straddling the New York-Massachusetts border between Hillsdale and South Egremenot, Catamount is one of the last family-owned ski centers in New England. Catamount features 120 acres of skiing, with 1,000 feet of vertical descent and 33 trails, including 12 black diamond runs and 11 trails in the Meadows learning area. The terrain park features plenty of jumps and jibs, as well as a halfpipe and a boardercross with 800 feet of banked turns. A special treat: Night skiing on 15 trails as well as the terrain park.
Rt. 23, Hillsdale. (518) 325-3200; Catamountski.com
The New York Regional Olympic Development Authority (ORDA) took over management of Belleayre from the Department of Environmental Conservation this fall, and it's hoped that the ORDA, which already runs two ski centers in the Adirondacks (Gore and Whiteface) will bring an exciting upgrade to the Ulster County slopes. As a publicly operated ski center, Belleayre strives to offer great value in a family-oriented, down-to-earth way. People head to Belleayre to learn skiing or to avoid the crowds, and return because the skiing is lovely, albeit a bit tamer than on some of the other regional mountains. "This is a place where you can let your kids go off on their own and you know they should come back all in one piece, just because of the way the lifts and runs are set up," remarks a satisfied customer on TripAdviser.com. Belleayre hosts ski clinics and races and winter carnivals. It has 55 trails, 8 lifts, a terrain park for boarders, adaptive skiing, guided snowshoeing trips, and a ski camp for the younguns.
Rt. 28, Highmount. (845) 254-5600; Belleayre.com