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Scribner's Lodge
Photograph: Courtesy Read McKendreeScribner's Lodge

How to plan a perfect ski trip to the Northern Catskills

All of the essentials for a memorable winter sports getaway

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason

So you want to go on a skiing (or snowboarding) trip to the Catskills. 

Turns out, there’s a lot you should know before you go—from how the most popular mountains in the region differ from one another to where you should dine and stay while you’re up there. Luckily, we’ve got the lowdown on the most important planning tips before you throw those winter clothes in the back of a car and drive 2-3 hours upstate. (Here’s a quick one right up top: plan a stop at Woodbury Common on your way up or down. You could come back to the city with some great mountain memories and a half-off dutch oven!) 

Whether you’re sticking to the bunny slopes or ride-or-die black diamonds, there are enough things to do in the Great Northern Catskills to make any winter trip worthwhile.

RECOMMENDED: The best ski resorts near NYC

The two main destinations for skiing and snowboarding in the region are Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain. Hunter Mountain is the less expensive option, a day on the slopes there can sometimes be half the cost as one at Windham. That extra money gets you a greater variety of runs at Windham as well as generally better grooming conditions—the runs there can be less icy than Hunter. Both mountains have stunning views and decent sized runs for the region. Hunter has a spectacularly rocky cliff face which adds to the overall ambiance, and the crowd at Hunter is more diverse with Windham attracting more families. 

Hunter Mountain
Photograph: Courtesy Hunter Mountain

In addition to its gorgeous gorges and stunning peaks, Hunter Mountain has 65 trails and is serviced by 12 lifts. A majority of the runs from the top of the mountain are black diamonds, there are only a handful of ways to get all the way down while sticking to blues. Luckily, if you’re more of an intermediate skier, those blues—including White Cloud and Belt Parkway—provide some of the most astounding views of the surrounding Catskills mountains.

The main dining area at the foot of the mountain is very rustic—if you had a bad experience at summer camp growing up, you may find it triggering—but the sit-down restaurant Van Winkle’s is a great option to polish off a day on the slopes. Also, if you’re not much of a skier or snowboarder, you can still get your thrills at New York Zipline Adventure—the highest, fastest and longest zipline canopy tour in North America.

Your best choice for lodging near Hunter Mountain is the fashionable and welcoming Scribner’s Catskill Lodge—a former ‘60s-era motor lodge that has been tastefully renovated to create a light, airy and warm base camp. The 38 available rooms vary in size, but many are large enough that they feel more like standalone cabins than hotel rooms. Some of them also boast in-room fireplaces and lofts. While you’re there, be sure to take advantage of the outdoor sauna (you can book a time when you check in) and make some new friends around the fireplace in the chic and modern lobby. (Pro tip: room rates vary quite a bit from weekdays to weekends. If you can swing a mid-week trip, do it.)

Photograph: Courtesy Moriah Molfe

Another plus when it comes to staying at Scribner’s is being able to take advantage of its spectacular restaurant, Prospect. In addition to tasty bites, the space is serving up views for days with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Hunter Mountain and the surrounding landscape. A trip for breakfast is worth it for the elevated Egg Sandwich ($14) with bacon, cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs on a delicate brioche roll. The dinner menu has a number of standouts including a captivating Creamy Burrata ($21) which offers an unexpected pairing of roast mushroom-chestnut butter and pickled mushrooms. The Smoked Trout Rillettes ($21) are also a sharp, fresh starter. (Plus, if you’re in the Catskills, it's a requirement that you have trout at least once. Seriously, they won't let you back on I-87 if you don't.) For entrées, don’t miss the hand-made pasta or the delectable Prospect Burger ($21) with black truffle aioli.

Photograph: Will Gleason

If you’d rather explore the area, the nearby town of Tannersville is the place to go. The quaint main street packs in a bunch of top-notch dining options from the classic burger spot Mama’s Boy Burgers to the quirky Last Chance Antiques and Cheese Café. The Catskill Mountain Country Store is also a fun spot with unique gifts offered alongside hearty plates of free-range omelets. (It actually has two locations—one in Windham and one in Tannersville. The Windham location has a bit more to offer.) If you can handle driving a bit farther, head down to Circle W. Their mouthwatering Reuben is worth the additional steep, snowy mountain drive, even though you may feel like you’re in the opening of The Shining while you’re doing it.

