Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 1: Origins
Continuation of The Chautauqua Chronicles Part 2: Peek 'n Peaking Too Early?
The evening before, I mentioned to Jane Eshbaugh, our host and marketing director at Holiday Valley, that I really don't sleep. True to form, my vampire-like nature had me up at the characteristically early time of 5:22 am. Maybe it was just me being normal or maybe it was that fact that the temperature in our room had risen to a balmy 100 + degrees and I could no longer sleep in those sultry conditions.
Why was the temperature that high you might ask? Well, Brian (my traveling companion from Ski Bum Podcast) insisted that we turn the fireplace on the night before citing, "when you have a fireplace in your room, you have to use it." Fair enough, but I'm pretty sure it didn't need to stay on the entire night. Holy hell! I'm fairly certain that our room was partially responsible for a portion of global warming that day. Sorry Protect Our Winters.
Nonetheless, after bringing my body temperature down with a cold shower, I popped open the sliding door to cool the room down and noticed that it was still snowing outside. What fortuitous timing, my luck rarely ever has me skiing in conditions this good. Excitement building, I got ready and prompted Brian to do the same, grabbed our skis from the car and headed over to meet Jane for breakfast slope side at McCarty Cafe. Walking in at the same time as her a regular in the cafe said to Jane, "I saw these two guys (us) walking up with their skis on their shoulders and big smiles on their faces." Clearly our excitement to get out there was apparent.
Fueling Up With a Breakfast Sandwich on a Pretzel Bun
Prior to heading out I did need to refuel on more coffee and another breakfast sandwich. Ordering, I was given the option to have my bacon, egg and cheese on an English Muffin, bagel or pretzel bun. Whoa! A pretzel bun for breakfast? Unprecedented I obviously went for it. How could I not? No ski loving foodie would have chosen any other way.
It was getting close to 8:30 and the lifts would be spinning soon. I quickly scarfed down my delicious sandwich and hopped myself back up on more caffeine as we chatted more about Holiday Valley. We told Jane about our new buddies (aka Big Sexy and the Boys) from The Depot last night and inquired about "The Wall." Turns out that trail does exist and we put conquering it square on our to do list. Ski bum breakfast of champions down the hatch, it was time to pick this conversation back up on the lift. That fresh pow wasn't going to ski itself.
A Unique Layout Gives Holiday Valley a Ton of Variety
Holiday Valley is interesting. 700 feet isn't a ton of vert, however, this is not to say you can't have a lot fun skiing and snowboarding there. The layout is rather unique and reminded me a bit of Beaver Creek's layout. Now before you call bullshit on me, hear me out. Holiday Valley has 58 groomed trails (a bunch more if you count gladed terrain) and 13 lifts that are spread out over the mountain and flow down into two notches similar to the way the Grouse and Birds of Prey area at Beaver Creek do. Terrain like this ultimately creates a variety of nuances on the trails that makes skiing it quite enjoyable. Holiday Valley also has lodge areas at points mid-mountain like Beaver Creak, so stopping for say, I don't know, a Bloody Mary mid-morning doesn't require you to go all the way down to, what could be a crowded, base area.
Getting a Powder Filled Ski Tour of Holiday Valley
It was not time for that type of mid-morning liquid snack yet though as there was fresh powder turns to be made. Jane led us on a ton of trails around the mountain. From blue cruisers, to steeper diamonds, to some really fun gladed runs, I was in my glory. The trees off Swiss Twist were fantastic that day, offering up powder turns that were just tight enough to be fun and challenging. There is also a beautiful trail called Mistletoe that had an almost cavernous feel to it. Heading down the run, I was staring in wonder while skiing under the snow draped evergreens. It was really movie-like-sight-to-see that I am sure that I'm not doing enough justice.
The lift lines were minimal that morning and we ripped off easily a dozen or more runs in a short period of time. Apparently, the play is to get out early before the later arriving crowds start to build up, or at least that is what worked for us. It also helped having Jane along for the ride to show us the must hit trails early in the day.
Time for a Little Liquid Courage to Prep for "The Wall"
Having skied for a couple of hours, it was time for a quick pit stop and more importantly some liquid courage to prime ourselves for our trip to The Wall. Popping into the Yodeler Lodge it was cool to see people picnicking inside and outside the building. That is a real thing that the regulars at Holiday Valley take seriously. No joke, I actually witnessed a woman, later on in the day, carrying a crock pot into the lodge filled with macaroni and sauce. She was all in!
Another cool thing about Holiday Valley is that all of their lodges look as if they were built yesterday. Seriously, all of them! They are fairly new but even the ones that aren't are very well maintained and have an eternally brand new feeling to them. It's really quite impressive and yet another characteristic that adds to the charm of Holiday Valley.
