By Jann Wiswall

The year was 1961. John F. Kennedy was president. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record. “West Side Story” won the best picture Oscar. And Bill Merk envisioned what would soon become HoliMont.

Merk had been skiing with the Ellicottville Ski Club for many years on Fish Hill and at Holiday Valley, which had opened in 1958. According to HoliMont General Manager Dave Riley, “Merk thought Ellicottville needed a private, uncrowded ski area.” So in 1961, with the support of several local investors, he initiated purchase options on land parcels along Route 242. The first trail was cut that year, with seven more to follow in 1962.

The 1962-63 ski season was the first official year of the club, when skiers were towed up the hill on an old-fashioned sled behind a Tucker Sno-Cat. The following year, the first chairlift was installed, as was the first T-bar.

Fifty years later, HoliMont is the largest private ski club in North America with about 1,380 memberships, more than 4,000 members, eight chairlifts and 52 slopes on 135 skiable acres.

As HoliMont prepares for its 50th anniversary weekend Feb. 16-17, 2013, it is both looking back on its history and ahead for the next generations. Members are gathering old photos, brochures, an original copy of the first HoliMont newsletter and other memorabilia for a time capsule that will be ceremonially buried in the snow (then in the ground come spring) on Sunday, Feb. 17. The hope is that, when the 75th or 100th anniversary comes around, the youngest HoliMont members of today will dig it up and have a valuable historical record of their early years on the “Mont.”

HoliMont’s social committee, chaired by Board Member Becky Mergenhagen, has a full slate of activities scheduled for the celebration. On Saturday, Feb. 16, members of all ages will enjoy the “Rally ‘Round at the Mont” – a poker rally where participants ski between designated locations, perform a task at each site (e.g. hula hooping) and receive a playing card. At the end, the best poker hands in several age categories receive prizes. Also that day, a photographer will be on hand to take family photos on the hill. And, the lift attendants are in on the fun, too – they’ll be decorating their lifts (and themselves) for a chance to win prizes, “not to mention bragging rights,” said Mergenhagen.

Saturday evening is the big event, of course. From 7:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m., members, guests and others will be putting on their dancing shoes for the 50th Anniversary Gala, featuring live music by The Party Squad, which is bringing along a brass section, as well as music from DJ Mo Porter. The Gala includes dinner by Dina’s at the Mont, a full bar, fireworks and more.

Then on Sunday from 3-6 p.m., there will be an Après Ski Party with music by Busted Stuff and an awards ceremony for prizes from Saturday’s contests.

“We’re excited to be celebrating this anniversary,” said Riley. “We’ve come a very long way.”

With the Westmont Ridge development project on the horizon, it seems clear HoliMont will continue to grow and build on Bill Merk’s vision.

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