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Onondaga Ski Club

A Club For All Seasons


The History of the Onondaga Ski Club and Lodges


By Art Zimmer

The Onondaga ski club first got into the lodging business in the late 1950s. The club leased, on a seasonal basis, a lodge near Snow Ridge for several years. The OSC lodge was later purchased by Otto and Ann Frey and became their home as well as a bed and breakfast inn called Friehof lodge. Otto and Ann are the ones who have run several European ski trips for OSC. For many years Otto was ski school director at Snow Ridge.

In the early 1960s ski club members wanted a bigger challenge and leased a lodge for a few years at Whiteface Mountain. About 1965, for one season, OSC leased a lodge in Vermont on the back side of Mad River Glenn. This lodge was owned by Fred Gruner, owner of Dewitt Sports Shop.

After many years of leasing the various lodges, OSC members decided the "way to go" would be to purchase its own lodge. The club was doing very well; membership was over 1500 members; the sport of skiing was booming. In 1965 a lodge purchase committee was formed with Bob Baxter (a past OSC president) as chairperson. After a full year of careful planning a detailed plan of action was mapped out. The cornerstone of the plan was the selling of lodge bonds to raise the money for the purchase of the lodge.

The plan was presented to the Board of Directors and rejected. Many people in the club did not think OSC should be in the real estate or hotel business. Another major problem was that many board members would support a lodge purchase only if the lodge was located at their favorite ski area. So the era of OSC having a lodge came to an end, including no more leasing of lodges.

Two years later I became vice president of OSC. I had been a member of Bob Baxter's committee. Most of the members of the previous lodge purchase committee were so disgusted with the action of the board, seeing a year's worth a volunteer work go down the drain, that they did not want to get involved in another major "lodge battle." I then recruited about five club members who had not been involved with the previous committee. These five OSC members were all in strong favor of having OSC purchase a lodge. We worked quietly behind the scene for a year and a half. I felt that in order to succeed we needed to, in advance of going to the board, select not only the location area but the specific building to be purchased as well.

Each of the committee members were assigned a specific area to scout out the possible lodges available. We selected five areas: Whiteface, Gore, southern Vermont, central Vermont, and northern Vermont. Each person made many trips at his/her own expense to a specific area, working with real estate agents, scouring local newspapers and just driving around looking for For Sale signs. Some committee members even spent their own money to place "lodge wanted" ads in local newspapers.

During all this time, the committee received NO funds from OSC for any expenses. At each committee meeting all the lodges found were reviewed in detail. After a year the one best prospect in each of the five areas was selected. The committee as a group visited each one. Committee member Tom Conley had located one prospect in central Vermont that was finally selected as the lodge to try to purchase. A detailed plan was formed to sell lodge bonds to OSC members to finance the down payment and the initial cost of renovations and equipment necessary. It would be a big undertaking and no club in central New York had ever done this before (or after). The plan was presented to the board and hotly debated, then tabled. For the next three months, at all club meetings and events, the lodge purchase was the primary topic of discussion.

During that year I had become president of OSC. After two board meetings of hot debate I announced that next month a final vote would be taken on the purchase of the lodge. I pretty well knew where each board member stood on the issue, and it was going to be a close vote. The outcome could be decided by who was absent at the next meeting. After I called the meeting to order, the lodge purchase motion was made. I asked for a show of hands in favor, quickly asked for a show hands opposed, and quickly said, "Motion passed, next order of business please." There were no questions or protests. Soon the meeting was over and that was it.

At the next board meeting, the question was raised on what the actual vote was. I said it was a tie, and in case of a tie, the president votes to break the tie. Of course I voted for the lodge purchase. The question of the vote never came up again. For many years only a few of my close friends knew the motion actually went down to defeat by one vote.

Now the work began in earnest. First order of business was the sale of the lodge bonds. It even surprised lodge committee, that had now been expanded. Sales were brisk and on target to our original projections. Then one day Tom Conley called me. He had been to Vermont that weekend, and Floyd Bagley, the farmer from the we were purchasing the lodge, had changed his mind on financing. In those days no bank in New York would finance a lodge in Vermont. No bank in Vermont would finance a lodge purchase for a bunch of New York skiers. So one of the prerequisites of a possible lodge to purchase was an owner willing to hold the mortgage. Lodge bonds sales were going well, but the most we could hope for was to raise a good down payment and do immediate renovations necessary to make it over from a private home to a club lodge. I had grown up on a farm so it was decided at an emergency lodge committee meeting that I should go to Vermont and try to change Floyd's mind.

