Like many ski mountains in North America-Sun Valley, Alta, Mont Tremblant, Stowe, Whiteface-Gore has roots in the 1930s. In the depths of the Great Depression, downhill skiing grabbed the imagination of those who lived among or could get to mountain slopes covered with deep snow.
One of those was Vincent Schaefer, a General Electric scientist known for his work in cloud seeding who later directed the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center of the University at Albany. A lifelong hiker in the Adirondacks, he attended the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. Even though the games had no alpine ski events, Schaefer soon had an idea that would generate the first downhill skiing at Gore.
Schaefer had been scouting the Adirondacks for areas that might provide good downhill skiing, North Creek among them. Members of the Schenectady Wintersports Club, founded in 1932, indicated considerable interest in skiing. With Dr. Irving Langmuir, head of the GE Research Lab, Schaefer undertook an aerial survey of mountains within range of Schenectady, including Gore. Why not run a train from Schenectady to North Creek to connect those folks with mountain ski trails?
He did just that, arranging the first ski train on March 4, 1934, with 387 eager skiers on board. The round trip ticket cost $1.50. The train left Schenectady at 8:14 a.m. and arrived in North Creek at 10:30 a.m. Next a fleet of trucks provided transportation for a 10-mile ride to the head of ski trails near Barton Mines on Gore Mountain. Then skiers headed down narrow logging roads and trails cleared by members of the North Creek Ski Club to meet trucks again at the base of the trails.
Vincent Schaefer had heard about injuries to skiers on the Boston Snow Train, so on that first day in 1934 Gore Mountain became the site of a ski patrol. One of the first in the country, it served as a model for others as skiing grew. Lois Perret formed the volunteer first aid committee, with first aid kits, a doctor, toboggans and emergency plans in place. Their motto was, "Be careful, and think while you ski." Lois and her "Clean-Up Crew," swept the trails at the end of each day the ski train ran. Skiers were warned to start down trails before 3:30 to get back to the train for the return trip to Schenectady. By 1939 20 "husky boys" on the committee wore a triangular orange and black insignia.
In addition to ski trains throughout the 1930s, there were parallel developments around the base of the mountain. Carl Schaefer, Vincent's younger brother, built a rope tow in the fall of 1935, using a six-cylinder engine from a 1929 Buick and 700 feet of hemp. It was installed on the village slopes, land donated to the hamlet of North Creek by St. James Catholic Church, and is considered the first known ski tow in New York.
The next year Carl bought land along the Sodom Road, installed another tow, and opened a ski school called Skiland, operating it successfully for two seasons until a fire destroyed the lodge (also his home) in February, 1938. After the disaster he and his family moved back to Schenectady but retained the land and the ski tow on it for future use after the coming war.
At the end of the war, skiing development at Gore leaped forward. In 1946 a 3000 foot T-bar arrived at the North Creek Ski Bowl, creating an 830-foot vertical drop and a network of trails above the gentle bowl. Early trails included Ridge, Oak Ridge and Hudson. When development at the new Gore site on the other side of the mountain intensified, the lift and the trails it served became dormant during the 1990s, waiting to be resurrected two decades later.
Just as Whiteface had shifted from its Marble Mountain site to a new one on the east face of the mountain for development, the focus at Gore had moved from the northern ski bowl to the eastern face in the mid 1960s. Two key figures initially pushed the development of all three state-operated ski areas. One was Averill Harriman, who as chairman of the Union Pacific Railway had built Sun Valley in Idaho. A skier himself, as Harriman became Governor of New York in 1954 he had shepherded the move from Marble to the current site of Whiteface. The other was Arthur Draper, a New York Times reporter who dropped his city job to become a forest ranger in North Creek, helped Governor Harriman plan Whiteface, and at various times served as Superintendent at Belleayre and General Manager at Whiteface.
