Hunter Mountain – New York City's Closest "Big" Ski Resort

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Each year as the ski season approaches, we look for a family-friendly ski resort that has added something new and exciting to its line-up of winter fun and activities. This year we didn't have to look very far. Hunter Mountain in New York's Catskill Mountains introduced a number of improvements to its skiing experience, as well as new Zipline Adventure Tours. All of these are exciting additions to the usual downhill wintertime family fun.

Another great thing about Hunter Mountain is that it is just a little more than a two-hour drive from New York City. Families throughout the New York metropolitan area can enjoy the challenging slopes and exciting adventure of Hunter Mountain without the seemingly endless drive to the ski resorts in New England.

New Additions Create Excitement

Hunter Mountain unveiled New York State's first high-speed, detachable six-passenger lift to rave reviews by skiers and riders. The new lift, named the Kaatskill Flyer, carries passengers to Hunter's 1600-foot elevation in just 5.5 minutes. The increased lift capacity should result in shorter lift lines. The Kaatskill Flyer will service predominately black diamond trails with a couple of intermediate trails also available. Families with advanced skiers will love Hunter's challenging black diamonds, which are as steep and technical as any found in the East. Freestylers will enjoy Hunter's two exclusive terrain trails loaded with features that will entertain and challenge shredders all day. A new beginner park will give novice shredders some much needed space to practice. Visitors to www.ridehunter.com can keep up with all the latest park news and find the latest photos, videos, schedules and daily park tweets.

But don't worry, families looking for friendly, more gentle slopes will find plenty of beginner and intermediate trails at Hunter's mid-mountain area and at the Hunter One area. Hunter also added 150 new energy-efficient snow guns that will vastly improve its already well-known snowmaking capacity. Hunter Mountain has a reputation as the "snowmaking capital of the world." We hadn't visited Hunter Mountain in quite a few years, and we found the new lift and other improvements in snowmaking and slopeside accommodations have made Hunter a completely different ski resort – one that families will love.

Hunter Mountain may not have as much natural snow, as many trails or quite the elevation that some of the big ski resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine possess. With its outstanding snowmaking, challenging trails, great terrain parks, and family-friendly learning area, however, Hunter will give families just as good a ski vacation as the New England resorts. For families in the NY Metro area, Hunter packs a much shorter drive as well.

Hunter – The Family Mountain

Hunter Mountain recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and for much of that time it was seen as a party mountain catering to a young crowd from the metropolitan area. This is not the case anymore, as Hunter has become a family-friendly ski resort with many improvements designed to introduce families to skiing or snowboarding. Hunter's Learning Center, located adjacent to the base lodge, houses everything beginning skiers will need – ticket sales, rentals, ski school, play care, food concessions, lockers and restrooms. The learning zone and lifts for Hunter One are just outside the doors of the Learning Center. The progression of lifts and trails at Hunter One is perfect for beginners to build their confidence.

The ski school offers a comprehensive children's program and instructors that are extremely child friendly, including instructors that are knowledgeable with special needs kids. Parents with special needs children are encouraged to call ahead to arrange an instructor that will be well matched to their child's needs. Families will also love the free door-to-door shuttle service from the Kaatskill Mountain Club to the Learning Center.

Family Adventure – From Mild to Wild

Kids as well as adults looking for some wild excitement beyond the ski slopes will love Hunter's new Zipline Adventure Tours. With three different courses to choose from, families will be able to find just the right sort of challenge for everyone – from mild to extremely wild. The first, The Adventure Tower, is a series of obstacles and challenges twisting to the top of a 60-foot tower. The second tour, the Mid-Mountain Course, is a series of 6 ziplines and 4 rope bridges that takes riders through the forest canopy and is a great introduction to ziplining. We did this tour, which takes approximately 2 hours, and loved it. It had just enough excitement to give us a rush, even though we were a bit nervous at the start.

We may even have worked up enough to confidence to take The Skyrider Tour someday - the 'top of the mountain," adrenaline-kicking zipline course that is daunting to look at. The course sends riders side by side on dual ziplines up to 600 feet above the forest floor. Some of the ziplines span over 3000 feet from platform to platform, where riders can attain speeds up to 55 miles per hour. The Skyrider is the longest and highest zipline tour in North America.

