Over 20 years ago my parents took me to my first downhill ski lesson. On a very small hill, I grabbed a tow rope and was immediately dragged to the top, and scarred for life. Then, during my first group lesson at an actual ski resort, I wiped out within minutes of getting off the chair, only to be left behind by the group while I struggled to get my ski boot back into the binding. Needless to say, I was not impressed with my first month of skiing. (If you need further proof, the picture below accurately depicts my attitude.)
Don’t worry, none of that took place in the Adirondacks.
However much attitude I had toward skiing at first, something about sliding on snow had me hooked. I grew to adore skiing. In my senior photos from high school I'm holding a pair of skis. I even taught lessons for awhile. Over the years, my skis have taken me to mountains in Colorado once, down double black diamonds often, and, sometimes, off jumps! Every second is amazing.
Having grown up skiing small town mountains, moving to the Adirondacks to ski in the shadows of Whiteface and Gore was exciting, but I soon realized that I missed the family-style mountains where everybody knows your name. Someone introduced me to Oak Mountain one day and I was eager to learn more. A small town mountain, ripe with good views and new-to-me trails? Sign me up! Itching to hit the slopes, I raced to Speculator, New York.
Here are four things I found:
1. Friendly terrain, unforgettable experience
My day at Oak Mountain was a strange one weather-wise, but I guess that’s how it goes in the Adirondacks! My drive to Speculator was almost entirely in blizzard conditions, but everything stopped by the time I got to town. I didn’t arrive at the mountain until 10-ish (because I got distracted by my other love - birding), but I was still only about the 40th car to arrive that day, including employees. Immediately I knew it was going to be a day of no lift lines and amazing powder.
What I didn’t realize was how amazing it was actually going to be. I don’t think I’ve skied at a more family-friendly mountain. (And I live down the street from a resort that was awarded “best family-friendly ski area” a few years ago.) As I was gathering my things to head inside, I met a young skier who was about to ski for the second time in his life. His story is a familiar one at Oak Mountain: people start skiing here at 3 or 4 years old (sometimes even 2!) and just never stop. I think there’s something incredibly special about learning to ski somewhere and then still being able to ski there 60 years later.
From the base, there are surface lifts for beginners and a quad for those ready to venture up the whole mountain. I hopped on a chair and up I went. From the lift, the views behind you get better and better: the frozen expanses of Lake Pleasant and Sacandaga Lake emerge through the trees and the base lodge gets smaller and smaller as you rise up. And the views didn’t stop once I got off the lift. The rolling hills and mountains in the West Canada Lake and Siamese Ponds wildernesses sprawl as far as the eye can see. Steve, who I met attending the chair lift, said the view was absolutely stunning. He also added that even if he wasn’t getting paid, he’d still want to be right there, doing what he’s doing. What's that adage? "Do what you love, love what you do"?
With a refreshed smile on my face, I chose the black diamond Oak Mountain Run as my first run. Oak Mountain Run is doable by intermediate/advanced skiers (in my opinion), it was groomed perfectly (fact), and it has a killer view (picture below for evidence). Even the green circle trails were delightful; from the cruiser Sacandaga to the exciting connector Speculator, the green runs are still fun in their own right, with wide widths perfect for big turns.
Need a bonus run? Toward the end of my day, I met a fine young skier named Zane. I told him I skied all the open trails, but he led our group down a trail I didn’t know existed. Crosscut was the name of the trail, and it was a surprisingly fun twisty-turny path through the woods. It was all good surprises at the end of the day!
2. The most delicious lunch ever
Okay, okay. I know this story is supposed to be about skiing but with a highly recommended dining experience on campus, there was no way I was going to pass up lunch. And what a lunch it was! Acorn Pub & Eatery blew me away. Chef Carolyn Abel came out to say “hi” to me and I absolutely made sure that it was clear the grilled chicken sandwich with pesto, mozzarella, and tomato special was, hands down, the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.
3. New friends
I’ve skied a lot of places, but I’ve never skied anywhere where the lift attendants knew my name within three runs and were inspiring me to write a book by the end of the day. By far, this was the most welcomed I've ever felt at a ski resort. The best part? Every new friend I made during my day at Oak Mountain had a different story to tell. Between the smiling faces and the heartfelt stories shared, it felt like I had been skiing here my whole life.
4. History runs deep
Speaking of stories, there are a few that can be found on this 22-trail ski mountain. Tom, a supervisor for the ski school, told me that for every person I spoke with I’d probably hear 100 stories. And, let me tell you, all the stories I heard were captivating.
Oak Mountain first opened in 1947, so we're working with 75 years of history here. In the mid-2000s, Oak Mountain was at risk of closing for good, but Matt and Laura O’Brien purchased and revived this hometown mountain. Even though the mountain has changed ownership over the years, that small town mountain feel has never been lost. Some of the people I spoke with had been skiing there since the 1950s. Everyone noted that there have been changes, but the spirit here remains the same.
I spent the morning skiing by myself, exploring new terrain and introducing myself to new people. After my heavenly lunch, though, I met up with a friend, Bill, who has been skiing at Oak for years. It was great to spend time with someone who knows the mountain because their love for the place is tangible. Even after I left, I was still discovering people who had history with Oak Mountain. A good friend of mine, Kelly, reached out to me on Facebook and said she learned to ski here. Another friend, Jaime, said she was surprised I didn’t see her family on the slopes. (I was probably daydreaming about my lunch.) Ethan, a lift attendant, told me his father worked at Oak and now he was carrying on that legacy. There were stories of kids who learned to ski and then went on to become ski patrollers or instructors at the mountain. Dylan, who works in the rental shop, even got married here!
It’s impossible to tell all the stories of the mountain in one blog, nor should it be done that way. Each story deserves time in the limelight. To celebrate each one, Oak Mountain features these memories and stories on their website and on their Instagram. I highly recommend you read about the people who have shaped Oak Mountain, and how Oak Mountain shaped skiers and snowboarders! One of the biggest takeaways from the day came from a mountain employee. They said that people learn to ski at Oak and then go off to ski other places around the country or world, but then they always return with a new experience to share. It's all about growth, but never disconnecting from your roots. There's probably something wise to say here about roots and oak trees and metaphors, but, truthfully, all I'm thinking about is my lunch. (Acorn Pub is open Thursday - Sunday.)
A new chapter
On one of my trips up the chairlift, I noticed that the wind wasn’t blowing and I couldn’t hear any cars below. All I could hear was the excited laughter of a child gliding through fresh powder for the first time. (For the record, it was “AMAZING!” and they “COULDN’T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN!” Capitalization added to demonstrate the happy screaming.) It's hard not to grin from ear to ear when all you can hear is people having fun.
So, if you’re ready for your next ski adventure, take the time to explore Oak Mountain. With 40% snowmaking capacity, 4-lifts, and plenty of terrain to slide down, this is the perfect getaway for a relaxed skier or rider. Nothing flashy, just good, old-fashioned ski fun. Plus, there is more to do at Oak Mountain besides ski or snowboard. There are miles of snowshoe trails and a tubing hill! And if you don’t feel like you can do it all in one day, no worries! Stay overnight in Speculator and make a weekend of it.
Come out and create your own stories here at Oak Mountain!