Further development of skiing at Gore or an alternate site in the region was in the wind during Governor Harriman's term. Vincent Schaefer had also purchased land around Gore before he was appointed to the Governor's ski policy committee but sold it to avoid a conflict of interest. Because the North Creek Ski Bowl was not on state land, it could not be the core of further development. When a plan was announced at the outset of the 1960s, acquisition began around the base of the mountain to provide access to higher altitudes on state land. Carl Schafer's land was needed because the planned access road cut through the middle of his ski terrain. After months of negotiation, he lost 100 of his 120 acres through eminent domain.
In 1964 the new development opened with a J-bar, a T-bar and a double chair, then the longest lift in the East. Again in 1967 Gore installed the first gondola in New York State. In 1976 the focus changed to snow making on Sleeping Bear, Sunway, Showcase and Cloud. And in 1984 the Adirondack Express high-speed triple lift opened, the only one of its kind in the country.
Gore's development also became part of the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) planning and administration in 1984. Three years earlier ORDA had been established to maintain and manage the extensive facilities built for the 1980 Winter Olympics, but its mandate included minimizing the "financial burden on state and local government," optimizing "year-round use and enjoyment of these facilities" and improving "physical fitness and recreational education." Under such broad terms, both to reduce costs and coordinate operations, it made sense to include Gore under the ORDA umbrella, and the same logic brought in Belleayre in 2012.
Long-range planning to expand Gore gained full force in 1995. After a protracted approval process, the snowmaking system was linked to the endless water supply of the Hudson a year later. For its cooperation with environmental groups throughout that process, Gore received an international environmental award.
Throughout subsequent years, new lifts kept appearing as part of a planned expansion of Gore's facilities. In 1999 the Northwoods Gondola replaced the "old red gondola," in 2002 the Topridge Triple created access to wonderful single black trails off Bear Mountain, and in 2008 a high-speed quad began to serve new Burnt Ridge Mountain terrain, including the premier blue/black scenic, winding Echo trail.
Redevelopment of the ski bowl would have to wait until 2003, when tubing resumed. In 2007 a triple chair replaced the small T-bar in the bowl, with lights for night skiing. Such improvements were not random, but part of a larger plan to reconnect little and big Gore, first with trails and eventually with a connecting lift when skier and off-season demand justifies the expense.
The first interconnect has been completed with a trail link from the base of the North Side at Gore to the rebuilt original trails above the ski bowl. At little Gore the original T-bar lift line was rededicated as the Hudson Chair on January 29, 2012. State Senator Betty Little cut the ribbon remarking "This is where skiing began in the Adirondacks. This is an incredible moment on an incredible day." She asked if any of those of us watching had skied on the original slopes and hands went up all over, including ours!
Of the restored old Gore trails General Manager Mike Pratt said "We've maintained a lot of the original character so they're kind of traditional Northeast trails, where they're a little narrower than some of the others, and have some nice curves and bends to maintain the fall line. They're just quality, fun trails."
Continuing to comment on the expansion he has overseen since 1996, Pratt added: " The Hudson Chair has 900 feet of verticals, and the projects mark work on a fourth mountain for Gore, making the current Gore system now encompass nine sides of four mountains, with 20 separate glades, stretching Gore's vertical to 2,537 feet, sixth-largest in the East."
The expansion of snowmaking made possible by the access to Hudson River water in 1996 continued throughout the years, reaching a spurt in 2011 and 2012 with the addition of 160 new tower guns. The new guns provide snow coverage more quickly and at the same time require significantly less energy. Their timing was perfect, enabling Gore to cope with an unusually dry season in 2011-12 and an uneven one beset by short but very steep warm cycles now. A strategy of providing thorough snow coverage on key sections of the mountain complex while beginning to prepare others has created good skiing through difficult weather periods.
Most advertising slogans make little sense, but "More Gore" does. With eight distinct but connected ski regions, Gore has evolved into a major Eastern ski area. For those of us lucky enough to live in the Capital District or Saratoga-Lake George region, it already is our primary destination resort, even before more lodging is built to accommodate others from farther away.
(Acknowledgements: Thanks to Bill Schaefer, son of Carl, for documents and information about the history of old Gore in the 1930s, and to Emily Stanton for input on post-war development through the present.)