Bova, Big Basin, Ski Jumps Drew Thousands
By Eva Potter
Photos courtesy of the Bradford Landmark Society and Bob Schmid
Allegany State Park (ASP), widely known for its many miles of hiking and snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and myriad other four-season outdoor activities, was also on the map as home to two alpine ski areas, Bova and Big Basin, and ski jumps many decades ago.
Once a highly popular hub for skiing, the park boasted three slalom courses, ski jumps and a Poma lift.
“Most people do not realize that skiing in the Western New York area actually first began right here in Allegany State Park,” said Bob Schmid, president of the Allegany State Park Historical Society.
Working together, park engineer Art Roscoe and former Olympic skier Karl Fahrner designed the 30- and 50-meter ski jumps in the early 1930s. From 1933 to 1941, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built a variety of sports facilities in the park, including the ski jumps. They were the only major ski jumps in the Western New York area and, at the time, were considered to be among the best in the entire country.
The first-ever National Ski Tournament was held on the newly built jumps on Feb. 24, 1935, reportedly attracting more than 5,000 people to the landmark event. Ski jumping competitions were held twice a year thereafter and their popularity quickly grew, attracting to nearly 10,000 spectators and competitors to events.
“The amazing thing of all of this is that you once had world-class and Olympic skiers that skied right here in Allegany State Park,” said Schmid.
Indeed, amateur, professional and Olympic skiers from Europe, Canada and other countries converged on the park to catch some air. Eventually, colleges used the jumps to host intercollegiate championships, too. The last event was held in February 1979.
Sadly, the jumps became unusable later that year after a massive flood washed out parts of the landing area. If you happen to explore the park near the Red House dam and spillway, near the Red House Maintenance Service Road, you may still find evidence of these fine ski jumps and their stone-made take-offs.
BOVA SKI SLOPES
The Bova Ski Slopes were built on 197 acres of land owned by the French-Canadian Bova family (pronounced boh-vay and originally spelled Beauvais). The park purchased the land from the family in the late 1920s, according to Schmid.
Skiing at Bova began in 1938 on the main slope, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Beginner and moderate slopes were built in 1940.
Skiing at Bova was definitely a no-frills experience with just the three slopes, no grooming and a rope tow powered by a reconditioned Model A Ford engine to get you to the top. But that rope tow operated at 16.2 mph and could handle 1,200 riders per hour. The 1,450-long main slope had a 283-foot vertical descent — long enough for a good downhill schuss.
The Bova’s farmhouse was used as the main lodge in the early days. Later, you could grab a bite to eat in the Snack Shack, which opened in 1942 at the base of the slalom slope. You could also stay a while and warm up by the stove.
Believe it or not, all the way up through the 1977-78 ski season, it still cost only $1.50 to ski all day!
Victor Anderson, a frequent skier at Bova said, “The thing I remember about Bova was waiting until two big guys would ride up the rope tow so I could be between them. The rope was really heavy and I was just a kid.”
Sally Marsh, a long-time fixture at ASP, recalled, “I was so lucky as a kid to ski at Bova Ski Slopes and my favorite Big Basin. Bova was hard because of the rope tow. I didn’t have leather gloves, so it shredded your woolen gloves and the oil from the rope stained your jacket, which as a kid back then was your only coat.”
Competition from other ski areas, liability risks, outdated equipment they could not afford to replace and diminishing skier interest contributed to the closing of the both the ski jumps and Bova in March 1980.
Today, the Bova area of the park now offers 15 upscale cabins with many creature comforts for rent at the Bova Trail.
The Big Basin Ski Area at ASP was created in 1951 and consisted of four downhill slopes off ASP Route 1 on Bay State Road. A Poma lift, a state-of-the-art ski lift of the day, was imported from France and installed in 1956. The inventor of the lift even travelled to the park to oversee its installation. The lift cost a whopping $13,825. The first of its kind in Western New York, the 1,000-foot lift could haul 625 skiers up the hill per hour.
A Poma lift was somewhat similar to a T-bar but had a disk and a shaft with a spring inside (similar to a T-bar shaft) that was attached to overhead cables and it pulled you up the hill.
“The trails were more through the woods,” said Marsh about her favorite ASP ski area. “Riding the Poma lift could be a little tricky. You put the disc between your legs and had to keep your skis straight to ride up. Remember, back then skis were longer, so it was easy to cross them and fall off.”
The Poma lift scooted skiers up to the top for many years until it broke down in 1972. Repair was not possible because the company had gone out of business, marking the end of the ski area’s operations.
During the summer, you can head to the Eastwood Meadows Hiking Trail and see the steel towers that ran the cable wires up and down the main Big Basin slope.
Many thanks to Bob Schmid who is a walking treasure trove of local history! We invite you to share your comments and memories on the Ellicottville Times Facebook page.
(Photos courtesy of the Bradford Landmark Society and Bob Schmid)