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Sunday, August 8, 2010

New Jersey, The Skiing State: History & Details

Liz Holste, Skiing in New Jersey
As I mentioned in Didja Know? Skiing In & Around Smoke Rise & Kinnelon, Liz Holste, former Kinnelon resident, skiing historian and author of Skiing In New Jersey? recently contacted me.  She also generously submitted the following article about New Jersey the skiiing state which is filled with skiing related history details that I bet you weren't aware of!

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New Jersey is a skiing state?

You are probably going to laugh when I tell you that I grew up skiing in New Jersey. I was born in New York. I had grandparents who fortunately had a 2nd house in Highland Lakes in Sussex County. My first slopes were the snow covered roads in Highland Lakes and also skiing down people’s properties. My family spent many happy winters and summers traveling from New York to my grandparent’s 2nd house in Highland Lakes.

From there I moved on to skiing at Craigmeur and at a huge place called Great Gorge.

In 1973 when my family moved to Kinnelon – that brought me even closer to the local ski areas. It was easier to get to them. I soon found out that the Kinnelon School System offered a skiing program to the Great Gorge Ski Area. Some of the teachers that skied were chaperons. Of course I signed up for it. The ski areas were open until 10 or 11pm back then so we were able to get a lot of skiing in every time we went.

I moved on to skiing at the larger resorts up north and out west. There have also been some ski trips to other countries. I participate in two adult amateur ski racing leagues. The New Jersey Ski Council League and the American Ski Racing Alliance League.

Most people would never think of New Jersey as a skiing mecca. However, over many years it was and still is.

People also think that a ski area has to be on a big steep mountain. At least that is what we see in all of the ski movies, ski racing events, and Olympic events. But here in New Jersey that wasn’t true in many cases. Small ski areas dotted the entire state. Some ski areas lasted only a few years, while others lasted longer and are still open today.

I know you are reading this and picturing the terrain features of our great state as you go further south. You are thinking – there are no mountains once you get outside of Sussex, Warren, Bergen and maybe Morris Counties. But you would be surprised to know that there were ski hills that were scattered throughout New Jersey from Sussex to Salem County.

How could New Jersey have any history in the sport of skiing? Yes there were the familiar ski areas – Craigmeur Ski Area, Great Gorge, Snow Bowl, Vernon Valley. But there were many other smaller ones as well. As long as they had a rope tow, a t-bar or a chair lift – I considered them a legitimate alpine ski area. Almost all had their own ski lodges as well.

Donna WeinbrechtPeople laugh when we tell them we grew up skiing in New Jersey. But some of the most unique and important inventions in the ski industry came out of New Jersey and New York. Also some of the most famous Winter Olympians got their start on the icy slopes of our state.

Doing the research for “Skiing In New Jersey?” was a 4 year magical journey into the history of skiing in New Jersey. I met incredible people and heard fantastic stories along the way. I talked to people involved with building and operating some of the ski areas in our state. I also spoke with Donna Weinbrecht – the 1992 Olympic Gold Medal Mogul Skier - and the first woman to win a Gold medal in this new Olympic competition.

Donna kindly wrote the foreword to my book which says:

“Liz takes you back in time to the birth of skiing in one of the most unlikely winter sports states in the country – New Jersey.

Her book honors the spirit of the Europeans who brought their inbred passion for snow and the great outdoors to these shores. The spirit of these pioneers of skiing, described in this book is still alive in those of us who have been lucky enough to reap the rewards of their incredible journey.”

Skiing in the 20s and 30s in New Jersey

Skiing in New Jersey, 20s and 30s
The history of alpine skiing in New Jersey has been tracked back to the 1920s. One of the first documented ski jumps was built at the North Jersey Country Club in at that time Paterson, NJ (Paterson and some of the other towns spread over larger areas than they do now. Swedish Ski Club members helped build the ski jump here. They held many famous jump competitions there. This ski jump was built and in use before the famous Bear Mountain, NY ski jump. That one was built in 1928 and was in use until 1990. More jump competitions were held at that location than at any other ski jump in the United States.

1925 New Jersey Ski Jump Poster

Another early ski jump was debuted at the High Point State Park in 1936. There were also some ski slopes at High Point. During the 1930s there were Ski Trains that ran from New York City and Newark that brought skiers out Port Jervis, NY. They were picked up by bus and then driven to the Rock View Inn Resort and the High Point State Park.

High Point New Jersey Ski Jump

Ad, Bloomingdales ski shop
In the 1930s some of the most famous department stores started selling ski equipment and ski clothing. Bambergers, Saks Fifth Avenue, Wannamakers, Macys, Lord & Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch. What was unique was that these famous department stores also had “ski slides” inside their stores where they gave lessons to their customers on the ski equipment they purchased. The ski slides were about 60 feet long with carpet on them and Borax soap crystals poured on top of them to give them the look and feel of a real ski slope. In later years there would be indoor electric ski slides in these stores. They were similar to a treadmill.

