New York has more ski areas than any other state, yet, with most resorts to the east and south, those closest to Buffalo are not big and flashy. Most of the options by town are small and independently owned, giving skiers and snowboarders a more authentic experience.
Because these resorts receive a large amount of snow, and most have ample snowmaking abilities, the season can last from mid-November until April under the right conditions. All but 1 resort is in New York, the other is in Northeast Pennsylvania by Erie, and all are within a 2-hour drive.
Holiday Valley Resort – Ellicottville: 54 miles | 1 hour
Just an hour away from Buffalo is one of the largest resorts in Western New York. Holiday Valley Resort has 290 skiable acres and 60 runs equally divided by difficulty, as well as glade skiing on dedicated trails. Located in the Allegheny Mountains, the resort has a 750-foot vertical drop.
Lift tickets are reasonably priced, particularly if purchased 2 weeks in advance. There are multiple terrain parks with additional jumps located on certain slopes. Night skiing, from early December through mid-March, begins at 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, so skiers can enjoy a few hours of daylight.
Lessons are available for every age, with full- and half-day kids programs, group lessons for those 12 and up, and private lessons for ages 3 and up. Slope-side accommodations are available, but the quaint town of Ellicottville, just a few minutes away, provides plenty of shopping, dining, and lodging choices.
Cockaigne Resort – Cherry Creek: 54 miles | 1 hour
Cockaigne has a lot to offer, despite only being 80 skiable acres. It has 10 slopes and trails, but the biggest surprise is a separate snowmobile park adjacent to the ski area for enjoyment before or after a day of skiing. The resort is only open Wednesday through Sunday, with night skiing available every evening.
Beginner runs are located mostly to the left of the primary lift, with most of the blues and a few blacks to the right. Standard equipment is available for rent, plus free ski helmets on a first-come, first-served basis. During the day, enjoy a sit-down meal at the base pub, or grab-and-go options, available at the café.
Swain Resort – Swain: 73 miles | 1.5 hours
The oldest independently run ski area in the United States has plenty to offer for every type of skier. The resort’s 120 skiable acres and 35 trails are evenly distributed by difficulty, with most of the expert runs down the center of the mountain and the winding trails of green and blue runs flanking each side.
The resort offers group lessons for ages 6 and up and a Kid’s Ski School, starting at age 3, so parents can spend a day skiing and snowboarding while their kids learn the basics. Ski camps are offered for 3 consecutive days over the holidays.
The 2 terrain parks, Proving Grounds and Black Forest, have plenty of rails, jumps, and walls, with the latter park winding through the trees. The resort receives 130 inches of snow annually but has snow making on 97 percent of runs just to ensure good conditions.
Powder Mills Park – Pittsford: 82 miles | 1.25 hours
The ski hill in Pittsford is an ideal place for the youngest skiers and snowboarders to learn on a non-threatening hill. Inexpensive lift tickets and rentals are available at certain times during the week for general skiing and snowboarding.
Powder Mills Park skiing lessons are hosted by Swain Resort, with most novice skiers starting at the public ski hill. A lodge at the bottom is an ideal spot for parents to stay warm during lesson time.
Peek‘n Peak – Clymer: 90 miles | 1.5 hours
Lake Erie’s lake effect snow can wreak havoc on coastal towns but creates excellent conditions at Peek‘n Peak Resort, which receives 200 inches of snow annually. Most of the runs are intermediate, with 1/3 for beginners and 15 percent for expert skiers.
The resort has 27 slopes and trails on 130 skiable acres with a 400-foot vertical drop. Skiers and snowboarders can select from 3 progressive terrain parks across the wide mountain, or enjoy plentiful tree-skiing opportunities. Lessons are available for all ages, with a beginner’s special for first-time skiers aged 12 and up.
Bristol Mt. – Canandaigua: 100 miles | 1.75 miles
With a 1,200-foot vertical drop and a trail that lasts for more than 2 miles, Bristol Mountain Ski Resort is one of the hidden gems of New York. The 35 trails and 2 terrain parks are carved through a thick forest for a beautiful day of skiing.
Many of the runs at Bristol Mountain are long. For some, that can be boring; for others, a long trail makes that time on the chairlift worthwhile.
The long, gentle slopes have ample space for beginners to practice turns and there are also several runs for expert skiers. Morning Star Race Park is available at certain times of the day for any skier or snowboarder to experience racing with non-timed open-gate runs.
Hunt Hollow Ski Club – Naples: 106 miles | 1.75 hours
Despite being privately operated, Hunt Hollow Ski Club opens its slopes to the public Wednesday through Friday. Members and their guests can enjoy the mountain on weekends, but with its proximity to Buffalo, a weekday trip isn’t too difficult.
Hunt Hollow has 80 skiable acres and a terrain park, plus slopes for cross-country and mogul skiing. Its 20 trails are accessed by only 3 lifts. To the top-left of the mountain are an abundance of black diamond slopes and tree skiing; to the right are blue and green trails. A beginner’s area near the bottom is accessed by a short T-bar.
Brantling Ski Slopes – Sodus: 108 miles | 1.75 hours
While the family-owned ski area outside of Rochester has 9 slopes for downhill skiing, it’s primarily the place for those learning to ski. Learn-to-ski packages at Brantling include a 1-hour lesson, lift ticket, and equipment, with a wide variety of ski school camps and programs designed to improve the abilities of anyone ready to learn.
While waiting for those taking lessons, the lodge has Wi-Fi, a cozy fireplace, a cafe, and a bar, plus a large window to watch the slopes outside. The resort is open Wednesday through Sunday and closes for the season in late February.
Mt. Pleasant – Cambridge Springs, PA: 109 miles | 2 hours
For anyone who enjoys ungroomed trails at a low price, you’ll be happy to discover Mount Pleasant of Edinboro. The ski area is small, with only 10 trails, 4 of which are kept completely natural. The mountain has a vertical drop of only 340 feet and 40 skiable acres, yet the variation of terrain helps those learning to ski.
Skiing lessons are available for kids beginning at age 3 and snowboarding lessons at age 6. Unique to Mount Pleasant is the Rent-A-Pro program, a package of 10 lessons that can be used at any time. The Slopeside Grille offers terrific dining but families can also bring their own food.
There are many downhill skiing options within a few hours of Buffalo, all with their own unique charm and ambiance. These independently owned ski areas are affordable and offer many of the same amenities as the larger resorts. The great variety of resorts and slopes equates to a multitude of skiing experiences.