ON THE SCENE: New Scotts Cobble Nordic Center a hit with youth

From left, Colin Francis, 15, and Ethan Cash, 16, members of the Lake Placid High School Nordic ski team, enjoy the ski trails at the Scotts Cobble Nordic Center outside Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Back in 1937, the North Elba Town Board, under the leadership of Willis Wells, and the Lake Placid Ski Club, led by William Hovey, decided to create a ski center at Scotts Cobble, a small hill adjacent what is now the Craig Wood Golf Course. The goal was to strengthen Lake Placid’s growing reputation as a winter sports destination by stepping into the emerging new sport of downhill skiing.

Operated by the North Elba Park District the ski center opened on Jan. 8, 1938. Within a year, the town board was urged to institute a bus service out to the popular destination to make reaching the ski center more affordable to locals and visitors.

Now, 50 years after its closing, Scotts Cobble is again open as a ski center, though this time with a Nordic focus, and, within that, as an effort to get our community’s youth skiing.

The brainchild of High Peaks Cyclery owners Brian and Karen Delaney, their afterschool ski program is a huge hit. For many locals who learned to ski out at Scotts Cobble, this new learn-to-ski program for area youth has struck an emotional chord.

“The school bus used to bring us out there after school three times a week,” said Jerry Strack, owner of Central Garage. “It was free, and everybody had a helluva good time. It was a good learning hill. They had a little concession stand and occasionally night skiing Fridays. I think it’s great that the Delaneys are getting it going again.”

Brian Delaney (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Brian and Karen are multi-sport athletes and enthusiasts. Last year, hearing about Tupper Lake’s cross-country ski center (which includes night skiing) located at the golf course on Mount Morris, former home of the Big Tupper Ski Area up the road, they went to check it out.

“Karen and I skinned up Big Tupper, skied down, and then went over to the Nordic center,” said Brian. “As it was getting dark, we turned our headlights on but soon realized we didn’t need them as they have motion detection lights along their trails. We thought this was awesome. In a follow-up trip, we learn about their and Dewey Mountain’s community ski program that provides free instruction for kids. We thought we were missing the boat. We, too, need a free program to get kids out skiing.”

The Delaneys shared their idea with Butch Martin, head of the North Elba Park District, who loved the concept, and together they pitched the idea to town Supervisor Derek Doty.

For Doty, the idea had several pluses. First, it would enable Craig Wood to become better used year-round, get more kids outside having fun and get exercise. Second, the Delaneys would do the heavy lifting.

“Everything seemed to fall in place,” said Doty. “The earliest user was the FISU Games Mac Pac program that brought out at least 200 kids daily. Before Scotts Cobble opened, we had to acquire and design equipment so the trails could be packed and groomed. As we had a period of bare ground and no snow, our highway department guys used the time to make rollers and track setters that a Ski-Doo could pull.”

Denise Erenstone with granddaughter Holly (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Their timing couldn’t have been better. The school needed activities for kids. Thus, the Delaneys’ vision of a program focused on kids filled a need, 10 kilometers of groomed trails plus free skiing, lessons and rental of skis, boots and bindings for kids.

In addition, skiing on a golf course takes very little snow to be skiable. Downsides are the tracks on a golf course are vulnerable to being filled in whenever the wind blows, and a bright sun melts snow melting quicker than trails located in the woods. The Delaneys dealt with those challenges by grooming the trails a few times a day and providing waxless skis that function well in various snow conditions.

Added benefits of Scotts Cobble are stunning views, its closeness to the village center and the Craig Wood tavern open for parents waiting for their kids to come off the slopes or anyone who wants refreshments.

So far, the afterschool program has been a big hit, especially on Fridays when school buses bring youth out to Scotts Cobble. On Friday, Jan. 28, well over 100 kids from 2 to 17 were out skiing. Several dozen parents and non-parents volunteer their time to provide hot chocolate and other treats for the kids coming off the slopes, teach skiing, help outfit the youth and watch over the bonfire. Youth and adults were all having a great time.

“This program is a beautiful gift for kids to come out altogether in a very structured program that provides them the opportunity to learn how to ski and have fun,” said Suellen Albert. “I didn’t learn how to ski until I was an adult, so having this venue and program is a great asset. The kids will take it with them for the rest of their lives.”

“I think this is the nicest thing that Brian and Karen are doing,” said Sandy Bissell, who brought her granddaughter out to ski. “My granddaughter is psyched. She had no idea that half her class was going to be here. She got here and said, ‘You’re here, and you’re here, and you didn’t tell me you’d be here.'”

“It’s a great program for the kids to come out, get outside, be active and try out skiing,” said Jason Morganson, who had three kids out skiing, ages 2, 6 and 11. “This is turning out to be a good winter for our kids and us. Many of the kids’ teachers and family members are here along with their classmates.”

Young people are as enthusiastic as their parents. Colin Francis, 15, and Ethan Cash, 16, members of the Lake Placid High School Nordic ski team, described the Scotts Cobble Nordic Center as “very nice, it’s been great, and it’s nice to be able to be active outdoors — and to have some snow finally.” In line waiting for her hot chocolate, young Gabby said she likes to “go fast and down very steep hills.”

Gabby’s dad, Luke Hudak, said, “This has been an awesome new asset for the community. The kids and their parents love it; many volunteer, and it’s nice to have something that benefits the locals. Our thanks to Brian and Karen for setting up out here and the town for making it happen.”

“The number of parents out here blows me away, plus the number of people volunteering who don’t have kids,” said Denise Erenstone. “The kids are having a great time, and when they have fun, they’ll stick with it.”

“Future Olympians come from programs like this,” said Brian Delaney.

Scotts Cobble Nordic Center is open seven days a week, free for local kids any time, $15 a week day and $20 weekends for adults, with season passes at $50. Donations are accepted to help cover the cost of purchasing the youths’ skis, boots, poles and related expenses.”

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

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