by Ed Racich
They’re mostly gone now. “Doc,” Lillian, Zeke, Bob … only Edna remains from those first years. The founders of the Ellicottville Ski Club. What a group! Fun-loving, hard-skiing, hard-partying, hard-working and great singers, too.
A year to remember — 1935 — that was the year they all got together in Ellicottville to build the rope tow. It was incredible! No more having to climb Fish Hill just to get one more run down.
By this time, people had been climbing the local hills to ski for a few years already. Being locals, most of their skiing was done right here in Ellicottville, with occasional forays north to Canada and the newly discovered skiers’ Valhalla of the Laurentian Mountains just north of Montreal. “Engineering” and elbow grease came mostly from Bill Northrup, Tim Stokes, Don Brooks and Zeke Slating, and the rope tow lift was operational for the 1935-36 winter season.
According to Ezra Bowen, author of “American Skiing” and then ski editor of “Sports Illustrated,” “the first permanent ski lift in the U.S. was installed on Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock, Vermont for the winter of 1934-35. Also a rope tow, in Ellicottville was among those at the forefront of American skiing development and the pioneers of the Ellicottville Ski Club helped bring about the tremendous interest in downhill skiing.”
The people skiing in Ellicottville decided to form a ski club in 1938, and to no one’s surprise, it was called the Ellicottville Ski Club. The first meeting of this new venture was held on Nov. 10, 1938, led by newly elected club president, Dr. Bill Northrup.
That was also the year of the move from the coldest, windiest hill in all of western New York, Fish Hill, to another hill, protected from the wind and much more of a challenge. The club decided on Greer Hill as their new slope of choice. Greer was located in town, across from the Catholic church. In 1939, Greer was cleared, and the following winter skiing began in earnest on Greer Hill.
Ski club members stayed and met for years at the Lincoln Hotel, later to become the Ellicottville Hotel, owned by Mrs. Weller, a great friend of skiers. Mrs. Weller so loved skiers that she would only give rooms to skiers from Friday through Sunday each weekend, requiring only that guests return to the hotel for lunches and dinners. As a result, The Lincoln became the home of the ski club. Members would gather at the Lincoln in the “Drinking Room” at the end of each day, to drink beer, swap tales of their exploits on Greer Hill, and other lies, and sing the night away. Being together, all in the same place, created a togetherness and fellowship that is still evident at the club today.
In the early spring, when Greer was no longer skiable, members would ride the tow to the top of the hill and ski cross country across the top of the ridge over to the old fire tower and down what has become the Mardi Gras run at Holiday Valley, and on into town. It was noticed that the valley between Greer and the fire tower held snow longer and more of it, too, than any valley in the area.
When Mrs. Weller died in 1955, the hotel was sold and the ski club was no longer welcome there. Greer Hill had been mastered by most club members, and the members began looking to the “Valley” area for more terrain and a place to expand. In 1957, several members formed a corporation and began what was the development of what is now Holiday Valley Resort. As they say, “From simple beginnings come great things!”
A new clubhouse was built on the slopes of Holiday Valley in 1960, and on New Year’s Eve of 1960, the ski club had its first party in its new clubhouse, our new home.
The building of the new clubhouse was the bridge between the old ski club and the new. Through the years, the Ellicottville Ski Club has flourished, expanding several times to accommodate the demands of the club members and their families.
This year, the Ellicottville Ski Club celebrates its 75th anniversary, still planning the best way to grow and expand, but with many new faces and new ideas. However, when all is said and done, the principles and ideals, the love of skiing, and family and fun, that guided the original members still rear their heads and guide the ski club today.
A relic of the ski trips to the Laurentians remains today. It hangs on the east-facing wall of the clubhouse, looking out over “The Chute” at Holiday Valley. The ski club Eagle emblem, with its club motto emblazoned on a ribbon held in the eagle’s talons reads, “Defense de Cracher Sur Le Plancher,” and serves as a reminder to all members and guests of the heritage and integrity of the Ellicottville Ski Club.
When you get the chance to visit the clubhouse, you will find a warm, friendly, family-oriented atmosphere in which to enjoy yourself. But remember, as the ski club motto so clearly states, “Do Not Spit on the Floor”!