Morpheme: Without This Mountain

That thing – the place that made you who you are – isn’t what it seems

The chairs that bond. PHOTO: Courtesy SkiWestMountain.com

This is where I learned to ski. It’s not much, but this mountain is everything. Without it, I would’ve never made a turn or lifelong friends. I never would’ve night skied. I wouldn’t have learned a 360. I wouldn’t have those memories of teaching a girl from another school how to ski, and learning that one thing you should never do is teach any girl from any school how to ski.

If this place weren’t around, I wouldn’t have wanted a car, so I could drive here as soon as I got out of class. I wouldn’t have worked as hard in school so I could get an early dismissal my senior year and then have the mountain to myself midweek. I wouldn’t have learned that cheeseburgers taste better at picnic tables by the window in the lodge. I wouldn’t have quit playing baseball because the snow was really good that spring or known that bringing your dad’s old VHS-fed camera to the mountain and building a jump makes people try crazy shit. Like backscratchers.

Without these three chairlifts and two rope tows, which used to be three chairlifts, two rope tows, and a J-bar before they added the tubing park, I wouldn’t have forged a better relationship with my father. We like to go night skiing together on $15 nights from 5 till 10 p.m., which used to be $10 nights when I was a teenager. Dad used to be a liftie here back in the day, so I suppose things in his life wouldn’t be the same either. He wouldn’t have taught me to ski, that’s for sure.

If the mountain bar wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have learned that the “s” in après is silent, or that when a band plays in the bar after a good day, it’s loud. And fun. And beer tastes better. I wouldn’t have had a place to mourn the loss of a friend killed during the war in Afghanistan.

If the mountain didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have taught my four-year-old nephew to ski last winter. We loved watching him yell, “Again! Again!” as he slid down the slope and marked three generations of a family being shaped by this one small ski area.

Without the mountain, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave home, and see other mountains. This place inspired me to enjoy the outdoors and care about the environment. Without it, I would not be one iota of the person I am today. I wouldn’t have a foundation for my writing. I wouldn’t have traveled the world or fallen in love. I wouldn’t have learned how to curse ski resort ownership for opening a restaurant instead of updating the chairlifts.

This place is everything and it’s worth much more than the $1.8 million the bank says it’s worth. It is worth the billion memories that shaped the lives of the people that spent their time here. What monetary value that legacy is worth, I do not know. This mountain is not Whistler or Jackson or Squaw. It’s not even Gore Mountain or Whiteface. It’s West Mountain, or The Dump, as we used to call it. It’s a community’s mountain, our mountain. Without, we wouldn’t be much of anything.

Mike Rogge is writing about West Mountain, a small Upstate New York ski area that filed for bankruptcy protection in June. He lives in Truckee, California, and skis Squaw Valley.

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  • Andrew Frederick

    I grew up skiing and racing at West Mountain- I knew the resort as soon as I saw the opening photo. My mom’s house is in the background there on the Hudson river, where the property has been in our family for almost 100 years. It is not a glorious mountain, and like Mike, I too would not be the person I am today without West. I learned to race here and got my first taste for speed and air here. Twenty-some years later I picked up and moved to Colorado because I had outgrown (maybe for a time) my home resort. I get to come home to see my parents every few years, but rarely anymore during winter. The last time I was home in the winter I got to see the lights from West from our living room window. It’s like seeing an old friend again, even if we were just passing in the night.

    My dad set gates and coached to help pay for my seasons passes growing up. We would do dryland training out of the base area in the fall, and in the winter after he’d kick our asses in the gates all day (we’d hike a lot, more on that later) we’d go back to the lodge and do more plyometric training in the basement. We used to know the Brandt’s personally before they sold the mountain to its current owners- my dad and Billy knew each other a long time back and had some crazy stories from working there so many years.

