Photo from Johnsburg Historical Society
These ladies on board the snow train from New York are thought to be models for Saks Fifth Avenue featuring the latest in ski fashion. The train ride was meant to provide with any services they needed including ski rentals, clothing and advice.
A once-familiar sight may soon return to the North Creek train station: a train arriving in deep snow with hundreds of eager skiers on board.
The snow train is not a new concept to North Creek. The development of the mountain terrain surrounding North Creek 80 years ago was a natural one, as the logging roads up the steep terrain were already in place. In 1932, with Lake Placid hosting the Olympics, the local American Legion began widening those roads for ski use.
The Home Town News North Creek Enterprise reported on the four-mile-long ski trail from the top of Gore Mountain, “An unusual feature of the Legion’s ski trail is that flaming youth and his older brother can make use of the slide without making the difficult climbs associated with ski trails. Cars may be driven to Barton’s Mines at the start of the trail and the winter sports enthusiasts may then ride all the way back on skis.”
The ease of the trip was a major attraction to these trails, one that very few areas offered back then. Furthermore, The Schenectady Winter Sports Club made North Creek its prime ski destination. A chartered train for club members arrived at the North Creek train station on March 4, 1934 bringing 375 skiers onboard the King Winter Special. Round trip fare from Schenectady was $1.50.
With the success of the chartered trains, the club made arrangements to begin overnight travel from Grand Central Station for the general public. The ride provided skiers with everything they needed. Saks Fifth Avenue Sporting Goods Department provided warm clothing and après ski attire. Female clothing models were on board showcasing the latest fashions for winter recreation. Ski equipment rentals were available on the train, including waxing services and an instructor ready to answer questions for the novice skier.
On arriving to the North Creek station, winter sports enthusiasts found local men waiting with buses, trucks, and cars to drive them to the mountain for 25 cents a person. The phrase “Ride Up Slide Down” became a popular one associated with this area since a skier could be transported from the station by a vehicle to the base of the mountain. From there, the skier could pay another quarter for several tickets to ride a rope tow and then slide back down. In 1936, it was estimated that 25,000 skiers visited the slopes, spending about $50,000.
This influx of people and cash were a small boon to the community. Residents were able to make some extra income by feeding and boarding skiers for $3 a day. Of course, this was at that discomfort of the boarding family’s children who were cast out of their own beds and made to sleep in the cellar to accommodate these strangers.
A nurse developed an on-slope first-aid patrol and members wore a distinctive armband and carried a backpack with emergency supplies. Emergency sleds and a telephone box were installed on the slopes. This practice was a forerunner of the National Ski Patrol now known at every public ski mountain.
Comments in the press were encouraging. One particular piece from the North Creek News Enterprise, entitled “What a New Yorker thinks of North Creek” reads:
“Above all, he [the skier] is struck with the fact that the extremely popular North Creek hasn’t the aspect of distinct commercialism that he had expected. He notices that the people who have opened up their houses to skiers like himself really seem to enjoy having them around, and last, but not least, is the fact that everything is quite within his budget.
Reluctantly climbing back on the train Sunday afternoon, after practically mastering the sport [of skiing], he is possessed of two things. One is a reservation for next week-end. The other is the mounting love for this little town nestled in the side of the mountain, presenting the best in skiing, the best in companionship — and he still has a comforting jingle in his pocket which attests to the fact that he can come here without having to break the bank at Monte Carlo!”
The snow trains were wildly popular for nine winters. The winter sports clubs carried on with trail development and rope tow installations and looked forward to the future installation of a T-Bar lift.
What no one anticipated was the war. When it took hold and took men with it, there was no one left to groom the trails and few skiers were left to ride the trains or the trails. Furthermore, the train operators focused on transporting troops and goods for the war effort.
The snow trains were re-established in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but were welcomed with little success. The popularity of the private automobile made getting to the mountain a quicker trip. Ski buses were attempted but were not nearly as successful as those snow train rides.
But the trails at Gore Mountain continued to develop. In 1964 the Adirondack Mountain Authority, a state-run department, began overseeing the operations of the mountain. At the expense of the state, new chair lifts were installed and later, in 1967, the red gondola lift — the first gondola in the state.
In anticipation of the 30th anniversary of the snow train, North Creek residents established a celebratory ride called “Snow Trains Unlimited” in 1974. Unfortunately, it was canceled for lack of snow on the mountain. While that was disheartening to ski train enthusiasts, it did bolster the state’s efforts to install artificial snow-making guns on the mountain, especially since a few seasons were cut short completely due to the lack of snow in the mid and late 1970s.
The Olympic Regional Development Authority took control of Gore Mountain in 1984. Under this management, the mountain continues to establish new trails and better the existing ones. In 2010, work was completed on the triple chair lift connecting the small village mountain, also known as Ski Bowl, to Gore Mountain. The Ski Bowl slopes were home to some of those first rope tows installed in the 1930s.
Now in 2012, the Saratoga-North Creek Railway will attempt to regain the popularity of snow trains not seen in over 70 years.
Gore Mountain still presents the best in skiing, and North Creek still offers small town hospitality; all with a comforting jingle left in your pocket.