ELIZABETHTOWN - The scene at Otis Mountain during the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival on March 2 was definitely relaxed with a down-home feel to it.
Skiers checked out gear, tried the old-fashioned tow rope, skied down the small hill and just hung out, talking with others who shared the same interests.
"The backcountry ski festival is definitely different from Mountainfest," said Mike Kazmierczak, who works in The Mountaineer's skiing department. "It's a little mellower, it's a little smaller, but we like it. ... Everyone gets one-on-one attention from the reps. If they want to try a ski, it's not gone all day. It's here, you know, and it's good for us, always to tie it in with the retail because people can come in and we can continue that service and get them in the right stuff."
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Ron Konowitz, left, follows Lake Placid News columnist Joe Hackett down the hill at Otis Mountain on March 2. Hackett spent many hours on the hill as a child.
The backcountry ski festival is organized by The Mountaineer gear store and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides, both located in Keene Valley. The event took place both Saturday and Sunday. It consisted of guides taking people out into the backcountry for skiing clinics of all levels in the High Peaks, demos at Otis Mountain Saturday, an avalanche course, and a presentation Saturday night. The presentations were given by Dave Hough, Ron Konowitz, Chuck Boyd and Drew Haas and focused mainly on their Adirondack skiing experiences. It took place at the Keene Arts Playhouse in Keene.
While the main focus of the weekend was the backcountry ski tours, Otis Mountain offered its own unique opportunities. The privately owned mountain is a throwback to a different era, when small tow-rope hills relied on natural snow to get them through the winter.
Jeff Allott, who has owned and run the ski area since the mid-1990s, said he grew up skiing on the mountain. It opened in the 1940s, he said.
"It was pretty neat," he said. "It was actually a pretty popular place. It competed almost directly with Paleface and Whitney and some of the other areas that were around at the time and I can remember as a kid, having 300 people here. All the school programs would come here. And we'd have night skiing, Wednesday nights, and it was a huge social event for a long, long time."
Allott said that the Hildebrant family closed down the mountain in the 1980s after insurance costs became too high and snow conditions tapered off. It remained that way until Allott took over in the mid-1990s and began operating it for his now college-aged kids and their friends. Now he runs the hill mainly for local kids that he knows. He said there's a group of about 25 who come on a regular basis, usually on the weekends.
On this particular day, there were a handful of kids being pulled up the mountain by the rope and then skiing down. They were joined by people taking lessons or trying out gear offered by one of the many companies who sent equipment and reps to the events. One of those skiers was Holly Goyert, who drove up from the New Paltz area for the event.
"We were thinking about doing a tele clinic, but I really wanted to try out some skis because I've been trying to buy for a while," she said.
Goyert said she's new to backcountry skiing, but she has done some in recent years in places such as Colorado, where she's done hut-to-hut tours. She also gave the Jackrabitt Trail a try Friday.
"I haven't done a tow rope since I was a kid, so it's kind of fun to try that again," she said. "And I haven't wiped out yet."