Ode to Ironwood Ridge

In the 1970s, Central New York skiers had a gem of a ski resort just fifteen miles from downtown Syracuse called Ironwood Ridge. This facility offered 500 vertical feet, five downhill trails ranging from intermediate to suicidal, night skiing, cross country, bunny slope, pro shop, a modest lodge and one 1800-foot T-bar.

Alright savvy mathematicians, sharpen your pencils. A bit of trigonometry shows that Ironwood Ridge had an average 16-degree vertical drop, making it perhaps the best downhill racing facility in the area. The lodge was downright cozy if unassuming; I can still remember Cat Stevens playing on the old 8 track as I swept up in exchange for a season pass.

Despite its popularity with locals, Ironwood Ridge chose not to expand or even replace its old T-bar. When approached by clients wanting a newer, faster chair lift, owner Peter Reynolds explained that the T-bar was actually a benefit, because a chair lift would have exposed skiers to the high winds that were all too common above the tree line. Instead, the T-bar offered a sheltered “walk through the woods”.

In the lodge, my favorite space was a small 70s-style glass-and-wood polygon lounge with throw pillows everywhere. One could settle in with a hot chocolate and watch all the yahoos bombing down Milky Way under night lights. The slopes were open until 10PM most nights.

Ironwood Ridge was located on Oran-Delphi Road, near SR20 about five miles southeast of Manlius, NY.

Here is a brief description of the main trails as I recall them:

Milky Way traversed the woods up top, made a gentle left turn, then steepened and opened up into a grand promenade down to the lodge. This was the easiest trail to see from the lodge and made for great people watching especially under the lights.

Meander zig-zagged a half dozen times sharply through the woods. Because it was always traversing the fall line, this was both the longest and the easiest trail. Turns were banked, making it possible for even modest skiers to stay in a tuck all the way down to the lodge. It was also a personal favorite on those cold, windy nights!

Because Main Street was wide open and straight down the fall line, it was the favorite slope for setting up competitive slalom events. Its biggest drawback was the need to traverse a few hundred yards from the lift to the start of the trail. An old picnic table halfway down the slope made for great event watching.

Skid Row was a challenging trail. It was perhaps twenty feet wide and straight down the fall line through the woods. One wrong turn and – ouch! Furthermore, this trail was unlit, making it the official headquarters of the Nighttime Downhill Association. This NTDHA was a small group of crazy teenagers in the days before snowboarding. To join, one had to successfully tuck the entire length of the trail at night and live to tell about it.

I recall there was a fifth trail called Ridge Runner just north of Skid Row that was nothing more than a double-diamond sign pointing into the woods. Occasionally you would see a lone ski track vanishing into the trees and hope to see it re-emerge at the other end.

The last time I visited the area, I drove past Ironwood Ridge hoping to see the familiar view of the lodge and Milky Way from Oran-Delphi road. But alas, time and dense foliage had reclaimed the landscape, making it impossible to see much more than an old dirt road snaking up the hill. But a quick online map search confirmed that a few artifacts of the old resort still exist. I’ve captured and annotated these for posterity.

Links

17 Responses to “Ode to Ironwood Ridge”

  1. excellent summary of a great relic of my own past as well. i grew up in cazenovia and learned to ski at ironwood. per your descriptions – it was a tough and terrifying place for a beginner. it built character for sure. much easier skiing was to be found down in new woodstock at mystic mountain.
    thanks.
    oh – you mught consider forwarding your into here to the person who runs a website on lost ski areas – check it out at
    http://www.nelsap.org/ny/ny.html

  2. Steve, thanks for your kind feedback and reference to the NELSAP site. Sky

  3. Sky –
    THANK YOU for your annotated map and reminiscence of Ironwood Ridge. Meander was the only trail I remembered on my own but reading your descriptions of the others refreshed my memory. I grew up in Manlius, about 10 minutes from Ironwood Ridge. I LOVED skiiing there as a kid – what a great family day. Many memories of snow days when the roads were impassable for school buses, but Mom found a way to skid the station wagon over to Ironwood.
    Luckily we were all too young to know that not only was the terrain lethal, but the equipment as well – lace up boots, bindings sprung way too tight, splintered wooden skis handed down from the 10th Mountain divison. However I don’t think my kids (on their lightweight plastic boots, safe bindings, and shaped skis) are having more fun than I did.
    It’s a tragedy that the small, fun, family-affordable ski area has just about disappeared. Everyone has to have the high-speed quad. Of course Ironwood Ridge had a high speed lift since the T-bar ride only took about 90 seconds 🙂 You could get in 20 runs in an hour, it seemed.
    And Steve, there was easier skiing at Mystic Mountain, but there was also some good challenging skiing there too. One year we got a family season pass there when there was a good snow winter – we must have gone skiing 50 times that winter. Pretty much all of the skiiing ability I have now at age 40+ is a result of all those miles under my skis as a kid at Ironwood, Mystic Mountain, Toggenburg, Labrador, Song Mountain. I now realize how spoiled I was to have all those options within ~30 minutes of home (and even Greek Peak if we were up for a longer road trip).
    Thanks for the memories!