While we’re on the subject of driving, here’s some great news: Hunter and Windham are only a 20-minute drive from each other. As a result, it’s very easy to hit up both from any of the nearby hotels. Still, if you’re looking for a spot extra close to Windham, look into booking a room at Eastwind. This rustic-glam retreat is just a short drive away from the mountain and offers a handful of incredibly unique, insta-ready Scandinavian lushnas (tiny triangular cabins) that make for a very memorable trip. If those are all booked up, not to fret—there are also some cabin-like rooms available in the resort’s more traditional buildings. (The Writer Studio offers the most bang for your buck. It’s a bit small but has some great character, charm and a bed surrounded on three sides by windows.)

Photograph: Courtesy Lawrence BraunEastwind

You can grab a cocktail at the bar at Eastwind, but you’ll want to drive into the town of Windham for dinner. It's about a five-minute drive away. One standout restaurant there is Millrock—an Italian restaurant with insanely delicious homemade pastas and traditional sauces. They don’t take reservations, but heads up: the restaurant just opened a fun “speakeasy”-style bar that’s accessible through a back entrance. You can grab a cocktail there while you wait for your table. 

Windham Mountain—which also has some solid on-site lodging options for those wanting to be extra close to the slopes—gets very busy on weekends. So much so that there’s a good chance you’ll have to park all the way across the street from the mountain. If you do, wait for a bit before hiking all the way to the chair lifts: a free shuttle bus regularly stops in all of the lots to take skiers and snowboarders to the main building. The mountain, which has roughly two separate peaks, has 54 trails and 11 lifts. If the lines are excessively long at the main lifts, consider heading over to the East Peak Express Quad lift where they’ll often be a bit shorter. That lift also leads to the lovely green run Wanderer which provides a longer and more scenic route than beginners are usually able to get on a mountain. 

Windham Mountain
Photograph: Courtesy Windham MountainWindham Mountain

If you’re looking for a quick bite at Windham, like pizza or chili, head to the Mountain Express Cafeteria. The outdoor, European-inspired “Umbrella Bar” is also a cool new addition to the food-and-drink scene on the mountain, offering eight craft beers on tap, a full bar and wine with 360-degree views of the slopes (so you can keep an eye on when the chair lift lines are at their shortest to throw back your drink and run back out.)

One other lodging option that should be on the radar of anyone planning a winter trip to the Northern Catskills is the lovely Shandaken Inn, about a 30-minute drive from Windham and Hunter. The refined getaway is a magical lodge nestled between mountains alongside the Esopus Creek. Originally built as the clubhouse for the Rip Van Winkle Golf Course, the renovated space now features 15 unique and tastefully appointed guest rooms (each named for a regional camp) that pairs rustic charm with modern elegance. 

Shandaken Inn
Photograph: Courtesy Shandaken InnShandaken Inn

Grab a cocktail at the bar and drink it next to the lobby’s roaring fireplace before dining at the Inn’s restaurant and bar The Clubhouse. There, you can start off with some fresh small plates—like the crisp, delicious Classic Caesar ($15) or the savory, complex Foie Gras Terrine ($25)—before moving on to your main course. The must-try dish on the menu is the Roasted Duck Frites ($38), but the Grilled Hanger Steak ($34) with magic myrna potato, maitake, shallot tart and bordelaise is also a perfectly balanced dish. For cocktails, don’t miss the Sage Old Fashioned ($15) with bourbon, sage syrup and bitters. It pairs great with staring into a crackling fire and losing track of time.

Shandaken Inn
Photograph: Will GleasonShandaken Inn

Just be sure not to indulge in too many! A full day on the mountains awaits you in the morning (or, potentially, of outlet shopping on your way back to the city.)

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