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The Birth of Ellicottville as a Ski Town: The Early History

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By Mary Fox

The birth of skiing in the mountains of Ellicottville is a story about people who had a dream and pursued it. It is also the story of how Ellicottville, Holiday Valley and HoliMont fostered a relationship built on need and mutual respect.

It all started in the early 1930s when a bunch of local kids skied on a farmer’s hillside off Rt. 242 which was known as Fish Hill. Before a day of skiing could begin, these dedicated skiers had to “groom” the slope by side-stepping up and down the hill.

By 1936, skiing also had caught on in Allegany State Park, where ski jumping was challenging the most avid skiers. Indeed, ASP had been tapped to hold that year’s New York State Ski Championship races.

Unfortunately, that particular January there wasn’t enough snow at ASP for the races scheduled to be staged. But over on Fish Hill – thanks to the banding behavior of lake-effect snows – there was plenty. So the train carrying skiers from Buffalo for the competition stopped at the Ellicottville depot and the races were held on Fish Hill instead.

While skiing at ASP over the years, Ellicottville’s Bill (Doc) Northrup and Karl Fahrner, the German skier who designed the 30- and 50-meter ski jumps at Allegany State Park in 1935. Fahrner, Northrup and others kept Fish Hill going and, in 1937, rigged a car wheel and a 1929 Studebaker engine to an 800-foot rope, creating the area’s first rope-tow. Fahrner also ran Ellicottville’s first ski school there.

By 1938, these skiers, who had stayed and socialized for years at the Lincoln Hotel, formed the Ellicottville Ski Club, but wanted a new, more challenging skiing area. They found it on Greer Hill close to town at what is now part of HoliMont.

From the top of Greer Hill at that time, one could see the chimneys of Ellicottville’s many manufacturing businesses, including lumber products, a bat factory (which produced the original Louisville Slugger), a basket factory, steel products, grain mills, furniture and cutlery makers, a Borden’s milk condensery and more. Outside of town, farms filled the landscape and kept many of these businesses supplied.

“It was amazing skiing down Greer Hill and looking down on Ellicottville,” said Edna Northrup, whose family and others eventually founded Holiday Valley in 1958. (HoliMont came along in 1962.)

The Lincoln Hotel, which later became the Ellicottville Inn, offered the only accommodations for visiting skiers. If the hotel was booked, area residents offered rooms in their homes.

Apres ski activities included Saturday night dances at the 1887 building where townspeople, known for their hospitality, welcomed newcomers to town, and the churches took turns hosting Saturday night dinners.

After World War II, many of Ellicottville’s manufacturing companies were sold or moved to larger cities where there was better transportation and more mechanized ways of doing things. This change away from industry and farming was challenging for the little town in rural Cattaraugus County. It demanded a new mindset and new ways of doing things.

Fortunately, the same area that Joseph Ellicott, Holland Land Company’s developer of Western New York, said was too mountainous and rugged for development, had exactly what is needed for skiers. Local leaders recognized the potential of creating a “resort” community, while local business people recognized the economic advantages of ski and outdoor-loving tourists.

It has taken many decades for Ellicottville to evolve into what it is today, but it seems clear that those visionaries of the 1930s ensured that the community would survive and thrive.

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