  4. Hi John,

    Thanks for your nice feedback and wonderful additions. Yes, I remember the old rental gear. I worked part-time in the chalet one season in exchange for free lift tickets and rentals, and somehow managed to get the good stuff that was normally reserved for private lessons. Then I bought my 205 cm Fisher RSLs and under-foamed boots at some local ski extravaganza and it was all downhill from there. 🙂 Regards, Sky

  5. I just found this blog as I searching for the name of the ski hill that used to be in New Woodstock. I grew up in Manlius and I remember my fathers friend worked for the Ski Patrol at Ironwood. So what was the skii hill in New Woodstock?

  6. The New Woodstock (Cazenovia) place was Mystic Mountain.

    I grew up in Manlius, and taught at Drumlins (remember the area’s biggest ski school there) during my junior and senior years in high school. In those days, ski areas reciprocated, so I skied free at other places. Many’s the time I grabbed an hour of ski time at Ironwood Ridge after school and before dinner!

    I REALLY miss Intermont, too.

  7. My dad ran the ski school their for many years and we always got a free family pass (although, as I remember not many people paid to ski) I skiied their every weekend and some week nights. Broke my leg on Milkyway after Pete Reynolds planted a tree under the headwall trying to suck of some of the water that always ran down the trail.( the tree broke off after my contact with it) Night skiing was interesting as Pete and his crew pointed the lights up hill! On sunny days the deck on the lodge was full of adults drinking wine as us kids tucked Skid Row! Great times, miss that place!

  8. My last season at Ironwood Ridge was as an SU student in the mid-70s. Pete agreed to give a group of us season passes in exchange for helping prep the slopes for the upcoming season. I don’t recall planting any trees, but we sure slogged through our share of strategically placed drainage ditches plus dug a few ourselves. Bob, you just reminded me of that foot-deep lake that would form at the end of the run after the first good melt off, then freeze into a solid block of ice a few days later. Regards

  9. I used to ski with Bob Mahony and some other kids from our neighborhood in Fayetteville. I agree with John that it is a good thing we didn’t know the terrain was lethal… We became fearless kids on those slopes. I remember Bobby’s broken leg!

  10. David, were you one of those crazy kids who used to jump on that tiny access trail (i.e. 3-feet-wide tiny) from Main Street over to Milky Way? I thought they were out of their minds, but quite fun to watch!

  11. I’m pretty sure there was no trail we didn’t try many times. I still have vivid memories of skiing Ironwood for several great seasons. I don’t think that I am quite as fearless on the slopes these days.

  12. You are correct. It was just a shortcut between trails, but some of the youngsters had built a sizable jump in there. One would spot at the last bend in Milky Way while the others bombed in from Main Street then flew out the other side, probably a good eight feet in the air.

  13. My husband and I just bought the ski lodge this past summer. I would love to know more about the lodge and mountain! I love this stuff!! Anyone have any pictures of the place?

  14. F-M Class of 73 Post Graduation gathering for 18+ was there. I supplied music

  15. Amy, wow, congrats to you and your husband on a wonderful purchase! Did you purchase any of the slope as well? Please let us know how you develop or transform the property. If it will be your residence, I know exactly where to put the entertainment room and pool table :-). I had just started taking black-and-white photos with my dad’s old Kodak Retina back in those days, and don’t recall ever taking any at Ironwood. If you or others find anything I’ll be happy to post them (or links to them) here. Best regards, Sky

  16. We built above the pond below the Milky Way! Thanks for the info! Post some pics if you have some!

  17. I am an avid CNY Skier and never had the pleasure of exploring the Ironwood Ridge Trails. I knew of the area and the timing just didn’t work out for me to ski there…I love hearing about the place and know the location well..Can we buy it and ski there again? 🙂

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