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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Skiing In & Around Smoke Rise & Kinnelon

Cornie Hubner's Didja Know?
I realize that it's deep summer and not exactly skiing in New Jersey weather.  However, Elizabeth Holste, former Kinnelon resident and author of Skiing in New Jersey, recently contacted me asking about the Smoke Rise ski trail. I remembered that Cornie Hubner had written about it. His story addresses skiing in & around Smoke Rise and Kinnelon.

Didja Know?? - Skiing

The almost 400 ft. vertical drop from its high point, to the Pequannock River made it perfectly obvious to Alden Talbot, that the road should be names Ski Trail. Recognizing its value, the Smoke Rise Corp. allowed a 50 to 60 ft. corridor between lots #399 and #401 to provide access to a ski run.  This strip, purchased by the adjoining resident in 1968, is still shown separately on the "Not to Scale - road map" of 1988.  The opportunity to advertise this rare facility was not overlooked in brochures and publicity of the first years of the Clubs development.

The 5,000 acres "Created by Nature - Preserved by Man" was offered to the classified 20% top income families identified in the October 1947 New York Herald Tribune as "willing to pay $35,000 to $40,000 for a home and having a minimum income of $7,000". (Didja Know 8/15/85), when the average family earned $3,000.  "To those who admire natural beauty, enjoy privacy and desire comfort" the brochures offer the unique status features of Skiing and Airfield (Didja Know 10/15/85). To meet the needs and satisfy the longing of those who wanted open fields and flat lands, the airfield lots were soon sold. Others found the view lots of their dreams and contributed to the abandonment of all prospects for a ski slope.

Smoke Rise 1948 advertisement
1948 advertisement
A casual survey of the proposed slope show it too steep for the limited area and with boulders and ledge outcroppings too expensive to clear. The idea never went beyond its concept in the mind of the map maker and would have had to sacrifice many of the best view lots to provide minimal facilities and safe novice runs. Whether or not the appeal of the prestigious skiing and private airfield stimulated sales-it didn't hurt.  The only plane to land was a Piper Cub that was forced down to refuel from a dump truck. The only sign of a plane, was the tail of a glider, owned by the female National Soaring Champion, waiting to be trucked to some area of rising currents (not available in Smoke Rise).  The only skiing was in back yards or open fields as an established facility was flourishing about two miles away as the crow flies.

Craigmeur has everything that would have had to be duplicated.  It was started in 1936 by Hugo Meury, the first ski run in the State of New Jersey and among the earliest in the U.S.A.  He found the best snow holding weather, with a northern exposure in the picturesque Alpine setting on Green Pond Road, Newfoundland.  Here he developed his slope grooming to such a refined point that he is credited with having pioneered the art.  He operated with varying success, depending on the snow fall until he sold out in 1955.  The new owners installed some of the first snow making equipment available anywhere in the world and sold out to the Murrays in 1965.  They lengthened the small private-like slope to 1,700 ft. and three more intermediate and beginner slopes.  A full services restaurant, cocktail lounge, cafeteria, ski shops and school with 65 instructors make it the largest learn-to-ski area in the State.

Nearby Snow Bowl started in 1963 on Weldon Road in Jefferson, attracted as many an 4,000 in one day before succumbing to over expansion and mismanagement in 1975.  It had a summit elevation of about 1,500 ft., a vertical drop of nearly 500 ft., with 7 runs and trails with a maximum run of about one half mile, served by two chair lifts, a T-bar and two rope tows. Many locals made their first runs under the direction of 25 instructors and went on to college ski scholarships.  One of these having worked all day, fell to sleep while operating the snow making machine, over night. He awakened to find a 10' x 50' monster ice whale that blocked the trail until it thawed out in the Spring.  Several moved to the other area operations, managing and coaching racing competitors and the equipment was purchased for the basic installation at Hidden Valley where one of them is manager and executive director of the New Jersey ski racing association.  The lodge burned down in the early 80s and the property is now part of the Mahlon Dickerson Reservation.

Page from original Smoke Rise Brochure
See below for Ski area related statement.
Hidden Valley, on Breakneck Road, Vernon, "was created for the skier who dislikes the elbowing crowds at other areas".  A "private club on weekends and holidays and open to the public with a limited ticket policy at all other times including seven nights a week" it is "committed to the needs of discriminating skiers". From a summit elevation of 1,400 ft and a vertical 700 ft. drop, it offers  twelve runs and trails, with two testing advanced expert runs and others for each degree of experience.  Its amenities include a restaurant, lounge, cafeteria, boutique, repair and rental shop, P.S.I.A. certified ski school, nursery and ski storage.  Among its present members, it has had several winners in the Eastern Regional Area Junior Competitions and now has a young teenage girl that shows every prospect of making the Junior Olympics.

Great Gorge started in 1964 and Vernon Valley in 1966, joined in 1977 after some misadventures and a "somewhat turbulent evolution" to become the largest ski complex between New York and Philadelphia and points south.  One of the largest in the North East, it spreads over three great mountains with a summit elevation of over 1,400 ft. and a vertical drop of 1,040 ft.  It is open from Thanksgiving to April, offering 53 slopes and trails for 25% novice, 45% intermediate and 30% expert, with 14 lifts including a high capacity triple chair and three rope tows.

It has the largest snow making system in the world, that can cover 8 miles of trails with several feet of snow, overnight.  This capability insures complete cover when nature fails to supply the normal blanket, which is still gratefully welcomed by skiers and owners.  The longest run, North East Passage, is 10,500 ft., a challenge for experts.  A calender of events attracts wide participation from "Michelob Ski Spree, Governors Cup Challenge", terminating with St. Patrick's special races that attract stellar performers.

The European atmosphere in the scenic Alpine surroundings is complemented by an authentic German Brewery, imported from Weisbaden.  Six restaurants, two pro shops, threee rental and repair shops and a bakery round out the services. A slope side condominium hotel, town houses and a fabulous Spa, together with Action Park summer attraction make it one of the finest four season recreation areas in the country.

The enticing programs offered by the local resorts, for the pre-school to the senior clientele is evidence of the increasing popularity of skiing. Only a few high school kids saw Morris Kinney in 1914, on his way to the Butler Rail Road Station, after the 5 mile trip from Smoke Rise, gliding smoothly over 2 ft. of snow on a pair of wooden slats. That afternoon, wooden barrels succumbed to the need for barrel staves, the local ski for years.
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Pretty amazing!

Which of these ski resorts do you remember enjoying? Which was your favorite?









Please note that most of the links to the ski resorts that Cornie mentions go to sites that Liz Holste created and which include a multitude of photos and images relating to skiing in New Jersey.  

The reference on page 15 of the original Smoke Rise Brochures reads: "The Ski area is at the northerly end of Ski Trail which has just been opened." 

Note: Images courtesy of Tom Kline, Kinnelon historian.

P.S.:  This article about skiing in & around Smoke Rise and Kinnelon had me thinking about one of the very early episodes of Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations about New Jersey in which he explores growing up in New Jersey...
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