In Search of a Skier’s Paradise: New York State and the Development of Skiing in the Adirondack Park, 1932–67

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:50 AM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Jonathan D. Anzalone, Stony Brook University
By 1941, when New Yorkers voted to ratify a constitutional amendment which made possible a state-run ski center on Whiteface Mountain, state conservationists were two decades into an initiative to develop the Adirondack Park’s recreational infrastructure.  Despite park managers’ experience in building amenity-rich campsites and constructing facilities for the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, managing ski centers proved to be a far more daunting challenge.  As my presentation will show, wilderness politics, class divisions, and the vicissitudes of nature combined to frustrate administrators and strain their relationship with business leaders, winter sports enthusiasts, and wilderness advocates. 

Once defined as a space for mass recreation rather than a wilderness area, Whiteface underwent a significant transformation in order to accommodate increased human pressure.  Nevertheless, improvements tended to blind planners to the mountainscape’s imperfect potential to provide recreation.  Even in an increasingly human-centered environment, natural changes significantly shaped Whiteface and people’s experience of a mountainscape where rough terrain, powerful winds, and unpredictable weather made the recreational site much harder to manage.  Since the success or failure of ski centers hinged on the degree to which they eased recreation seekers’ contact with nature, natural conditions threw into sharp relief government agencies’ poor planning.  Consequently, a significant shift occurred during the 1960s, when both pro-development groups and wilderness advocates successfully lobbied against a constitutional amendment to approve a new state-run ski center on Hoffman Mountain.  As administrators struggled to maintain a productive recreational environment on Whiteface, they found themselves cornered on one side by businesspeople who now saw state recreational facilities as unfair competition for private enterprise, and on the other side by environmental groups disenchanted with almost five decades of modern development in the wilderness. The search for a skier’s paradise, as it turned out, followed an uphill path fraught with peril.