Winter Wonderland – Reasons to Love Chautauqua County this Winter

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Bill Farr, Robert Bertch, and Nolan Farr. (Photo courtesy of Rich Farr taken between Randolph and Little Valley)
Bill Farr, Robert Bertch, and Nolan Farr. (Photo courtesy of Rich Farr taken between Randolph and Little Valley)
Bill Farr, Robert Bertch, and Nolan Farr.
(Photo courtesy of Rich Farr taken between Randolph and Little Valley)

Chautauqua County is the perfect winter wonderland!

Lake Erie’s wintery gift – nearly 10 feet of the best lake effect snow almost every year – makes Western New York a winter wonderland for snow sports and attractions. From skiing to snowmobiling and from snowshoeing to horse drawn sleigh rides and ice fishing, Chautauqua County is once again in the business of delighting local snow lovers and attracting tourists from across the USA.

And naturally, every school child who knows where to find a decent hill is enjoying this winter’s heavy snowfalls, too, whether with a sled, a toboggan, an inner tube or an old garbage can lid. Nearby ski slopes now offer tubing and snowboarding runs for more family appeal, and professional ski instruction for snow bunnies to experts.

Downhill Snow Sports
Alpine skiers say that a good winter in Chautauqua County is an easy match for any of Colorado’s best known ski towns.

“We haven’t had to make snow since January,” said Peek‘n Peak Director of Mountain Operations, Brad Gravink, reporting great skiing with eight lifts and 27 slopes on a 30- to 50-inch base and packed powder (as of mid-February). “Our lodge, hotels and condos are doing a great business too,” Gravink added. He has worked at Peek‘n Peak since 1963 when his father built the resort, so Brad knows snow. He predicts an outstanding winter.

Regionally, winter fans usually count on the ski season lasting through late March and early April, especially with state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment and expert grooming everywhere.

Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville adds 58 ski slopes in a wide variety of skill classes and 13 lifts to the region’s total, along with snowboarding and tubing lanes, and three base lodges and guest rooms. Holiday Valley also lengthens their popular ski season with extensive snow making and grooming systems.

Ellicottville is also home to HoliMont – North America’s largest private ski area devoted to family skiing. Whether natural or machine made, groomed snow blankets 700 vertical feet of slopes with eight lifts on more than 50 trails and on their Terrain Parks. On weekdays, HoliMont also welcomes non-members and groups.

The Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Chautauqua County’s snowmobile trails are part of the more than 2700 miles of trails that make up the Great Lakes Seaway Trail running through 11 counties in New York’s Chautauqua-Allegheny, Greater Niagara, Finger Lakes, and 1000 Islands-Seaway regions and Pennsylvania’s Erie County.

Snowmobile Clubs
“January and February have been great for snowmobiling,” said Don Cornell, president of the 100+ member Lake Effect Trailbreaker Club in Sinclairville. “We had a little melt in mid-February, making it hard to groom, but the temperature is back down now and there’s more snow, so come on out and enjoy the trails.”Cornell added that 90 percent of the grooming is done from 2am to 10am. “That shows you how dedicated the clubs are,” he said. Two Trailblazer trailheads are located in Gerry and one in Kennedy.

Chautauqua County is home to more than 450 miles of snowmobile trails, one of the most extensive trail systems anywhere in the United States. They are groomed cooperatively by five snowmobile clubs with a total of almost 3,400 family memberships, 5,800 people, and more than 5,300 snowmobiles throughout the county. See page 11 for all five Chautauqua County snowmobile clubs.

Across the Chautauqua County, between 150 and 200 private land owners cooperate with the clubs to allow their land to be used by snowmobilers and cross country skiers. Dedicated sledders use 16 full-size, mechanized groomers to maintain safe and smooth riding conditions. Much of the grooming is overseen by the more than 2,300 member Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club (CLSC). Public parking for CLSC is at Lakeside Park in Mayville, another popular trailhead for access to the trail system.

In addition to private, open farm fields, many trails follow old railroad beds, former trolley lines, heavily wooded areas and seasonal roads. Along the trailheads, service stations, restaurants and accommodations provide convenient access to amenities.

Snowmobile trail groomers also report that well kept trails become a vital lifeline for wildlife at times of unusually deep snow cover when inability to travel and forage for food become life threatening limitations.

Safety and Courtesy First
“Stay between the stakes!” Mike Logan, president of the Sunset Drifters Snowmobile Club in Sheridan said. He was expressing a critical “rule of the road” expressed by all responsible snowmobilers in New York who want to keep the privilege and enjoyment of the sport alive. “Private landowners,” Logan explained, “generous enough to allow use of their property, deserve to have their land respected.”

Every groomed trail – also open to cross country skiers – is well marked with tall, colorful easy to see stakes. A single off-trail excursion can misdirect later riders and skiers onto private property and off safe trails. That is trespassing and dangerous and can lead to eviction for all future snowmobilers and skiers.

Cross Country Trails
Cross country skiing and snow shoeing follow many of the snowmobile trails throughout the county. In addition, dedicated trails through forests, open fields and meadows are maintained at Long Point State Park, Lake Erie State Park, Chautauqua Gorge State Forest, The West Side Overland Trail, Chautauqua Institution and the Jamestown Audubon Center. Evergreen Outfitters in Ashville offers guided snowshoe hikes planned around weather conditions.

Old Fashioned Sleigh Rides
Chautauqua Institution offers a nostalgic 45 minute bobsled ride through the historic grounds . Sleigh rides are offered on Saturdays and Sundays throughout January and February and run every half hour from 1 pm to 3 pm. Tickets are available at the Chautauqua Bookstore on Bestor Plaza.

Ice Fishing
Chautauqua County offers nearly 14,000 acres of outstanding ice fishing on six lakes, Chautauqua, Bear, Findley and the upper, middle and lower Cassadaga lakes. Walleye, pike, perch and many other species of game and pan fish offer the dedicated ice fisher great entertainment, good sport and the company of other enthusiasts of Chautauqua County’s Winter Wonderland. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website, http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/50474.html, gives all the details.

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.