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Cockaigne Offered Gemutlichkeit

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World’s Fair Pavilion Served as Chalet

By Eva Potter

It was a truly unique ski area in the Southern Tier with a lodge like no other, offering a warm welcome, friendliness and good cheer — gemutlichkeit.

Only 18 miles from Lake Erie, Cockaigne Ski Area on Thornton Road in sleepy Cherry Creek, N.Y., was a fun place where many skiing families made some fantastic memories they still look back on with fondness.

Nicholas Barnes and a group of associates founded Cockaigne Ski Area in 1966 as an all-year resort. Its most notable feature was its distinctive main base ski lodge –  the former Austrian Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair which was disassembled, moved and reassembled at the ski area in 1966. You couldn’t miss the A-frame’s three huge arches. The inside was appointed with an interesting round fireplace, a bar and a cafeteria, as well as a rental shop.

The resort’s future plans called for a golf course, artificial lake and bridle paths. Those features never materialized.

Victor Anderson worked at the Cockaigne Ski School off and on for about 25 years beginning in 1967. At the time, Franz Elsigan of Ellicottville, who was a former Austrian ski jumper, ran the ski school and ski shop.

“Cockaigne was a great area for learning to ski. None of the hills were very steep and there was a lot of beginner/intermediate terrain,” said Anderson. “Trails were lighted at night and kids had a great time without getting into very much trouble. If you wanted a challenge, you had to sneak into the woods or find the small patch of bumps on the steepest part of the hill.”

Events for all ages, including the Christmas Race Camp, NASTAR clinics and other happenings, made Cockaigne a great place for families.

Hard times hit in the late 1960s and, on Feb. 8, 1970, the Buffalo Courier Express reported that John C. Van Scoter of Fredonia and Jack Dean of Mayville purchased Cockaigne from the bank, which had acquired it in a foreclosure action the previous fall.

Despite the resort’s finances, ski seasons continued for many more years. A variety of ski groups and families came to ski every weekend from Ohio and surrounding areas.

“Cockaigne had a great family atmosphere, because everyone had been going there for so long,” remembered Hannes Dziak, who was a ski instructor at Cockaigne in the late ‘90s.

Sadly, on Jan. 24, 2011, a devastating fire ravaged the lodge, rendering it unusable.

The New York National Guard was scheduled to deliver a massive tent to be used as temporary warming shelter for the remainder of that season, but then government officials determined that Cockaigne did not qualify for this assistance. Instead, in early February, Jamestown Awning stepped in and donated a 40-foot by 60-foot tent that became the temporary base facility. Food and beverages were offered from the Falconer Food Service truck, and Jamestown Ice & Storage loaned materials, equipment and picnic tables.

Meanwhile, other ski areas including Holiday Valley, HoliMont and Peek n’ Peak, pitched in to help provide rental ski equipment and community donors too numerous to mention helped fill in the gaps. These efforts kept skiing and boarding going through the end of that season.

But the next year was too much for the resort. Between a dismal 2010-11 weather season, vandalism and a burglary that summer, and no ski lodge, Cockaigne was shuttered and its fondly remembered gemutlichkeit came to an end.

The ski area was put up for sale and has generated interest but no buyers to date. In September 2013, thieves struck again and made off with snowmaking equipment, including a snow gun estimated to cost in the thousands.

Despite the recent events, many uplifting memories remain. Anderson said the friendships he forged so many years ago are still going strong.

“We got along pretty well. So well, in fact, that some of my friends are still married to each other over 30 years later,” he quipped.

What else do you remember about Cockaigne? Feel free to share your stories with others on the Ellicottville Times Facebook page.

(Photos furnished by Victor Anderson.)

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