Lead Photo Credit: Holiday Valley
When I mention to fellow skiers and boarders how much I love Holiday Valley, the looks I get are usually rather quizzical. Most of the time, they don't even know what or where I'm talking about. It's not surprising though. There is not a huge market for Holiday Valley here in NJ, or, for that matter, along the Eastern corridor. It's pretty much Vermont or bust. The thought of driving to West New York state, never even crosses their mind.
Well, as much as I don't want to let people in on my little secret, it really should.
Holiday Valley Resort and the accompanying Village of Ellicottville is special. Magical may even be a better word to describe it. I visited there last winter for the first time and vowed to return with my family. Fast forward one year and, true to my word, my family and I, along with two other families, made our way to Holiday Valley. The end result? Smiles, laughter and good times all around. In fact, within three hours of being on the mountain, my wife turned to me at lunch and said, "Just so you know, we're coming back here every year."
It doesn't take long to get hooked. Why? Outside of the magical aura that surrounds the area, here are five reasons why we love Holiday Valley.
Holiday Valley is Family Friendly
Photo Credit: Holiday Valley
I may be All About Après, but at the end of the day I am still a family man. Traveling with my buddies or just my wife is one thing, but traveling with my wife and three young daughters is another. Add into the mix two other families with young kids and this type of crew requires a special kind of resort. Holiday Valley fits that criteria to a tee.
From the second you pull in the lot and walk into the base area Holiday Valley makes you feel at home. The employees are some of the nicest in the business. They are always ready and waiting to greet you with a friendly hello. This type of good humor carries right onto the slopes. There, the lift attendants are equally as nice. I cannot recall the amount of times that I asked to slow the lifts down to make it easier for the younger members of our posse to hop on, but it was numerable. Each and every time they were more than happy to oblige and did so with a smile.
Photo Credit: Holiday Valley
Once off the lift, the family friendly nature turns to the trails themselves. There is plenty of trails for everyone. If you want to cruise, Holiday Valley's terrain is wide open. Looking to test your meddle in the trees, there are some sick glades. Want to get a little sendy? That's why they have one of the steepest trails in the East, appropriately named, The Wall. It literally has everything for you and your family to enjoy.
The Lodges and Lifts are Highly Accessible
Photo Credit: Holiday Valley
Accessibility is crucial and convenient no matter who you are skiing with and where. Holiday Valley has this component dialed in too. The lift service there is quite impressive and there is never one that is too far away. In fact, it's fairly incredible how well they spread skiers and snowboarders out around the mountain. 13 lifts servicing 60 trails will do that for you. The end result? Limited lift lines. Even when I visited early in the winter of 2020, prior to the restrictions placed on the resort by the current pandemic, I very rarely waited in a lift line. For an East Coast ski resort, this is fairly unheard of and always a welcome addition.
So too is the accessibility of the lodges. With three beautiful lodges spaced out strategically around the resort, you are never too far away from one. There are even two really nice warming huts at the top that you can add into the mix. The obvious benefit is that if you or any of your children have to run to the bathroom, you can be in, out and back on a lift in minutes. Especially since the lifts are mere footsteps away from all of them. Convenience like this also lends itself well to grabbing quick or long bite to eat. Whether you're having a Bloody Mary at the mezzanine bar in the Yodeler Lodge or grabbing your kids some chicken fingers and fries, you are never too far away from being back on the slopes.
Holiday Valley Gets Big Dumps
Photo Credit: Holiday Valley
Lake effect snow is a pretty special thing. In fact, it seems like it's always snowing in that area. That's the beauty of an unfrozen Great Lake. As that cold winter air sweeps across Lake Erie and makes landfall the snow totals pile up slowly and surely. Sometimes it's more than others but it usually pretty consistent. On my visit this year, it flurried most of the three days that I was there. Then it began dumping as I drove out of town early Monday morning and continued throughout the week to the tune of almost two feet of freshies.
Last year, however, my timing was spot on. I flew into Buffalo on the Thursday night the storm began and it never stopped once for the four days I was there. The end result? Deep, fresh pow resulting in tons of fun in the trees, soft bumps off the Eagle lift and a trip down the wall when it's not a sheet of ice.
Ellicottville is a Real Eastern Ski Town
Situated a mere minutes and within walking distance (if you are up for the mile trek) from Holiday Valley, the Village of Ellicottville is the icing on the cake. How could it not be? It is one of the few truly genuine ski towns here in the East.
It's close proximity to both Holiday Valley and neighboring resort, Holimont, is a major factor in my book. Most ski towns here on the ice coast are not nearly as close to their home mountain as Ellicottville is to Holiday Valley. You can legitimately be off the mountain and parked in the center of town in minutes, which is highly convenient when it come to après-ski. That's where this quaint little village truly excels.
With 20 shops and 10 bars/restaurants Ellicottville is an après-ski paradise. There is something for everyone. Want to grab some pizzas for the kiddos and a beer or two while they eat it? Monroe St. Brick and Brew is a solid spot. Looking to stay a little longer for some shareable bites and beers? The choices are abound. Finnerty's Tap Room has quite a beer selection and the Reuben Egg Rolls and/or Reuben meatballs are stupid good. The Gin Mill also has a killer tap list and some damn good chicken wings too.
If you're looking to go Beyond the Après then I suggest a quick shower before heading back into town for a glass of wine or three at the Winery of Ellicottville. Then walk out the door and right across the street for dinner at Villaggio. They are cooking up some seriously good Italian and you won't be disappointed. Tell owner Nick Pitillo I sent you. He knows me as the après-ski guy and might get a kick out of that. Finally, I cannot forget Ellicottville Brewing Co. Their beers are exceptional, especially the sneaky good Blueberry Wheat Ale, and the food there is equally as good. EBC even has a newly opened EBC Tap and Bottle Taqueria that has some killer tacos to pair with their tasty brews.
An East Coast Resort with a Western Vibe
What happens when you put this all together? You get an East coast resort with a western vibe. There is a reason that famous travel writer, Lowell Thomas, dubbed this the "Aspen of the East" some 60 plus years ago when he visited. Is Holiday Valley and Ellicottville Aspen adjace? Nah! But, I totally get the reference.
Actually, when I visited Holiday Valley last year, I said to Director of Marketing, Jane Eshbaugh, that the layout reminded me a bit of Beaver Creek. Stick with me here. The way the resort is spread out amidst a series of notches and side slopes along with the strategic locations of the lodges and lifts is quite similar. There is a reason that the Western ski resorts don't have the lift lines that we do here on the East Coast. The fact that Holiday Valley is able to mimic this is rather impressive.
Furthermore, if you have ever visited some of the Western ski towns like Park City, Crested Butte, Jackson Hole, you know that they exude charm. It's an old Western, cowboy/mining sort of charm but it's charm nonetheless. The Village of Ellicottville matches that step for step. As much as people would like to dub it the Aspen of the East, it never became what Aspen has become today. It lacks the bougie glitz and glam that Aspen has but not that old town feel. It's ever present, magnetic and when combined with what Holiday Valley brings to the table a very special place that you must, must, must visit.
Are you convinced yet that you should visit Holiday Valley? Let me know in the comments below and I'll be happy to give you some more insider tips on where to visit while you are there. You should also tune into the Beyond the Après podcast. In two weeks, we'll be sitting down with Sam and Beth Sheehy, owners of The Winery of Ellicottville to get the inside scoop on the town. Be sure to throw on your favorite Après Ski Sweatshirt, pour yourself a glass of wine and listen.