Belleayre Mountain Ski Center is one of the Catskills largest ski resorts. Owned by the State of NY, Belleayre offers affordable big mountain skiing close to New York City. With a respectable 150 inches of annual snowfall and 1,404 feet of vertical drop, Belleayre is a favorite day trip resort for New York City metro area skiers.
There can be something uniquely enjoyable about visiting older ski resorts. Building a ski resort before the advent of snowmaking required founders to be careful to select locations that combined high annual snowfall and lofty base elevations. Moreover, trails were generally cut by hand and closely follow the natural terrain of the hillside. Those natural advantages are no less attractive now than they were then – Belleayre’s 3,429 feet summit catches 150 inches of natural snowfall a year and skiers still flock to the resort to experience its hand-cut trails.
Founded in 1949 by the state of New York, Belleayre was built to spur economic activity in the Catskill Mountains. Winter pursuits (and paricularly skiing) were already popular in post-war America and the Catskills provided an easy-to-reach retreat for a growing New York City suburban market increasinly equipped with automobiles.
Although Belleayre has been around since the Truman administration, the resort is in the midst of a renaissance. The state-run resort was recently put under the control of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which also runs Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski resorts in the Adirondacks. The future looks also as plans are underway to link Belleayre to a neighboring closed ski resort – Highmount Ski Center. Highmount’s terrain is less monotonous than Belleayre’s, with continuous pitches over its roughly 1,000 feet drop.
Belleyare’s skiable terrain is spread out across a long ridgeline with the resort’s main base area actually at midmountain. All the trails above this midmountain area are intermediate or expert. Below the midstation are green, beginner runs. As a consequence, almost all of Belleayre’s runs follow a predictable sequence. The run will start as a short, steep black or double black diamond headwall, continue for another 400-500 vertical feet as an intermediate trail, and then end as a long but interesting beginner trail.
This layout nicely separates beginners, intermediates, and experts. However because the gradient of the hillside is relatively constant all along the face of the ridge, it can also be monotonous. Even for veteran Belleayre skiers, it can be difficult to distinguish one upper mountain trail from another. Two of the three chairlifts serving the upper mountain have midstations which allow intermediate skiers to disembark before the chairlift continues on to the summit.
Navigating Belleayre is simple to understand, but can also require some poling. The resort has two base areas. The first is at the Discovery Lodge at the bottom of the hill. Beginners should park here. The second (main) base area is found at mid-mountain near the Overlook Lodge. Both lodges offer full ticket services, rentals and food. Our insider’s tip to Belleayre, however, is to park at neither of these two bases. Instead, when the lift is running, park in the small lot at the uncrowded base of the Tomahawk Quad. There is a small ticket window and a much shorter walk to the lifts.
Belleayre Pros & Cons
+ closest ski resort to New York City with over a 1,100 feet drop
+ high elevation and good natural snowfall predisposes Belleayre to good snow conditions
+ one of the best beginner areas in the Northeast
+ historic 1940’s charm in base lodges
– no base-to-summit lift makes laps on the full 1,404 feet vertical drop impossible
– parallel upper mountain trails are borderline identical and unmemorable