I wake up early, fumbling around in the half-light of dawn to turn off my alarm. Stepping over my daughters, who are sleeping on the floor, I pull on my thermals and ski socks, and tiptoe downstairs to start the coffee. My dad is already outside, scraping off the car and loading up our skis in the bitter morning air.
When he comes in, we take our steaming cups of coffee to the living room, where we’ll sit in front of the fire, watching the snowfall steadily outside on the mountainside.
“It should be good today,” my dad says as he begins to collect his helmet and goggles.
My children and their dad come sleepily downstairs as we finish pulling our bulky ski boots on. I promise to meet my girls by the lodge in a few hours, where they’ll rent unbelievably tiny skis and join us for a while on the slopes. We head out into the morning muted by snow and reach the lifts at the back base of the mountain just as they are opening.
As I take my first run, the cold January wind against my face, listening to the swish my ski makes as I lean into each turn, I look over at my dad, who keeps pace with me the whole way. We carve our way down the mountain that is still quiet and fresh, and I think again that Ellicottville, New York, must be my favorite place in the world.
A Mountain Hideaway
Ellicottville is a dream getaway for both skiers and spectators alike. Nestled in the heart of the Enchanted Mountains of western New York, it’s a small town that gets bigger every year but never loses its charm. Referred to as “The Aspen of the East” by Lowell Thomas decades ago, the town’s ski resort, Holiday Valley, has consistently been listed as one of Ski Magazine’s top 10 destinations in the East.
Ideally located for skiers in Western New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even Canada, Holiday Valley ski resort draws thousands of visitors each year to its 750 feet of vertical. With 13 lifts, 60 trails, and plenty of lake-effect snow to cover the slopes, what the resort lacks in incline it makes up for in everything else.
Pre-COVID, my dad and I would have come inside for a hot chocolate break and might have seen my mom, plugging in her crockpot of chili for us to all have at the lodge, and circled around one of the large tables near the fire. In this era, the resort is doing their best to maintain the resort’s community feel while keeping everyone safe, reducing their tables by 50 percent and restricting stays to 30 minutes—still enough time to gain the feeling back beneath your ski boots.
Ellicottville’s Main Street is packed with independently owned shops and restaurants, bursting with local flavor. After a day on the slopes, there are few foods better than a Brew Burger at Ellicottville Brewing Co., or a pizza from Monroe Street Brick and Brew. Dina’s and West Rose offer an upscale dining experience, while the Banq Cocktail Lounge provides a classy, Old World setting for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers.
The shops of Ellicottville are refreshingly devoid of chain stores. Instead, you can buy unique clothing apparel and western wear at Daff, jewelry and dresses at Gado-Gado, a full range of ski and snowboarding equipment at Mud, Sweat, and Gears. For my husband and me, no trip to Ellicottville is complete without a visit to The Ellicottville Coffee Co., where we can drink handcrafted espresso drinks while perusing the gear in Adventure Bound, the adjoining outdoor store. For my children, no visit is complete without an excursion on the arm of their grandad to the back of Kazoo II, where they’re sure to leave with a new book or toy.
The Inn at Holiday Valley and the Tamarack Club, the resort’s newest hotel, both provide excellent views of the slopes. Edelweiss Lodge and Wingate by Wyndham are both located in town.
A Town for Every Season
Ellicottville may be primarily known as a resort town for cold weather fans, but it has put a tremendous effort over the past few years into becoming a four-season town. Hiking and mountain biking in the surrounding mountains provide plenty of opportunities for off-season exercise. Holiday Valley resort has added a ropes course, a mountain coaster, and a lake at the top of Spruce Hill, where kayaks and paddleboards can be rented throughout the summer.
Over the years that my parents have lived there, Ellicottville’s natural beauty has become the backdrop to some of my favorite family memories any time of year, but especially in the winter. Western New York is often associated with cloudy skies and endless winters. As my dad and I ski our way across the resort, the snow sticking to the branches of the leaves, I think again that winter in Ellicottville is really pretty wonderful.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com