By Alicia Dziak
So many Western New Yorkers have skiing in their blood. While I married into a ski family, instead of being from one myself, I’ve spent the last 20+ years hearing stories about the great times had on the slopes and in the lodges “back in the day” — not only at Kissing Bridge, but at Bluemont as well. My father-in-law, Dave Dziak, directed the ski schools at both for a time, and some of his stories are reminiscent of what you see in cult classic movies promoting the 1980s ski scene. I’m forever intrigued with abandoned sites and places that have closed up shop, especially a place as large and once-popular as Bluemont, which you can still see just a short drive from Springville.
Located in the northeastern part of Cattaraugus County off Route 39 in the hills of Yorkshire (Hake’s Bridge area), Blue Mountain opened in 1959 and boasted 800 feet of vertical and eight trails, the longest being 6,600 feet. According to www.nelsap.org, the resort also featured “from 1959-62 an unconventional, side loading, detachable chairlift, developed to help keep guests warm against the onslaught of the lake effect snow bands coming off from Lake Erie.” It also had limited snowmaking capabilities, giving the ski area an advantage over others in the area at that time.
For unconfirmed reasons, Blue Mountain closed in 1962, but in 1968, it reopened under new ownership and a new name: Bluemont. Dave (my father-in-law), who was hired as a ski instructor that year, remembers that soon after its opening, the resort hosted a pro race, sponsored by WKBW. “All the big racers in the world were there,” he said. “Thousands of people showed up for it. Western New York had never seen anything like it.”
During the ‘71-’72 season, a fire destroyed the lodge and Bluemont was sold to three people—Jack Eberhardt, Pete Stapple and Phil Johnston.
The lodge was rebuilt and featured a four-sided fireplace, a cafeteria, a restaurant and a bar inside. The ski school offered lessons under the tutelage of Bill Gruden, the ski patrol kept the slopes safe and the rental shop covered all the visitors’ equipment needs.
“At the time, we offered free lessons on Saturday nights,” Dave told me. “Hundreds of people would come out for them. I remember one time having 80-90 people in a beginner lesson.”
Dave, who worked his way up to ski school director, added that, “There were four of us who were full-time employees. We taught lessons, we’d work in the rental shop, we’d bartend…and we’d get $125 a week!”
Among area lodging, a Bluemont brochure from the 1971-72 season lists the Leland House in Springville, noting its excellent food, modern rooms and cocktails, and the Zoar Motel on Route 219 in Springville, with its “17 modern units.”
A Bluemont brochure from the 1976-77 season lists all area adult lift tickets for $6 on weekdays and $9 on weekends. Rentals were $6.50. A season pass was $150. The resort offered eight trails that season, a majority of which were lighted for night skiing, ranging from the Student Slope (which was free to ski on) to Penny Lane, a 6,600-ft picturesque trail for beginners and intermediates, to Glades, which the brochure says was for experts only, and described it as “very exciting, big moguls, lots of trees.”
The trails were serviced by four lifts—two rope tows, one T-bar and a double chair (more traditional than the one in its early days) with two separate unloading stations. A brochure from the 1979-80 season stated there were barely lift lines to worry about because their lifts were “able to whisk 3,150 skiers to the top of the mountain in an hour.”
Bluemont boasted 60 Ski Patrol members and a well-equipped First Aid Building located at the base of the hill between the chalet and the Ski Patrol Family Room.
In the off-season, Bluemont offered moto-cross races, weddings, dinner theater, company picnics, dancing, antique shows and more.
Bluemont found success throughout the 1970s, until the 1981-82 season, when lack of funding forced the ski area to close.
Kingbrook, a Canadian company, soon purchased the land with the intent to reopen it as a four-season, private resort that would include condos and a golf course; that project never garnered enough support to come to fruition.
About a decade later, an unnamed investment group with ski industry ties made serious inquiries about reviving the Kingbrook project but with a grander vision to include a hotel, residential units, two ski hills, a signature golf course, tennis courts, as well as hiking and mountain biking trails. (Springville residents might remember the Kingbrook chairlift chair and sign sitting along Waverly Street for some time.)
The Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency put together $70 million in inducements, but the project never made it to the construction stage.
According to the NELSAP, the property is now owned by Cornerstone, Kingbrook’s Colorado-based parent company.
As with most defunct ski areas, many of the old structures from the Bluemont era are still intact or at least recognizable, like the ski school building, safety patrol building, the main base lodge and maintenance buildings, as well as the main bull wheel at the base.
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See more photos in the print version!