New Jersey Skiiing Inventions

A few important skiing inventions were and some still are manufactured in New Jersey:

* The electric rotating Ski Deks that were in the department stores were built by Russ Hall and Cyril Farny at the Klochner’s Steel Mill in Rockaway.

* The first ski waxing machine was built by Jack Kurlander in his mother’s basement in Nutley.

* The Roebling Steel Company manufactured the wire rope and cable that was used in some of the first rope tows, t-bars and chairlifts. The Roebling Company also built the first ski lifts that were used at many ski resorts all over the world.

Vernon, NJ, ski tow* Some of the first step in and releasable ski bindings were manufactured at the Cubco Binding Company in Nutley. (I’m sure there are people out there who remember these bindings. I know a ski shop that still has some of these. They are still in the original boxes too! You can contact me if you are interested in buying a pair to put on your bookshelf.

* The I-Dent-I-Ski Locks and other ski related products are still manufactured by Collins Ski Products in Bergenfield.

* Sski Wax is manufactured by Briareos Inc. in Mahwah.

New Jersey Skiing Resorts

The longest operating ski area in New Jersey was the Craigmeur Ski Area. It opened in 1937 and ran until 1998 when it unfortunately closed for good. The area fortunately was bought by the Morris County Parks Department so it is preserved as open space and as a County Park. Summer picnics are still held there.

Everyone thinks that skiing in Sussex County began in 1965 with the opening of Great Gorge. There were ski jumps and alpine ski areas in this county as early as 1936. Great Gorge was not the first ski area built in Vernon. The Vernon Ski Tow was built in 1946 on Drew Mountain Road.

Entrance to Great Gorge, NJ
The largest ski resorts were Great Gorge and Vernon Valley. These ski areas were merged and are now known as Mountain Creek. Jack Kurlander and John Fitzgerald were responsible for bringing large scale skiing to Sussex County when they built Great Gorge in 1965. Vernon Valley was built in 1968 and Great Gorge North was built in 1971. This was the real hay day of skiing in New Jersey. Hugh Heffner also built one of his Playboy Clubs in Vernon. Hidden Valley came along in 1975. From the 1930s through present there were 12 ski hills located in Sussex County.

There were several ski areas that were proposed – but unfortunately were never built.

When someone says that people from New Jersey don’t know how to ski – they need to remember that our little state has turned out some of the best and most famous skiers & snowboarders in the world. There were many US Women’s Pro Ski Tours, US Ski Team members and Winter Olympians who got their starts on the icy slopes of the New Jersey ski areas.

Famous New Jersey Skiers & Snowboarders

Ski New Jersey
One of our most famous Winter Olympians is Donna Weinbrecht. Donna grew up skiing on the slopes of the Hidden Valley Ski Area in Vernon. From there she moved on to the steepest mogul run in the east at the Killington Ski Area in Vermont. Initially as a self taught mogul skier – Donna started making her mark and soon made it on to the US Ski Team.

Donna won the first Gold medal ever given in the first Olympic Mogul Skiing Competition in 1992 in Albertville, France.

Jamie Kurlander was on the Women’s Pro Ski Tour and also made it on to the US Ski Team.

Jimmy Weinbrecht was Danny Kass’s first snowboard ski instructor at Hidden Valley. Danny Kass won the Silver medal for snowboarding in the 2002 Olympics. There are many other alpine and cross country skiers from New Jersey who left their mark on the sport of skiing. So next time someone laughs at you when you tell them you learned how to ski in New Jersey – just remember that you are in good and famous company. If we can ski the icy slopes of the East Coast – we can ski almost anywhere!

Get out there with your skis or snowboards and enjoy the slopes that brought so much alpine ski history to our state!

Do You Have Film of Skiing in New Jersey?

I was working on a documentary of skiing in New Jersey with a friend, but that has been stalled for several years because we have not been able to find enough good film of people skiing on our famous slopes. If anyone has old film they would be willing to share – please contact me at holsteliz@hotmail.com. If you have old pictures, brochures, etc. I would also be interested in that as well.

If you are interested in reading more about the history of skiing in this state – purchase a copy of my book “Skiing In New Jersey?” on www.amazon.com.  If you are interested in hearing more about the history of skiing in New Jersey, I am available to do presentations to groups.

I thought I was finished with finding everything there is to know about the history of alpine skiing in New Jersey, but I am starting to find even more info – so there may just have to be another Skiing in New Jersey book or revised edition. 

My dream is to open a New Jersey Ski History Museum somewhere...

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Thank you, Liz!  You have brought to life a marvelous world related to skiing in New Jersey! Best of luck to you on creating your skiing in New Jersey documentary and opening the New Jersey Ski History Museum!








NOTE: Photos courtesy of Liz Holste.
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