Reservations for NY Zipline Adventures are highly recommended because they need to know in advance what their staffing needs will be. Call 518-263-4388 or visit www.ziplinenewyork.com for reservations or more information. All of the tours are led by professionally trained guides. Much of our trepidations were eased by the strict attention to safety details and the calm and encouraging demeanor of our guides Robin and Aaron.

More Family Fun Activities

In addition to the great skiing and riding, families can enjoy a great time in Hunter's snowtubing park. With 9 chutes and 2 tows to bring you back up the hill, tubers can have a blast getting in plenty of rides during the two-hour session. Non-riders can watch the fun while sitting at the park's fire pit.

Another activity available at Hunter that the entire family can enjoy is snowshoeing. The snowshoe trails at Hunter are actually located on top of the mountain, and we experienced some outstanding views without having to trek up the entire mountain. Snowshoe rentals and single, round-trip lift passes are available in the Expedition Center & Board Room located in the base lodge. A number of snowshoe trails are also available in the area; just inquire with the staff at the Expedition Center.

Even with all the activities available right on the mountain, your family may be looking for even more winter fun options. Other area activities include snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and horseback riding – yes, even in the winter. For information on these activities visit www.huntermtn.com and click on the "Area Guide" under the Events & Activities tab.

Family-friendly Accommodations

The Kaatskill Mountain Club and the condos at Liftside Village are perfect choices for families wishing to stay on the mountain. Featuring ski-in/ski-out capability, the Kaatskill Mountain Club offers studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom condos, all with kitchen facilities, in a warm and comfortable slopeside setting. Amenities include a four-season heated outdoor pool, the full-service Mountain Club Spa, fitness center, steam room, sauna, and two hot tubs. In the afternoons following our zipline adventure and skiing, we relaxed in the outdoor pool and hot tub before dinner. Kids will also love the video arcade located next to the fitness room and spa. Parents can enjoy a workout or relaxing spa treatment while the kids have fun in the arcade. A great family activity available to guests is the outdoor fire pit. Just purchase a kit in the hotel lobby's small convenience store and enjoy making 'smores over the fire pit.

The Mountain Club also offers VanWinkle's Restaurant, a full service restaurant in a semi-formal, yet fun atmosphere. The menu, although not extensive, offers a nice selection of comfort food, burgers, pizza, and main entrees with nightly specials, and a typical children's menu, so it is sure to please everyone's tastes. We had a wonderful meal as we shared a hardy burger with pepper jack cheese and Southern Comfort BBQ sauce and an entrée of turkey meatloaf with apples and a cranberry brown sugar sauce.

A number of other accommodations and dining choices are available close to the mountain in the area of Hunter and Tannersville, many of which are for more budget-conscious families. For more information about area lodging and restaurants call 1-800-486-8376 or visit www.huntermtn.com.

If You Go:

Kidz Club: Kids and parents, make sure to ask about the Kaastkill Mountain Kidz Club registration when checking into the Mountain Club. After completing a free registration form, kids receive a KMKC Card and Star Catcher, which enables them to get some VIP treatment during certain themed nights and to collect stars for some free prizes.

Ziplining: Be sure to dress warmly for winter ziplining. A 72-hour cancellation policy applies to reservations, and the zipline will operate rain or shine. There are weight and height restrictions for the Mid-Mountain and Sky Rider Tours, so be sure to check online before you go to avoid being disappointed.

Snowtubing: Hours of operation: Fridays 5:00 – 9:00 PM, Saturdays and Holidays 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM, Sundays 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM. Tubing sessions last two hours and riders must be 42" tall.

For Nature Lovers: Kaaterskill Falls is the highest cascading falls in New York state. The base of the falls can be reached from the parking area on Route 23A located between Haines Falls and Palenville. There is a short hike down the shoulder of the road to the trail head, followed by an approximately ½ mile walk to the falls.

Jeff and Stephanie are retired English and Social Studies high school teachers who have been professional travel writers for over 21 years.

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