Diverse range of skiers flock to Hunter

When snowboarding enthusiast Marquis Williams, 51, was working as a financial exec for American Express in the late 90s and early aughts, his job would often take him around the globe — he even lived in Prague working with Amex for several years.

“I’ve skied all over the world,” says the former restaurateur and now multi-property owner.  “Out West, Europe, you name it.”  But his favorite mountain, where he now owns a second home with his family and has a season pass to? Hunter Mountain in the Catskill Mountains of New York.

Not for its crazy vertical (it offers a 1,600-foot vertical drop, often coated in man-made snow), nor for its thousands of acres of off-piste terrain (there are 13 lifts and 67 trails, all inbound). It’s simply fun — and partially because not everyone looks the same.

“In a lot of parts of Europe, everyone on the slopes was blonde and blue-eyed,” says Williams, who is Black. “At Hunter, because it’s so close to the city, there is so much diversity. Not just the color of people’s skin or the language they speak, but their religious affiliations, their socioeconomic backgrounds. At so many resorts I’ve been to, people look like they just walked out of the ski shop where they asked for the most expensive snowsuits or gear they had. At Hunter, you can ski in jeans and an Islanders jersey and no one bats an eye. It’s like being in the city — you can see a skier in a hijab, or a yarmulke. It’s just part of the natural landscape.”

Shira Derasmo, an Israeli by way of California, grew up skiing at Lake Tahoe but prefers Hunter. “It feels less competitive at Hunter. Less intense. Less snotty. It’s welcoming.” 

Courtesy Shira Derasmo

This, he says, is exactly what makes the Hunter crowd so interesting. “I’ve never felt any type of pretentiousness here,” he says, adding that the après-ski scene is his favorite in all the world. “It’s just a fun hang, an anyone-is-welcome type of vibe. Sometimes a group of us will go and not even snowboard, but just sit at the base, have a drink, watch the skiers in the terrain park and meet people from all walks of life. Everyone is down to talk, and everyone there is cool. It’s just a down home, great spot.”

Shira Derasmo, 44, who is Israeli, agrees. Also a snowboarder, she grew up in California, where she regularly skied at Lake Tahoe, occasionally Mammoth or Big Bear. Now she and her husband and their three-year-old daughter live mostly full-time in their second home in nearby Tannersville.

“For nine years I’ve been skiing almost exclusively at Hunter,” says the founder of Cuttlefish Communications, a PR firm. She says despite knowing there are bigger mountains out there, she has no real desire to go anywhere else.

“The people I meet in the lodge and lift lines at Hunter are so overwhelmingly nice. Like, ‘I’m having a house party, you should come,’ type of nice.” (She adds that she even has gone to a house party with people she met in the lodge after a day on the slopes.)

“It’s similar to being in the city, in that people will talk to strangers. They’re not cliquey the way they can be at other resorts. And you can be on a lift with people from all walks of life. I’ve ridden with a plumber, a graffiti artist, a CEO. You just get that vibe that people want to chat and talk about where they’re from, how often they come, their favorite runs of the day. It feels like a community.”

She also notes that, despite Hunter’s occasional reputation for being home to party bros who might mow you down on the slopes, she’s faced much ruder skiers out West, where there’s more of a sense of entitlement on the slopes. “It feels less competitive at Hunter,” she says. “Less intense. Less snotty. It’s welcoming.”

Marquis Williams was in his 20s when he began skiing at Hunter, taking buses from New York City to avoid a pricey overnight stay. Now he and his family have a second home near Hunter and a season pass at the ski resort, where the low-key vibe, he says, hasn’t changed.

Marquis Williams was in his 20s when he began skiing at Hunter, taking buses from New York City to avoid a pricey overnight stay. Now he and his family have a second home near Hunter and a season pass at the ski resort, where the low-key vibe, he says, hasn’t changed.

Courtesy Marquis Williams

That could be partly due to the fact skiers can easily make a day trip out to Hunter, which draws a younger crowd — buses like OvRride bring skiers from various locations in the city to base lodge three days a week, sparing anyone from having to spring for overnight accommodations.

