WARRENSBURG — The bad news: Hickory Ski Center is going to be closed again all season this year.
But good news could be coming next year.
The owner, Bill Van Pelt, and the Ivy Ski Club, which has had an active role in keeping the center running, are considering a ski school that would use Hickory’s uniquely untamed ski routes.
They could create a school for backcountry skiing. A ski club member is willing to lead it, but a lot more must be done before it could open.
Still, it seems like a way to reopen the center.
“Backcountry skiing is one of the reasons we fell in love with the place,” said David Cronheim of the Ivy Ski Club. “It would be a wonderful place for an alpine touring school. People can learn to navigate the backcountry in a controlled environment.”
The problem for Hickory has always been that it’s just too small, with too few skiers, to even pay all of its yearly expenses. Those include $30,000 to maintain the three big lifts — the center has four “vintage” lifts for which parts aren’t even made anymore — plus insurance and property taxes.
“You gotta sell a lot of lift tickets,” Cronheim said.
Van Pelt agreed, saying the club will play a pivotal role in bringing the ski center back to life.
So they are staking their hopes on a school.
“We’re definitely doing more than talking about it,” Cronheim said, but added that the plan is still in the preliminary stages.
The first step has been to ask the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reduce liability for property owners who want to allow backcountry skiing.
DEC collected comment on its High Peaks Wilderness management plan, and many skiers wrote in, asking for changes in backcountry skiing rules.
If backcountry skiing followed the same rules as cross-country skiing and similar sports, it would make things much easier for Hickory. Property owners would not have to mark hazards, for example.
“That would go a long way toward people letting people ski on their land,” Cronheim said.
Earlier this year, there was hope of opening Hickory for at least part of the winter. The lower mountain was landscaped in anticipation of skiing and a maintenance specialist was called in to look at the lifts. But the early snow in November made the lifts hard to reach and scuttled that plan.
“We definitely want to get something going next year,” Cronheim said.
But the lifts must be serviced first.
“Part of what’s cool about those lifts is they’re so old. But that’s what is so expensive about them,” he said.
There’s no immediate plan to add snowmaking technology, which would be an expensive investment. What people like about Hickory is the natural snow, Cronheim said.
“That’s the big differentiator,” he said. “It’s the paradox: How do you modernize it without destroying what makes it unique?”
He doesn’t think a lack of snowmaking is a problem.
“If natural snow is what you want, you just have to be patient and wait for it,” he said.