The Storm Skiing Podcast #2 | Download this episode on iTunes and Google Play| Read the full overview at skiing.substack.com.
Who: Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay, Owners, Plattekill Mountain
Why I interviewed them: Because Plattekill flat amazes me. Situated deep in the Catskills interior, surrounded by better funded and bigger neighbors, nearly unknown outside of die-hard ski circles, the odds of this family-owned mountain still existing at all, let alone thriving, would seem remote in our days of octuple chairlifts and Ikonik gigapasses. But there it is, a sort of Little-Engine-That-Could clanking one refurbished snowgun at a time into 2019. This was not an accident. It was not luck. It was two people busting their ass for 26 years, reinvesting deliberately in the hill, plugging snowmaking at a one-run-per-annum rate into the incline, and slowly building a community around that intangible thing called atmosphere that makes skiing Plattekill unlike skiing anyplace else in the state. And they did all of that by avoiding debt like blue ice after a refreeze. How they did that against considerable odds was a story that I wanted to hear.
What we talked about: Skiing together since they were kids; their terrific first winter as owners (1993-94); when the mountain almost fell apart during their second, terrible winter (1994-95; imagine not opening until February!); snow farming; why real estate is a dumb strategy for building a sustainable ski business; the Plattekill model of deliberate investment/no debt; how the Plattekill model could have saved lost Catskills ski areas Bobcat and Cortina; the mountain is one giant glade; yes the front five double blacks are absolute freefalls but the mountain has some terrific greens and blues and for families or novices it offers a hell of a lot; turns out a The New York Times feature story about your mountain rental program is pretty damn good marketing, so if you own a mountain maybe do that? How the mountain rental program started when 20 people showed up on a midweek powder day and Laszlo was like, “we’ll open for $2,500,” and some dude was like, “cool,” and they all went skiing; what happens when Vail sets up shop in your backyard by buying your largest rival; is Alterra buying Windham inevitable? And speaking of giant unwieldly conglomerates bwah-ha-ha-ha Platty is still here and has anyone seen American Skiing Company around here anywhere oh yeah there’s its carcass in a Dumpster in lower Manhattan; Laszlo does have a favorite big ski conglomerate though; The Freedom Pass; the Indy Pass and why the Vajtays, uh, passed on it; where Platty’s passholders come from; Belleayre. Oh, man, Belleayre. Laszlo is not a fan of operating in direct competition with a state-subsidized ski area, especially as a taxpayer who is essentially then doing the subsidizing. How can that be remedied? Laszlo has some ideas. Why the Vajtays would rather compete with Vail or Alterra than ORDA. Also – how often and where the Vajtays ski (turns out that when you own a mountain, you get to ski a lot); what Win Smith said to Laszlo when they went skiing together. Also, this:
Four of Plattekill’s front five double-black divebombers in February 2019. L to R: Northface, Giant Slalom, Plunge and Freefall. A T-bar used to run up Plunge. Laszlo talks about the painstaking process of refurbishing and installing the Northface Double Chair that replaced it and is pictured here.
Things that may be slightly outdated because we recorded this a while ago: Laszlo announced a reciprocity agreement with Homewood, a mountain seated on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The place looks rad but I’ve never skied there or anywhere in Tahoe (big ski resume gap). This appears to be a separate agreement from the Freedom Pass arrangement, as Homewood is not listed as a partner in that alliance but does have a pretty amazing list of season pass reciprocity deals (really wish more East Coast mountains forged these sorts of free-ti