    I can’t tell you how many times I almost got my pass pulled for “skiing in the snoboard half pipe” or trying to build a jump, or, skiing off the trails. My first turns of my life were here before I was 2 years old (winter 1982/83). I remember the rope tow, the J-bar, and a lot of the mountain before it saw some newer trails. I’ve skied The Cure before (back when I used to think it was steep) and have been out lost in the woods off of AOA more than a few times. In the race school we’d often be the first on the mountain at 7:30 or 8 at the base of the triple chair. The lifties would let us on after patrol cleared it, and we’d straightline from the summit to the base without a soul on the mountain on perfectly groomed ice. One mandatory left turn to get past the GS start, take the headwall as big as you dared, and just keep pushing on the tongues of your boots until your legs screamed back into the loading paddock. Doing Mach II on Mach II…

    I remember all the gapers coming up from NYC skiing in blue jeans and stopping the lifts constantly to get them to figure out how to ride them. They would just let the rop tow run- hahaha! We didn’t have detatchable anything, and the chairs were old and hard. I was riding the lift by myself and my mom remembers the lifties helping give me a scoot so I could load myself up onto the chair when I decide I had enough of skiing with her. We could never get in enough runs night skiing with all the NYC busses coming up for the amazing night skiing deals, so dad would often make us hike a dozen gates to get ready for whatever race we had that weekend. When that got old, we’d do it on one ski. We had such a great community of families and we could take each other’s kids to the away races without blinking an eye. We had entire families in the program and everyone was there to pitch in to do timing or referee gates when staff came up short.

    These were different times…I also remembering growing up in the region that I’d be using snowshoes in the yard and my 6′ tall wooden fence would be up to my knees as a kid. West used to start “late” compared with the other mountains like Gore and Whiteface- our race program started the day after Christmas, usually when West would shoot to be open for. I hear from my mom that they have been having a lot of bad seasons with warm temps and rain. I don’t remember much rain in the winter as a kid- just enough snow to build snow forts we could stand up inside of.

    I think about this a lot- I’d love to go home and ski…no, SLAY, my home resort some day again. I also think about what will my children’s home resort be some day when I start my own family? It would be an interesting project to go ski if it closes to the public, but a very sad loss for the region. You’ll ski a lot of mountains throughout your life, but you will remember the one you learned on the most.

    • Greg Mason

      Wow, this was very cool to read. I assume this is the same Andy Frederick I knew growing up from the West Mountain ski team. Thanks for sharing man, it brought back some memories.

  • Mike

    I grew up skiing there as well, but it was back in the 60′s when they opened up, and Izzy Ture and Tom Jacobs ran place. I was on a high school ski team, class of 72 that trained there a few nights per week. Coaches were Mike Shea and Mike Annette ( IIRC), so many great memories, I started racing there when I was 10. I agree, it started me on a path of loving skiing. I’m looking forward to next season I hope.

  • Greg Mason

    It is bittersweet coming across this well written and thoughtful piece. On the one hand, it’s beautifully nostalgic — West was like a second home growing up and a lot of the author’s experiences sound like my own. It really brought back some great memories. On the other hand, it is sad to learn the mountain is in trouble. I can’t imagine how different my life would have been without West ten minutes from my childhood home. I really hope that it’s there for future generations.

    • Amy Jarvis Ryan

      Great article and I too, feel the same growing up next to this mountain and working as a ski instructor for 5 years teaching other children the joys of this little gem. West is a symbol of the community and its very sad to know that the base of so many stories, memories, friendships, relationships, beers in the woods, and laughter is in trouble. This is the time for everyone that feels this way about West to communicate it out. The Post Star (local newspaper) has been publishing articles which update the community about West’s situation but we need to know how we can help to a) not have the mountain close, b) get some new damn lifts in the place (they’re from the 60′s), and c) get West back to its glory days. I went to the Slush Cup just to see the action (It used to be a killer event) and it was very low key with minimal participation. Even on a beautiful day!
      The weather hasn’t helped (winter has been blah the past 3-4 years) and ownership has changed.
      Lets work to save West so that kids that are there now have an opportunity to experience the same memories that we had, our parents had, and our grandparents had.

      • Amy

        I also want to add that we need to support Mike and his team there, somehow, someway!

