1949 was quite a year. Harry Truman was president, the first Polaroid camera was sold, Velcro was introduced to the world, and Ozzy Osbourne was born. But perhaps a little less influential was the grand opening of a new, family-run ski center in the Adirondacks called Oak Mountain.
Back in the day, Oak bore the distinction of having the longest T-bar lift in New York state. Somewhere in its 70 winters the mountain lost that title, but that’s OK. Oak is the kind of place that captures a sense of timelessness. Some things have changed, many things have remained the same, and Oak’s owners Kevin, Elizabeth, Laura, and Matt O’Brien couldn’t be more excited to celebrate the mountain’s 70th anniversary on Feb. 2.
“We try to keep retaining the generations that have been coming here for years,” said Laura. “You see the smiling faces because their father learned here, and his father learned here too. It becomes a sort of extended family here.”
A legacy of feeling like family
The O’Briens bought Oak in 2012, and even though they’ve made some changes to the place, the sense of family people get when they visit has endured. Laura said that starts with her staff, who are made to feel like they belong there.
“It’s the atmosphere that’s created here. Everybody is generally relaxed, here to have fun. Something the might keep it going is we allow are employees to feel like they’re part of our family. They pass that on to guests”
The O’Briens have also passed some modernization on to their guests. Since buying the ski center they have carpeted the lodge, added more snowmaking, added rental equipment, and they started hosting weddings on site. They’ve also started a cool, fun restaurant — it has the same name as the original, the Acorn Pub & Eatery, but it’s in a different building. The big draw to the pub is Head Chef Lou Petroza, who was the season four runner-up on the television cooking show Hell’s Kitchen.
“He just walked in one day and said ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job,’ and we were looking for a chef,” Laura said with a laugh. “We had to hire him!”
Lou has infused a gourmet flare into the Acorn’s menu, so there's a little something for everyone on the menu. The same can be said for the ski center itself.
“I think one of the big draws to Oak is there really is something for everybody to do,” Laura said. “It’s a safe mountain where mom can stay inside and read a book and little Bobby can ski with dad, or dad can go off and ski by himself if he wants. Everyone looks out for everyone else here.”
The friendliest mountain in New York
Besides its 22 trails for skiing and riding, Oak also has a couple of glade trails, a terrain park offerings, a tubing hill, and events like pond skimming, a cardboard sled racer and New Year’s fireworks and a torchlight parade.
Even with all that going on, Laura said her favorite thing about Oak is still the personal connections that are made there.
“We are the friendliest mountain in New York,” Laura said. “We are that family friendly place you can call home.”
Seeing kids who learn to ski at Oak come back is especially meaningful to Laura who said one little girl who took pre-K skiing lessons at Oak went on to become an instructor, and now she’s in Leadville, Colorado, studying ski resort management.
Part of the 70th anniversary celebration will be a collage of people who learned to ski at Oak. There will also be a birthday cake for the mountain, a retro theme, prizes for bringing the oldest ticket stub or oldest season pass, live music by the Willy Playmore Band, and plenty of people sharing pictures and memories about the ski center. Newcomers and veteran Oak-goers alike are welcome to join.
“We want to see Oak continually grow,” Laura said. “We’d love to see it hit 20,000 skier visits.”