Lake effect, no crowds, varied terrain
Short vertical and Dan the Chairlift guy will scare your kids
If you are an experienced Eastern skier and have never been here, then you will have the opportunity to try something new by way of what is a sort of "powder" skiing. If you are a "never-ever" then you will definitely save money and maximize your expenditure of time, without compromising the breadth of your experience one bit if you were to choose a place like Snow Ridge as opposed to a large resort for your first time out -- the high prices charged by the hills in VT and out west are for access to challenging terrain, ultra long runs, or for those fools who think name dropping is a sport.
Ok, first off, if you have ever actually spoken the word "concierge" out loud then read no further. You will be much happier continuing another 120 miles east and 90 miles north. 'Nuff said. While I would like to keep the place a secret I feel as though I owe it to the owners to write something truthful given all the joy I've lifted off of the 'Ridge over the past few years.
A visit to Snow Ridge starts with a very short walk from the lot to the base lodge: as with all local Upstate areas there is no slopeside development which has to be boot-traversed between your car and the snow -- but take care where you park unless you have four-wheel drive.
Outside of a beginner area which is either a hike or a complimentary snowmobile-taxi ride to the far end of the base there are usually two fixed doubles serving three pods open on any given day. To the left as you unload from the main chair closest to the lodge is a blue run with some terrain features off to one side, and also a pee-wee rope tow at the bottom. The heavy family orientation of Snow Ridge and nearby Mccauley Mountain and Woods Valley have translated into local ski/race-school institutions which have turned out some really good skiers over the years. The result is a population of very talented instructors who will spend time with you for a fraction of the cost of a teaching session on a big mountain. Snow Ridge is definitely a great place to learn. There is a well-equipped rental shop on-site, and other great options in nearby Utica at Bike&Board or Schuss
To the right as you come off the ramp of the main chair is a very wide open slope with 4 distinct lines down. Directly under the chair is a narrow trail which for the most part spreads its' vertical over the whole length. Directly next to that, and separated about halfway down by a stand of pines is a section that is deliberately left ungroomed.
Watching the Utica weather report in the winter is such a predictable laugh: every night there is this white-blue blob which extends off of Lake Ontario over the tug-hill plateau. As a result. by mid-February, barring any significant thaw, driving through Boonville and Turn on the way there is a real hazard due to the monstrous 10"+ snowbanks on the corner's. These place do start to look for all the world like the pictures of mountain towns out west.
So hitting that ungroomed area early in the morning is actually the best chance a skier has east of the Rockies for practicing three-dimensional, edge-free turns. The "powder" is of the low-altitude variety, and freshwater at that, but the difference between it and a hard surface is striking and that smooth, gliding feeling is quite addictive and makes hounds of us all. This hill is perfect If you haven't developed these skills yet because above the tree-stand you can always hit the panic button and steer to either the left or right and get to a place where your edges will work again.
Early is important however, as since the vertical rise is so paltry the fresh snow gets tracked-up quickly even on a weekday when few skiers are there -- but even on a moderate day you can find lines with a mostly-fresh feel right up through to mid-day due to the generous width of that part of the hill. (lines that you won't find, even on a Saturday, are at the lift). This pod never really bumps up because of all that snow until later in the season, but navigating the tracked-crud in the afternoon is actually a great skill-builder, and if it starts snowing while you are there (excellent probability on any given day) this place can easily get 2 or 3 or sometimes even 4 inches in less than an hour and the conditions will change so drastically and quickly that it is as if you crammed three days into a single trip.
The other two lines on the northern part of the ridge are served by another ancient fixed double chair, and are excellent cruisers. One almost comical aspect of these lifts is the fact that the footrests have rusted off a good percentage of them. The hill crew takes grooming seriously and does a great job: full smooth corduroy will be found across the ridge in the morning, but this is mostly edged-over and often covered with new fresh snow by 11am.
One upshot of the puny vertical is safety: no way you are going to get lost and if you do get injured help is never far away. The patrols at Upstate local hills are all supplemented by volunteers who do it for free or discount tickets, so the ratio of patrollers to skiers is probably the highest you will find on planet Earth.
To the far-far left from the top of the hill is some poorly-marked terrain which the trail map does not do justice and which really should be rated double-black. From the leftmost marked trail at the top "Krukshank", you have to keep your eye open for this one tree that will have a very narrow track off to it's left. This will bring you into a wide, steep, bumped-up glade which ends with three choices: a narrow catwalk back to the trail, a very narrow, very steep gully that is more like a chute, or another 20 or 30 feet of steep bumps which dead-end at a cliff (which I haven't yet scoped so I don't know the drop, although it is pretty clear from the tracks that others do not just stop at the edge ...). Bring your helmet.
There is a nearby low-cost motel, and the Ridge owners also run a B&B and have developed some trailside ski-in lodging. Lots of the locals brown-bag and the uncomfortable hard-plastic chairs in the lodge are vintage 1970's, as is the cafeteria food. There is a full service bar/restaurant at the base in an outbuilding which has a woodstove, fireplace, and food which isn't that bad. The Buffalo Head is a local secret about 12 miles to the south which serves heaps and heaps of fresh, well-prepared American fare for a reasonable price in a welcoming, fun and family-friendly atmosphere. Be prepared to be eating left-overs for 3 days straight if you order either the prime rib or the cream pie, which you really don't want to miss...
The people you will find there are friendly but not fake, and very down-to-earth and unpretentious without being judgmental or prying. My wife refers to this place as a "living snow-globe" and we always drive away with a major skiers high, even when we've had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help push us out of getting stuck in the parking lot.