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Savvy Traveler: Close-in ski resorts still the best option

The greater majorities of Eastern skiers are day-trippers and are fortunate enough to have a score of slopes within easy range of, say Times Square. Some are better than others, but that holds true of any geographical area.

The closest in area is Campgaw Mountain in Northern Bergen County, less than 45 minutes from the George Washington Bridge and straight north on Route 17. Calling it a “mountain” is a bit of an imaginative reach. Frankly, it’s more like a hill with a gland condition.

Because it is so far south, it often freezes, melts and freezes again, providing more of a skating rink than a downhill ski slope. But they have a decent snowmaking capability and use it constantly though the season.

Campgaw is a terrific place for a couple of quick runs and the ski school there offers a great after school program.

A bit further north off Route 17 is Sterling Forest, a Campgaw clone. The slopes are glorified moguls but again they offer ski school to tempt the kids to later expand their skills.

The main slopes for day-trippers are all about a half hour off the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway at exits 19, 20 and 21 for Belleayre, Hunter and Windham. The fourth area, Plattekill, is a bit off the beaten track.

Belleayre is owned and operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. There is a high speed quad, the Super Chief, that is about mid-mountain and whisks riders to the summit.

Although there have been holidays where Belleayre has stopped selling lift tickets because they’ve reached a reasonable capacity, lift lines normally move along at a rapid pace, affording more slope time as opposed to standing around time.

If you head a bit past Belleayre and turn right into Margaretville, then turn right at the only traffic light in town, you can wend your way to Plattekill. This is arguably the least visited of the region’s ski resorts. That’s not because of any failing on its part, but rather the others are simply more convenient.

Hunter Mountain is the most popular with high school and college skiers and riders and, as with the others, is about a half hour west of the Thruway off Exit 20. Weekends here can be a bit of a chore with the number of skiers and riders waiting to board the lifts, but the slopes are wide open and well-groomed.

Hunter offers a goodly variety of slopes for all abilities and has a program for adaptive skiers. Snowmaking covers the slopes and there is rarely a time that the covering does not offer a quality experience.

The drive to Hunter is arguably the most scenic of the area ski resorts and the road offers some twists and turns that are best taken slowly to avoid black ice and a ruined outing.

Possibly the most upscale of the resorts is Windham, west of Exit 21. Signs should be carefully watched as it’s been not uncommon for visitors to miss taking the left side of a fork in the road and end up miles out of the way.

The lodge offers trippers a huge cafeteria on the main level and an excellent restaurant and bar upstairs where imbibers can spend their break watching football games.

Lift lines here can get a bit crowded but they usually move along fairly quickly. Windham has plenty of accommodations for those looking to extend the trip ranging from Windham Arms to smaller resorts.

Hunter and Windham work closely together and have frozen Belleayre out of the mix. Their complaint is that Belleayre is subsidized by the state and offers unfair competition. Perhaps, but they have managed to offer quality products and do not suffer from any major decrease in skiers and riders as the parking lots will attest to.

The season is here. Wax the boards, stretch those muscles and get going.

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