The snowbanks in the southern Tug Hill Plateau used to sometimes reach the power lines along the road. Dustin Hite remembers seeing them that big while riding from Camden to Osceola to cross country ski as a kid. Now, skiers are lucky if the snowbanks are “only” four or five feet high.
If all goes well, though, by this winter Hite will take advantage of that still-copious snowfall that draws winter sports enthusiasts from across the Northeast to the region known as one of the snowiest in North America, where annual snowfalls regularly reach 300 inches on the first high ground downwind of Lake Ontario. He is building a cross-country ski lodge and trail network to be called the Osceola Ski and Sport Resort.
Winters might not be what they used to be, but they’re still plenty snowy on the Tug Hill.
“All it takes is four or five weekends where it’s beautiful bluebird skies, and people come out in droves,” Hite said. “I mean, 25 degrees and sunny skies, and people are coming from everywhere.”
Hite, 45, was on the first varsity cross country ski team Camden High had in the late 1980s, and has been involved in the sport since. He coached the varsity teams at Camden, one of five schools with nordic teams in the area — with Holland Patent, Whitesboro, Adirondack, and Webb — and continues to coach youth competitors. He has also joined the Vermont-based trade group Cross Country Ski Areas Association.
A recently retired state police officer, Hite received financial assistance in the form of a loanthrough Lewis County and regional economic-development agencies, purchased property at 1575 Osceola Road, just across the Oneida-Lewis County line, and is building a 3,500-square-foot lodge along with about 15 kilometers of trails. The property had some logging skidder trails already, and grooming machines — for skate and classical style tracks — are soon to be delivered.
The property abuts that of Osceola-Tug Hill cross country center, which has drawn skiers since the early 1980s. Owner Hugh Quinn has said this will be his last season running it. He has sought buyers, and Hite said he pursued it, but it did not work out financially.
Quinn said the new ski center might cost him business in the short run but in the long run can be a benefit because having two ski areas makes Osceola more of a draw for skiers coming from out of town.
“I think the area can support three or four commercial areas,” Quinn said.
The new lodge will not have overnight accommodations, but longer-term plans include guest cabins, Hite said.
The area has a reputation for reliable snow, and Hite said he hopes to add to the draw. He is seeking a health permit to open a cafe serving modest meals like sandwiches and soup, and is pursuing a license to serve beer and wine. He will pursue hosting events like weddings and conferences, as well as mountain biking, in the off-season.
And in the winter, the lodge will also offer a place for skiers to change into and then back out of ski clothes — important for the many skiers who travel long distances to Osceola-Tug Hill down the road, including mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware.
“The number I keep using is three quarters of the people that come here and ski are from at least an hour away if not more,” Hite said. “The I-81 corridor from the south is a huge asset to us.”
While the greater Tug Hill region draws skiers to free-of-charge areas such as state forests and the Black River Environmental Improvement Association network near Boonville, Hite said a paid area has advantages. For one, BREIA does not groom its trails for skate-style skiing and has signs posted against it. And then there’s the lodge he is building and its planned amenities.
“For us locals, it’s nothing to go to BREIA,” Hite said. “We bring our hot chocolate with us and we go home. But for people that are traveling from an hour or more away, they want to be able to come in, sit and change, have a bite to eat, and then go home. They’re between an hour to four hours away. They want to change out of their ski clothes.”
The resort will also have a fleet of Fischer brand rental equipment, supplies and accessories to help people who’d like to try Nordic skiing but lack the gear. It’s part of Hite’s hope to promote the sport he loves.
“It’s a great sport,” Hite said. “If we get more people excited about doing winter sports it’ll be beneficial to us as a business, but also it’s beneficial health–wise to get people out and ski.”