By Eva Potter
Not many ski areas in the region can claim a rioting good time and mysterious, unsolved murders as part of their intricate history, but the former Grosstal can.
The now-defunct ski area, located in Allegany, N.Y., began as Grosstal Ski Area, but through the decades, it was reincarnated two more times as Ski Wing and then Wing Hollow.
Grosstal operated from 1958 to 1968 and was “designed to rival the famed ski centers of the Alps.” It was a family-oriented place where parents could drop their kids off for the day knowing they were safe and having a ball.
Grosstal, German for “big valley,” boasted an 813-foot vertical drop with a particularly challenging headwall, 11 interesting runs, one chairlift, two T-bars, a rope tow, night skiing and snowmaking. Chalet facilities included a lounge, restrooms, ski rental and a ski patrol room. Mathias Hefti, a Swiss and later American professional ski racer, played a big role in developing the Grosstal Ski School. Experienced ski pros, like Hans Auer of Austria, taught at the resort’s highly regarded ski school.
After a tragic accident at Grosstal in 1968, when a young boy died as a result of a chairlift going backward, the ski area closed briefly only to be revived as Ski Wing, under the new ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Stein.
Ski Wing’s annual Winter Carnival included many fun activities, including a canoe race down the slopes, oftentimes resulting in a two-piece canoe. One of these split canoes was used as a vehicle to maneuver down the metal stairs inside the lodge one night after a particularly jovial party, resulting in the canoe’s abrupt stop as it hit and punctured went through the wall of the manager’s office. Those were the days!
The Wing Ski Club, a separate entity and private ski club with its own building, was located adjacent to Grosstal. The popular social venue was known for its family oriented atmosphere, youth ski racing team, wonderful après ski parties, affordable dues and other shenanigans. The club held an annual ski swap to fund their highly respected racing program, which would take young racers to ski areas all around New York State, with Leo Nenno and Johnny Kohler as some of their coaches.
Ski Wing (and later Wing Hollow), hosted the annual Wing Cup, a dual slalom downhill race, which drew more than 150 racers from around the region, as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Wing Ski Club organized the race, started with the impetus of Grey Fitzpatrick and others club members, as well as the Times Herald, which made it possible by sponsoring the event.
Francie Potter of Allegany served on and off as a secretary of the Wing Ski Club and helped score races with Ann Wormer of Portville.
“Everyone in the ski club helped in one way or another when we had race weekends,” said Potter.
She also fondly remembers dropping off big pots of soup and sandwiches to the ski club for her kids, who spent virtually every day after school and weekends in winter at the ski area located just down the street from their home.
In 1975, the Steins divorced and the ski resort’s name changed to Wing Hollow with Henry Stein as its owner.
Winters were celebrated exuberantly and the fun continued at until Feb. 6, 1978, when one of Cattaraugus County’s most infamous murders at Wing Hollow dominated the headlines.
The unsolved killing of two nighttime ski slope groomers, Stephen Bender and Michael Forness, still hangs in the air. Both were shot in the back of the head, execution style, inside Ski Wing’s lodge. Police theorized that the two employees, who came into the lodge after one of the grooming vehicles broke down, surprised burglars attempting to break into a safe. The killers made off with approximately $18,000 and the safe was found in the Allegheny River about a month later.
Fantastic skiing continued for many more years until, what some would say was a lack of effort, Ski Wing closed in the early 1980s. A few other regional ski areas and individuals made bids to purchase it but were unable to come to an agreement with Stein, who eventually sold the 600-plus acres to John and Audra Walsh in 2007.
If you look closely, you can still see a muddled outline of the overgrown slopes on the west side of the valley as you head down the Five Mile Road valley.
“It is important to preserve these areas now. Most are rapidly disappearing into the landscape, becoming part of the forest again,” said Jeremy Davis, author and founder of www.nelsap.org, dedicated to preserving the history of defunct ski areas throughout the Northeast.
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