Heading upstairs and I ordered up that Bloody Mary that I so desired. There is something about a Bloody Mary that makes it an ideal post (or in this case) during ski cocktail. This one was certainly tasty. Filled with spicy goodness and plenty of toppings it turned out to be a legit snack. Chatting for a while we talked about all things life, skiing and The Wall and the time had come to conquer that beast.
Conquering The Wall at Holiday Valley
*Photo Credit: Holiday Valley Resort
Located on the complete opposite side of the mountain, The Wall is Holiday Valley's badge of honor. With roughly a 39 degree pitch, it is one of the steepest trails in the east and with the snow that had been dumping for the last couple of days was primed for the taking.
Sliding in to the top of the trail, there was a group waiting at the small opening in the gate that was clearly there to prevent skiers and riders from sending it into potential injury. As the group continued staring down awaiting their fate, we made our way past the gate and skier's left. Good rule of thumb, don't go down where the openings in the gate are, that is where everyone else does and it's usually skied off and icy. Dropping in on The Wall, the pitch was pretty gnarly and every bit as steep (just not as long) as my beloved Mount Snow's famed Ripcord. Not overly icy that day, we made a few crusty turns at the top before ripping down to the bottom.
*Photo Credit: Holiday Valley Resort
Damn that was fun! And, we survived which is more than I can say for the youngin' that we saw going full send on his snowboard as we were riding the lift back up. Catching an edge on his second turn, he was sent tomahawking his way to the bottom of the trail. It was that second flip that really did him in as he smacked the back of his upper shoulders and neck causing him to lay at the bottom of the trail for a while trying to find his bearings. My neck hurt just watching him. Ouch!
Feeling his pain, it was après ski-o-clock somewhere. On a bit of a schedule, there was just enough time for a few more of our favorite trails and a visit to a secret local stash that was a short hike off the top off of the mountain. Untouched, it was a tight little number and the perfect powdery ending to our ski day at Holiday Valley.
Holiday Valley Après Ski at the T-Bar
As the crowds started to build up slightly, we made our way back to the Holiday Valley Lodge where we began our day and headed right upstairs to the T-Bar. Appropriately named the T-Bar actually had a legitimate T-Bar hanging from the ceiling that was sourced from the original lift at Holiday Valley. The bar was pretty crowded for 1 pm with only a few seats left. Nonetheless we were able to belly up to the bar and order a few local craft beers.
Despite my non affinity for fruity beers, I was determined to drink local and ordered a Blueberry Wheat from nearby Ellicottville Brewing Company. We were scheduled to pay them a visit later that afternoon and I figured I could get a jump on the tasting. Never too early to start, you know?
Topped with a fresh garnish of blueberries I found this wheat beer not overly fruit forward, very well balanced and quite refreshing. It was the perfect pairing for sore legs, big smiles and the pretzel bites with beer cheese and the San Francisco tator tots that we ordered as apps. Not only is the skiing at Holiday Valley good but the food is DAMN TASTY too.
Excellent Après Ski Apps at The T-Bar
Pretzel Bites have become a staple on après ski menus around the country.I've had my share but none are as good as the ones at the T-Bar. There was just something about them. With a crispy buttery outer layer and soft pillowy interior they had a contrast in texture reminiscent of something that was fried. However, they were not, a super impressive feat for something that was baked.
Continuing our mission to have more tater tots in a two day span than we've had in our years since middle school, Brian and I dove into the San Francisco tots, we ordered. Not exactly sure what the hell was San Francisco about them but they were equally delicious. Essentially they were Parmesan truffle tots which I previously reserved for only fries. Boom! A taste explosion or crispy truffly goodness that I must have more often.
Time to Tour One of the Only True Ski Towns in the East, Ellicottville
Looking at the clocks on our phone we knew we had to start making our way downtown for meeting at The Winery of Ellicottville. Hey, someone has to drink wine at après ski, so why not me and Brian? Jane was an amazing host and a rippin' skier. She thanked us for getting her out there early and skiing terrain she hasn't in years. Jane even gave us a lift downtown for our visit to Ellicottville.
Just a short mile (if that) away, Brian and I were about to experience, what is one of the only true ski towns in the east, Ellicottville. What I came to realize through our conversations that day is that the town's proximity along with the working relationship it has Holiday Valley and, the other local ski resort, Holimont makes the entire area great. They all understand that the whole is great than the sum of its parts and none of them would be the same without the other. Ellicottville would be just another cute town; Holiday Valley would be another fun ski resort; but, together the ebb and flow of their symbiotic relationship is really really special and makes it worth the visit.