Written by Russ Brownback, a devoted member of the Cazenovia Ski Club.
Cazenovia is renowned for its many unique assets. Indeed, Lorenzo, Cazenovia Lake, Chittenango Creek and Falls, and the ubiquitous historic architecture are easily identifiable treasures that make our community stand out among other small towns that dot the maps of the Northeastern United States. Yet one such unique attraction is all too often absent from the high-visibility list of local resources, the Cazenovia Ski Club.
On roughly 100 acres of incredibly diverse terrain, from heart-stopping “steeps,” to powder-laden glades, to groomed cruisers, and to gentle beginner trails. Though there is varied enough terrain for all abilities, it is widely accepted that “if you can ski all of the terrain at Caz, you can ski anywhere in the world.”
The property’s location allows it to harness Mother Nature’s winter goodness to its fullest potential. Prevailing northwesterly winds collect the accumulated snow from the meadows of Ridge Road and distribute it generously across the club’s terrain. An unofficial rule of thumb among members is that if you want to know how much new snow there is to ski on, simply take the amount of snow in the village and double it.
The ski area is steeped in Cazenovia tradition. The woodsy slopes were first cleared for skiing in the 1930s by a group of hearty local residents who were keen to participate in the alpine craze that was sweeping the nation on the heels of the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics. The early enthusiasts ascended the rugged slopes by virtue of a portable rope tow, powered by an old Ford Model-A motor. Ultimately, these pioneers purchased the property and incorporated as the Cazenovia Ski Club in 1941.
Over the ensuing decades the ski club developed a deeply rooted culture, defined by participants who share a passion for Central New York’s winters and a strong desire for local adventures with family and friends. But the club’s culture transcends the singular enjoyment of winter athleticism. Indeed, most participants are folks who place a large emphasis on trust and cooperation, both on the hill and in life.
“This is a character-building club as much as anything, and is one of the few remaining ski clubs of its kind,” said long-time member and current board seat holder Scott Falso.
The entire ski area’s operations are handled by club members themselves, from lift maintenance, to ski patrol, to trail grooming, as well as year-round social events. Even the snow making operation is managed by enthusiastic volunteers who brave frigid temperatures and 2 a.m. shifts to ensure a consistent quantity and quality man-made output.
The Cazenovia Ski Club has had its share of ups and downs over the years. The ski industry’s 1980s rough patch spelled the demise of local ski areas Mystic Mountain and Ironwood Ridge, but though the ski club’s membership dwindled to a small core during those years, it managed to hang on through sheer will of spirit.
Through those ups and downs, reams of ski club lore has accumulated which has been passed down from generation to generation. Many members tell stories of former race team member and eventual Olympic great Vicki Fleckenstein, breaking numerous local records as a young ski racer. Others recall current member Rick Cote as a thirteen-year-old defying his father and accepting a dare to jump Rathbun Road at high speed and land in the briar patch across the road.
The original pioneering spirit, thick tradition, and all of the lore lives on in many third generation families still skiing at the club in 2010; Verbeck, Travis, Grunert, Falso, Utter, Dwyer, Talbot and Lounsbury are but a few names of many local families who have participated in the ski club tradition across multiple generations.
That family lineage is perhaps best exemplified by the club’s long-time president, Jim King. King’s parents, wife and kids, siblings, and nieces and nephews are all current members. His sons load lifts and help maintain the club’s version of a terrain park. His brother Pete is a present board member and participates in the ski patrol effort. And King’s father, Russ, spearheaded a recent fundraising effort to build a new maintenance building.
The Cazenovia Ski Club is a “come-one-come-all” organization. All it takes to belong is a strong sense of adventure and a desire to participate in old-school winter fun. Just stop by the Club on any given winter Sunday and see bands of kids building jumps with garage-sale shovels or creating woods trails through the evergreen groves. See families enjoying picnic lunches on the deck or friends gathered around the woodstove in the rustic wax hut for après ski. As you take it all in, you can’t help but think that today’s version of the Cazenovia Ski Club is exactly what those Depression-era pioneers had in mind.