Skiing in the Shawangunks has a similar history as the development of skiing in general. Long before skiing became more specialized between today's various disciplines of nordic, alpine, jumping and the expanding varieties of snowboarding, freestyle and extreme skiing, the simplistic and utilitarian skiing brought by Scandinavian immigrants in the late 19th century had transformed itself from basic transportation to healthy exercise by the 1920s. Prior to the 1930s and the Olympic Games coming to Lake Placid in 1932, most people associated skiing with ski jumping and the lower Hudson Valley was a hotbed of that activity, with events being held at the popular Bear Mountain State Park Jump, attracting thousands of spectators.

    With his Finnish heritage, Gust Williams was chiefly responsible for establishing skiing in Rosendale by bringing together a group of Scandinavians, mostly Norwegians, in 1936 and formed the Telemark Ski Club. They began racing on trails at Williams Lake and ski jumping at the ski jump they constructed at Joppenbergh in 1937. During the same period, the Smiley family promoted healthy outdoor exercises of skiing and skating for the boys at the Mohonk School, which operated at the Mohonk Mountain House hotel and hosted ski outings of other groups on the property's extensive carriage trails.

A group of ski tourists below Sky Top in the 1930s. Courtesy of MMHA

     Like many sports, skiing in the area saw a decline during World War II, and it wasn't until the late 1950s and early 1960s that ski activity began to revive. Skiing across the US as well as the local area saw a surge in interest and growth following the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. Ski trains from New York City began to bring skiers to the growing alpine ski areas in the Catskills during the 1950s while both Mohonk and Minnewaska developed small hills with tows that catered to the local skiers in the early 1960s. During the same period, cross-country skiing saw a revival in Rosendale with the formation of the Rosendale Nordic Ski Club in 1963.  

With memories of the old Telemark Ski Club, cross-country ski racing became a regular feature at Williams Lake through the encouragement of owner Walter Williams, whose son Ed had become one of the East's best Nordic ski racers while attending Dartmouth College. Williams Lake Hotel had become an early ski touring center that lasted until 2006 when the family sold the hotel.

     Along with the ski jumping tournaments that returned to Joppenbergh Mountain in Rosendale, Walter sponsored ski races that included many Olympians, and in 1965, organized and hosted the first modern-day competition for women in the United States... a 5 kilometer race that was won by Norwegian Olympic medalist Beben Enger. Without local high school nordic ski programs, the Rosendale Nordic Ski Club promoted and attracted younger skiers that would later encourage the foundation for high school programs that developed in the 1970s.

     In 1965, the Rosendale Nordic Ski Club hosted the first National Biathlon Championships at Williams Lake trails. Among the competitors in that first championship was Ed Williams, who was assigned to the US Army's Biathlon Training Center at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Ed later participated in the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France. Along with cross-country skiing and ski jumping competitions, biathlon also became a regular feature at Williams Lake Hotel in Rosendale. With the hosting of biathlon races, it became the discipline that allowed many local skiers to achieve national and international competitive status. During the Viet Nam War era, local skiers Kari Liekoski and Art Stegen, who started their ski racing careers during high school with the Rosendale Nordic Ski Club, also did their military service at the US Army's Biathlon Training Center in Alaska, and were members of the US teams that participated in international competitions. Art Stegen, a member of World Championship and 1980 Winter Olympic teams, spent a career introducing youth into skiing, along with coaching the US National team, the local New Paltz high school team, and the US Armed Forces biathlon teams.

Like his father and with memories of the Telemark Ski Club of the 1930s, Walter Williams brought back ski jumping and cross-country racing with the establishment of the Rosedale Nordic Ski Club in the 1960s. (RNSC photo)

     By the late 1970s the development of the larger alpine ski areas in the Catskills made the local hills at Ski Minne and Bonticou economically unfeasible and ceased operating. However, during the same time local activity in ski touring and cross-country ski racing was increasing. The many carriage roads at Minnewaska and Mohonk were ideal for ski touring, and each began regular grooming for the increasing number of day visitors to the Shawangunks. The local high schools added cross-country skiing to their scholastic athletes programs, and the NYPHSAA's Section 9 began sending competitors to the state high school championships. By 1983, New Paltz High School was hosting its home competitions on the trails at Mohonk's Guyots Hill, and became the first high school to win both the boys and girls state championship in the same year, as well as winning the boys relay and finishing second in the girls relay. Many local high school skiers went on to compete on the national junior levels and some even to senior level including the World Cross-Country Ski Championships. Several who participated in biathlon were members of the US Junior Biathlon Team.

Ted Peck, Walter Williams' grandson, and Mark Ruoff of New Paltz participated in the World Junior Biathlon Championships.

     With the on-going trail maintenance and grooming of the Mohonk Preserve, the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and at the Historic Mohonk Mountain House, the Shawangunks have become a destination for cross-country and backcountry skiers from the nearby metropolitan areas as well as becoming a widely-known area for other outdoor recreational activities. With access to over 100 miles of carriage roads and trails along the 2,000 foot high mountain ridge in the Gunks (As the Shawangunks are known), including linkages between the adjacent Minnewaska State Park Preserve and the Mohonk Mountain House resort provide a varied topography to meet the needs of novice and experienced skiers. An ideal location for the introduction and development of skiing skills, as well as winter outdoor environmental education, the Gunks offers great skiing in the serenity of the woods in winter, with the remarkable and varied scenery ranging from panoramic views of the Hudson Valley at Castle Point to the Catskill Mountains from Sky Top.