I put on my oldest work clothes and planned my arrival in lower Granville for milking time. I sat on a bale of hay in the barn at Floyd's son's farm, a half-mile south of the lodge, and talked "farmer to farmer" to Floyd for two hours. All of Floyd's friends and family were telling him he was crazy to hold a mortgage for a group of wild skiers from New York. After two hours Floyd was unconvinced and the deal was dead. On an impulse I made Floyd an offer: I would personally guarantee the mortgage and back it up with a pledge to put one of my apartment complexes up as collateral. Floyd said okay.

Several more months passed and lawyers in Vermont just weren't doing much. They were used to moving at a snail's pace. After the third report to the OSC board from the lodge committee that no closing had taken place and none was scheduled, a motion was passed to cancel lodge purchase if it were not completed in thirty days. It was getting close to the end of the thirty days so I called Bob Gang, a lawyer and OSC member and asked him what we could do. He said "Let's drive up there tomorrow and do whatever it takes to get the deal done." So we did. We went to the barn, and Bob "lit a fire" under Floyd. We went to each lawyer's office, and Bob "kicked some legal tail." We made two trips to the state capitol to get necessary papers, and the next day the final closing was done!

Now the big problem was beginning-- how to sustain the lodge financially. Lodge usage fees just about covered the mortgage and taxes. There were the lodge bonds that had to be paid back with interest and major expensive renovations to make the place usable for a club lodge, such as electrical systems, heating, plumbing, hot water, bathrooms and furnaces. I conceived the idea of having the lodge committee sponsor a major annual fund-raiser to support the lodge and payoff the bondholders--> the birth of the OSC Ski Show and Sale (*see note below).

The first several years the ski show was a function of the lodge committee. It eventually grew so big that it was spun off into a separate committee. The ski show profits paid off the mortgage to Floyd early, repaid the bondholders with interest ahead of time, and paid for major improvements to the property.

Now twenty-five years later here's an update on the three key players who made the lodge a reality. Tom Conley died several years ago from a head injury he suffered from a fall off a ladder at his home. Bob Gang is retired but still an active member of OSC. I am still a member of the club (35 years of continuous membership), retired from active involvement in a leadership role for several years. My last major role in OSC was 16 years as Director of the Ski Show, along with serving on the Board of Directors for 21 years.

I feel that a large part of the continued success of OSC over the past twenty-five years has been due to the lodge and ski show, probably the club's two most important projects.

I wish Onondaga Ski Club continued success and hope for a long, successful lodge operation.

Best of luck in the future,

Art Zimmer

P.S. The lodge and ski show were not the first mega-projects that OSC undertook. Check this footage out. In the mid 1950s OSC operated their own private ski area for club members only. It was called Little Tuck and was located on the highest hill in Onondaga County, about five miles north of Song Mountain. At that time most of the current local ski areas were nonexistent. You either skied at Drumlins or Snow Ridge.

By 1960 commercial ski areas were open and had new, modern high-tech equipment like J Bars, T Bars and indoor bathrooms. Little Tuck could not compete with these modern marvels. In 1961 to club decided to raise a lot of money (equivalent today to about $600,000) and do a major upgrade At Little Tuck. Ski area bonds were sold to club members to raise money. The land was owned by Syracuse University and OSC leased it. A long-term lease was necessary before such big money was invested. SU would not give a 10 year lease and as a result, the entire area was abandoned by 1963. The land remained abandoned and unused for 20 years. Finally SU sold a building a lot at the bottom of the hill. To this day the rest of the area lies unused. You can still drive along Woodmancy Road and see where some of the old trails were cut through the woods.

*note:

As you have read above, the Onondaga Ski Club over the years undertook the tasks of organizing, arranging for sales items, entertainment, location, and staffing with volunteer club members for the annual Ski Sale. Over time, economic conditions have changed, and so has the club. While we enjoyed putting on the Ski Sale each year, it took a lot of time and energies that we now are utilizing in different ways. The club has moved on to other things now and the void has been filled by "for-profit" organizations. As they say, "It's been fun."
For more information about the Ski Sale you may want to read SYRACUSE SKI SHOW

 


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