  • Flip Buttling

    It’s like he described MY time living and playing on the mountain, from my youth to present day. Mike Rogge wrote a great article that really puts things in perspective when you think about what we have here in Queensbury at West Mt. I started skiing there in 3rd grade, and now I just finished my 26th year on ski patrol there. Worked every job on the mountain at one time or another, and working with Mike Brandt led me to college for ski resort management, which led me back to West to patrol. To us kids, those slopes were like the Alps and the Rockies all in one. I could write a book on just on my time there and things I’ve done and witnessed- skipped school to ski with Billy Kidd, watch them set the face chairlift towers with a helicopter, Kevin (M.R.) & Artie streaking from the top of the mountain to the bathroom bldg under the tree by the base of the face chair…Now my kids are riding the same chair I helped rebuilt in ’82, and the same trails on which I made snow and groomed. It will never be big, and will never have the gnarliest terrain, but it will always be where myself, my friends, and now my kids call home base in the winter. I wish Mike Barbone the best and hope they can recover to bring the mountain back to what it has always been.

  • Erik Johnson

    Great piece Mike! I had a near identical experience at West. the only additions would be shit sauce, jumping off the lift on powder days and the ridiculous jumps we built off the animal :) I met some of my best friends at West and like you the mountain was my catalyst to explore the world.

  • Beth Gordon Gentry

    Love it! Hi Andy and Greg!!! This place was my whole childhood hope they find a worthy buyer.

  • Joe

    My favorite memory is when they forgot about two people on the triple chair over night

    • Mike Rogge

      Funny you should say that Joe. One of those people is my cousin. Nice job, man.

      • Jeff

        Was it ever determined how or why those guys got on the lift after the last chair? There was never a clear ending to that story.

  • Scott

    I enjoyed West. The biggest problem is they forgot customer service. I hope it comes back with quality ownership and management. Places like West are great places to learn and for families. They are feeders for bigger mountains like Gore. Hoping go see the lifts turning this winter.

  • John Jacobs

    Hello WM fans. Great article, Mike R, and thanks everyone for your stories and support. I pray that the mountain can find a way to remain open, as it will break many hearts if the rich ski racing heritage at WM cannot go on and flourish. Keep the faith!

  • Cassandra West

    I am with John Jacobs and keeping WM in my prayers…all of my children participated in the ski team to different degrees and my husband and I worked on developing the ski team for years. How sad for area families if WM does not open this year……

  • Melissa Watson

    I love WEST MOUNTAIN

  • Bob

    I learned to ski at West Mountain when they had one tiny lodge and two rope tows. I became a ski instructor when Tom Jacobs owned the ski shop and ski school (Jeff was in my GFHS Class of 69) and also learned to race there. By the time I was 21 I owned a condo in downtown Aspen 2 blocks from the Ajax lift. I loved skiing (still do) and it was very sad to see this place go bankrupt. That said, hopefully the next owner will put the millions of dollars needed to upgrade and get the place back to a first class local family ski area.

  • Jon Legault

    It’s kinda crazy that I’m going into my Sophomore year at Queensbury High School and spent the last ski season training with the Downhill Ski Team. Without this mountain I wouldn’t have spent 3 nights a week training in whatever Mother Nature delivered to the area. Without this mountain I wouldn’t have spent snow days skiing through flat light from a $17 per 5 hour lift ticket back in middle school to surviving with a midweek pass after the high school racing season is over. Now a lot of my classmates call it Waste Mountain because my generation is too needy for new technology when they should realize that the older things are sometimes better when you get used to it.

    It’s hard to believe that my mother’s brother helped install the chairlift at Northwest and that my father grew up skiing at West, but ended up moving on to bigger and better things like living a sort of ski bum lifestyle on the weekends at Killingtonin the early ’90s to becoming an instructor at Gore. Hell, he even tells me when he got kicked out of the base lodge by Barbone when I was racing one year at the Kandahar. Those were the days.

  • Shawn Buttling

    Wow guys, all these comments just let me re live my youth! Thanks for sharing, from CA to Oz West Mountain is the place to be!!!

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