(OvRride’s CEO and President Jamie Kiley agrees that Hunter was their number one destination for many years, though he says recently, Belleayre has picked up Hunter’s mantle as the most popular ski mountain for their riders, partly due to the convenience of being able to rent skis and book lessons at Belleayre with the bus ticket.)

“When I used to come here in the 90s, it was a lot of day trips,” says Williams of his 20s. “It wasn’t too expensive that way. You’d go and come right back. Though there was a lack of decent housing back then,” he says, noting that’s what prompted him to buy his own rental property in nearby Lanesville in 2019.

Today, the town has seen a huge surge of hip new hotels and home rentals — three new hotels opened in the area or changed ownership in 2021 alone, and German beer garden Jägerberg, across from Hunter’s entrance, offers an added après-ski option. Nearby Tannersville also added two new restaurants in the last few months, and more hotels are in early planning stages.

Still, Williams says Hunter’s low-key vibe hasn’t changed one bit in the 25 years since then. “There are plenty of wealthy people who ski at Hunter,” he says. “But if someone hit the bar dressed to the nines in the most expensive ski suit you could buy, it would probably be weird.”

Hunter is ‘a welcoming place’

Jamie Kiley says Hunter for years was the top destination for his ski bus service, OvRride, though lately Belleayre is becoming a more popular mountain for NYC daytrip skiers.

Jamie Kiley says Hunter for years was the top destination for his ski bus service, OvRride, though lately Belleayre is becoming a more popular mountain for NYC daytrip skiers.

OvRride

Adam White, Senior Manager of Resort Communications Northeast at Vail Resorts, which acquired Hunter from Peaks Resorts in 2019, says there are plenty of reasons why Hunter feels more accessible: it’s what some might call a “starter mountain.”  

“Hunter is the people’s mountain,” he corrects. “Its proximity to New York City [126 miles south], the melting pot of the world, certainly means it caters to one of the most diverse groups you’ll ever see at any mountain.


One could make the same argument for neighboring Catskills peaks. As Kiley points out, Belleayre is gaining on Hunter’s “people’s mountain” status and is a favorite among locals. But Hunter still has an unstuffy, friendly appeal, more so than Windham, he says. Maybe that’s what attracts new skiers.

“It’s the very first place thousands and thousands of people will ever ski in their life, so you can’t be pretentious,” says White. “Hunter’s entire identity is that it’s a welcoming place.”

Which means total newcomers to the sport can feel safe falling down on the bunny hill over and over, and no one will make them feel bad for it — instead, they’re more likely to pick up your poles, bring you safely back to the lift. They might even stay with you and give you some pointers.

“It’s not trying to be exclusive,” White says. “It’s trying to be as inclusive as possible.”

Still, he notes that just because the clientele at Hunter is diverse, there is much, much more that needs to be done in that area in the sport as a whole. “A barrier for a lot of people with skiing for decades has been the cost,” he says, noting that Hunter recently dropped its lift prices by 20 percent to try and combat that issue.

“The affordability movement is so important, mainly so that so many more people can experience it and see if it’s for them. Because once you catch that bug, it ends up being a lifelong thing, something they share with their families and generations to come. The health and future of the industry relies on that.”  He says that historically, the classic profile of a skier has been people who look the same and are in similar income brackets — yes, that means wealthy and white. He’s intent on changing that.

“The people on the mountain needs to be a reflection of our society,” he says, adding that Vail actively reaches out to various ski groups like the National Brotherhood of Skiers and Albany’s Nubian Empire Ski Club to bring them to slopeside events.

“You have to actively reach out to groups that are underrepresented, and make sure people feel like they belong so they want to come back. It’s about making an effort to engage, and to get rid of that air of elitism that skiing has had for so long.”

White also talks, in the way that skiing enthusiasts often do, about that joyous feeling you get when you’re outside on a run, enjoying the crisp air, taking perfect turns down a perfect trail. “I want to share that feeling with everyone,” he says.

White, like Williams and Derasmo, agrees that there’s probably no resort like Hunter Mountain in terms of diversity, but also in terms of its easy-going vibe and casual friendliness, which he attributes to its location.

“There’s an attitude of acceptance there,” he says. “That feeling of ‘everyone being in it together’ informs that attitude. That’s always been a key part of Hunter’s DNA, and we’re committed to preserving that identity.” 

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