Belleayre Mountain's 'Ski with a Pro' Lesson is the best ski lesson program in northeast. Ski Instructor Chris Ericson (R) with student (L)
Belleayre Mountain: 'Ski with a Pro' Lesson Best in Northeast
by Christine Lynn Harvey

Only about a 3 1/2 hour ride from the center of Long Island, Belleayre is 3,429 feet tall and its longest trail is 12,024 feet, making it the highest skiable peak and trail in the Catskills. Though the weekends pack a good-sized crowd consisting of mainly parents and their kids, Belleayre is considerably less crowded than nearby ski centers. You won't see condos here, since the mountain is owned and operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Belleayre has 8 lifts and 4 lodges, a vertical drop of 1,404 feet, a half pipe and terrain park. Of its 41 trails, 22% are beginner, 58% intermediate and 20% are expert. It's also the only place in the Catskills that offers cat-access skiing.

Since Belleayre's focus is on families, there's plenty to do. Kidscamp is geared to young skiers ages 4-12 and snowboarders ages 7-12 of all abilities. The cost is reasonable (usually $71 without rental equipment/$91 with) and includes lunch. Instruction is held away from the bustling traffic of the base lodge making the experience for both kids and adults enjoyable. Alpine Development is an 11-week program ($350) geared to children and teens ages 6-17 intermediate to expert levels. There are also free un-timed beginner lessons for skiers of all ages. Children ages 5-7 are entitled to a free one-hour group lesson. There are five stations, ranging from an introduction to correctly using your equipment to linking turns and controlling speed through developing turn shape in both directions.

For intermediate to expert skiers, Adult Weekend Workshops are an 11-week program that run Saturday to Sunday for two hours per day (a great deal at $300 for 44 hours of instruction). For the same price, these workshops turn into a private group package known as "Friends" if you get five or more of your friends to join.

I found the best feature of Belleayre to be its new "Ski with a Pro" program, which costs $250 and runs from 10 am to 4 pm. I was very lucky to spend an entire day with Chris Ericson, Technical Director for Belleayre's Ski School. As crème-da-la-crème of ski instructors, Ericson's instruction made a tremendous difference in my ski technique by the end of the day. It also made me realize why ski lessons are so important.

While still in high school, Ericson became a ski instructor at Belleayre working exclusively with kids in the Ski Wee program (now Kid's Camp) and in Alpine Development. He later moved over to Adult Workshops where he teaches today. In 2002, he became the Director of Training and a member of the PSIA-E Educational Staff(Professional Ski Instructors of America) as a Divisional Clinic Leader. Ericson travels around the region throughout the year attending training events to keep up on the latest teaching methods. All of his children ages 3, 7 and 9 enjoy skiing Belleayre every weekend with him and his wife. When not working weekends as a ski instructor, Ericson is a public health inspector for Orange County.

"Having a lesson teaches you how to use your body in an effective way and allows you to explore trails you'd never think of going on before. It shows you how to tactically manage all kinds of conditions you'll encounter on the mountain," Ericson says. Lessons are especially important for skiers transitioning to newer equipment since older techniques were better suited for older equipment. "The sooner you take a lesson and we address issues of how you're skiing and how to make your movements more effective and comfortable, the sooner you'll be exploring new terrain and experience greater sensations - the thrill of skiing," he says.

Only having skied twice in the past month this season (after a 30 year hiatus!!), I was not sure what the ski pro had in store for me. I put my trust in Ericson because he is a very gifted instructor and his infectious sense of humor and affable nature makes him a pleasure to learn from. Before the lesson, I was skiing green trails using wedge-turns and by the time I finished the lesson, I was on some blue trails skiing open track parallels, turning more efficiently and with more control. Ericson also helped me attain a skeletal stance which also greatly improved my turning technique and kept me from becoming too fatigued while skiing. Before the lesson, I was skiing with a muscular stance which was burning out my quads. If you want to become a better skier, definitely try out Belleayre's "Ski With a Pro" program. You'll learn proper technique and be transformed from a mediocre skier into a more advanced one in no time at all! For more info on lessons, packages and prices, visit: www.belleayre.com or call (845) 254-5600.

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RIVER RUN BED & BREAKFAST:
Great Lodging in the Catskill High Peaks
Originally built in 1887 as a summer retreat for Addison Scott, a wealthy Griffin Corners resident, the "Scott Cottage" became a lodge in the 1920's. Located at the confluence of the Bushkill and Little Red Kill trout stream, guests come here to rejuvenate their body, mind and spirit. Each of the rooms of this spacious 20-room Queen Anne mansion are named after a well-known Catskills river. Today, Griffin Corners is named Fleischmanns after the man who made yeast by the same name famous. The brightly colored stained glass windows, woodwork, front parlor hearth and uniquely carved staircase landing is original to the house. Operated and owned by inkeepers Ben and Melissa Fenton, the River Run, just 2 miles from Belleayre is family-friendly with pets allowed in the summer time. The front room parlor with hearth is surrounded by a library, piano, VCR/TV and board games, making it comfy to hang out in.

The surrounding towns of Pine Hill, Highmount, Fleischmanns Arkville, Margaretville, Phoenicia and Andes offer plenty of excellent restaurants, lodging and fine shops. Some 40 lodges, 20 restaurants and 30 shops in the region comprise the Belleayre Region Lodging and Tourism Association (www.catskillhighpeaks.com) which Ben Fenton is president of. Lodging members, like the Fenton's River Run Bed and Breakfast, offer their guests vouchers for special ski discounts at Belleayre. Kids under 12 stay for free and ski for free for each paying adult per 2-night minimum.

Fenton comes from a corporate hotel chain background. Running a B & B gives him more guest contact and more control over the end product. "That's what I like best," he says. The personal touch is really felt and so is Ben's "good energy" as we say in the healing field. He's built a seven circuit labyrinth in the backyard which helps balance your entire chakra system. "The walk of the labyrinth is about the journey, not the destination," he says.

The inn's signature breakfast includes a delicious mushroom quiche or baked stuffed French toast with granola, yogurt, dried fruit, fresh fruit, boiled eggs, fresh baked cakes and bagels. Chocolate cocoa & chocolate cookies are waiting for guests upon their return. Room prices are very reasonable. A family/group of ten can book the entire third floor for $330/night or for $165/night they can book the "Retro Suite," a 1950's style above ground basement apartment with full kitchen, 2 bedrooms, two baths, TV/VCR and private garden entrance. Second floor rooms cost $99 $125 per room and have a Queen and Twin bed each, usually fitting up to three people. Discounts begin after booking 3 nights or more. Fenton emphasizes that the Belleayre region "is a truly 4 season area, offering a huge amount of activities year-round like golf, tubing, hiking the highest peak in the Catskills, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, as well as antiquing and doing the farmers' & flea market circuit." In March every year, the Pine Hills Arms Triathlon (2.5 mile ski, 10 mile bike and 3 mile run) is held at the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center. For more info, call 1-800-932-2446. The River Run Bed and Breakfast is located at 882 Main Street, Fleischmanns, NY 12430; call 1-845-254 4884; visit www.riverrunbedandbreakfast.com or email: info@riverrunbedandbreakfast.com

"Skiing in the Catskills" photo courtesy of www.greenetourism.com

Getting the Right Ski Boot Fit

One of the mid station lodges at Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills
Belleayre Mountain is run by NYS, so it remains "Forever Wild' in the Catskills, making it a pristine ski destination
River Run Bed & Breakfast in Fleishmanns is family-friendly and reasonably priced
River Run Bed & Breakfast's Esophus Room features original stained glass windows
River Run B & B's parlor offers a cozy apres ski refuge