Orville and Izzy Slutzky, enterprising brothers, based the success of Hunter Mountain on the art of snowmaking.
Over the years - 50 of them - the Slutzkys embraced better and more efficient snow guns, new groomers, and high-speed chairs.
The Catskill resort became a favorite of New York and New Jersey skiers and, later, snowboarders, and remains so to this day.
Operators say 95 percent of their customers come from south of Exit 18 on the New York Thruway, and 75 percent come from northern New Jersey, Long Island, and the Metropolitan area. Less than 5 percent come from Albany, since skiers and snowboarders from there would rather drive farther north and west than take the shorter but counterintuitive trip south to Hunter, or Windham.
The family turned attention more recently to high-end real estate, and now is building the highest and longest zipline in North America.
Hunter's summit is 3,200 feet above sea level, with a 1,600 foot vertical drop, 240 acres of skiable terrain, 11 lifts, and 55 trails.
Snowmaking remains the heart of winter operations at Hunter.
The area can pump 43 gallons per minute per acre, driven by nine compressors that can produce 60,000 cubic feet per minute of air, and cover one acre of terrain with one foot of snow every hour. A tour of the snowmaking plant was a step back in time, as most of Hunter's huge compressors date back to the early 20th century. The plant has one modern compressor, with the next newest made in 1946 and the oldest more than a century old. All but the newest had seen previous uses; one, for example, came from the Philadelphia Gas & Electric Co., and had pushed natural gas to customers in that city. Another was from a U.S. Navy shipyard.
Bruce Transue, who heads the snowmaking department, said most of the equipment qualifies as antiques, and when something needs repairs, it often means having replacement parts specially machined.
"They're still working, and doing a great job," Transue said.
Hunter deploys about 1,100 snow guns of various types, with up to 300 firing at peak capacity, as it turns about 500 million gallons of water into snow every season.
Izzy died, and Orville is in his 90s, but their children entered the picture over the years, and several are closely involved with operating the resort today. Izzy's son David is in charge of mountain ops; Orville's son Paul is in resort real estate development.
Hunter completed the Kaatskill Mountain Club in August 2005, a new fractional ownership condo-hotel development in the base area, which added a high-end note to their real estate offerings. Brian Czarnecki, who oversaw the $17 million project, said it was 65 percent subscribed at groundbreaking, and sold out six months after opening.
"We looked at Killington and Mount Snow and a few other competitive fractional hotels, and went three or four steps further in our concept," Czarnecki said. He said materials and construction methods cost more than many similar projects, but produced a more substantial result.
The Kaatskill Mountain Club has 115 rooms in 77 units, with design occupancy of 460 and maximum occupancy of 470. The club added to Hunter's bed base, which stands at 750 to 800 rooms. That in turn makes longer stays possible, moving Hunter slowly toward overnight customers rather than day trips.
The club has a first class restaurant, VanWinkle's, where Executive Chef Salvatore Taccetta and Sous Chef William Lyons ply their trade seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.
The club has 90 percent occupancy on winter weekends, and 35 percent occupany year-round, Czarnecki said. He credits weddings - 27 last year, and 22 booked this year; eight festivals from April to October, which attract 85,000 people; and a zipline that's under construction, set for completion July 4 weekend, and expected to attract 30,000 people a year.
The zipline will be the longest and highest in North America: 3,400 feet long and 600 feet above the ground, because it will carry riders from one ridge to another over a valley on the side of Hunter. Two other related zipline projects include a canopy tour and and advenutre tower, Czarnecki said, to be completed by late spring.
Hunter's Jessica Pezak says the zipline and canopy tour will be another attraction that will solidify Hunter's offerings in spring, summer, and fall, although it will operate year-round.
Hunter, at 50, is poised for the next half century.