PRATTSVILLE — Every cross-country skier has his day, and this Saturday at Bearpen Mountain will be that day.
Left desolate since 1959, the mountain is under the management of Howard Rennell and his daughter, Dominique, who will offer cross-country skiing, snowtubing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating and phat bicycle riding, where visitors ride mountain bikes with outsized tires similar to snow tires on a vehicle.
The mountain’s grand opening is Saturday. Free snowtubing will be offered, if the weather cooperates, Howard said. If not snowtubing, visitors can enjoy free snowshoeing or phat bicycle riding. Saturday night, representatives of West Kill Brewing will be at the lodge offering samples of its beers.
“Now it’s up to the snow gods,” Rennell said of Friday’s weather, which is expected to be unseasonably warm with temperatures in the upper 50s.
Bearpen Mountain was once home to the Princeton Ski Bowl from 1955 to 1959 and was founded by Princeton University student Ben Lane, who was the president of the university’s Outing Club. Lane searched for areas throughout upstate New York and found Bearpen Mountain where he established several trails from the mountain’s 3,600-foot summit, according to Bearpen’s website.
“The last time this was anything was back in the late ’50s,” Rennell said. “You had to hike to the tip of the mountain to do it [ski] here recently.”
The mountain’s snowtubing trails will be the longest tubing run in the state, at 1,200 feet, Rennell said. Bearpen’s focus on cross-country skiing will set it apart from Hunter and Windham, both of which focus on downhill skiing. The mountain also boasts a higher elevation than Hunter and Windham with a 1,900-foot vertical drop.
“I don’t think we’re a challenge to Windham and Hunter,” Rennell said. “We won’t have the huge crowds.”
Rennell purchased the bottom 200 acres of the mountain prior to his father’s death 10 years ago.
The project is a labor of love, not an opportunity to get rich, he said, adding the remainder of the land leading up to the summit was purchased two years ago.
“It’s kind of a lifelong dream,” he said. “We’re trying not to make it a fly-by-night thing.”
Rennell declined to reveal costs and financing, but said there are no outside investors. “Everything, we had to build,” he said.
Rennell credited the Prattsville Town Board for supporting the project and said he’s mostly utilized local contractors for construction and electrical work.
“It’s basically a locally driven thing,” he said.
A snowmaking pod was constructed this year, but with delays, Bearpen did not have snowmaking abilities as of Thursday.
“We’re relying on Mother Nature,” Rennell said of Saturday’s event. “This year is a soft opening.”
The mountain will be open primarily on weekends, but Rennell plans to hold community and charity events at the lodge on Friday nights.
While skiing, snowshoeing and phat biking equipment will be available to rent, the owner does not have plans to build a hotel or other amenities on site anytime soon.
“Let us get through the first couple of years first,” Rennell said. “My weekends have not been leisurely.”
Prattsville Town Supervisor Kristin Tompkins is excited to see a new business like the Rennells’ open up and said she will attend the grand opening Saturday with her family.
“It’s great to see something that goes back to the roots of the town,” Tompkins said of the mountain’s history. “It’s not too big.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM