Catamount Ski Area, located on the Massachusetts / New York state line near South Egremont, Massachusetts and Hillsdale, NY, is one of the original Berkshire ski areas in the Northeast founded in 1939.
The careers of its owners, the Gilbert and Edwards families, ski area management is extensive – going back more than 60 years.
Catamount first opened in 1939 by John (Jack) Fisher. The mountain was served by three rope tows – two 1,000′ long, the third 800′ long. A 500-vertical-foot climb beyond the summit of the tows was required to reach the summit.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, an article appeared in the New York Times touting a wonderful new Berkshire ski area. Unfortunately, that same day brought tragic news from Pearl Harbor. With the nation on a war footing, Catamount closed until the winter of 1946-47.
The first generation of Gilbert and Edwards, Bill and Don, began their ski industry in the 1953-54 ski season, when they were responsible for implementing snowmaking and subsequent management of a small New York State owned ski area called Fahnestock in Putnam County, NY. The following year, they assumed the same responsibilities at Silvermine a newly created New York State ski area along the Palisades Parkway. In 1962, they built and operated Sterling Forest Ski Area in Tuxedo, NY. Like many ski areas in New York and Massachusetts, these three ski areas are no longer in operation.
Meanwhile, skiing really started to grow in the Berkshires in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, with the opening of Jiminy Peak, Brodie Mountain and Butternut Basin.
The partners and Catamount remained on parallel courses through the ’60s. Bill secured his place in ski operation history by developing and marketing the first airless snow machines – a highly energy-efficient snowmaking process that utilizes electrically-powered fans, rather than compressed air, to create snow. The company he founded, SMI, became a leader in fan-type snowmaking, and remains so today.
At approximately the same time, Bill joined the newly-formed New York State Tramway Board – one of the first such boards in the world. In that position, Bill played an instrumental role in creating the tramway codes now used to ensure ski lift safety worldwide. In 1974, Bill sold his interest in SMI and, together with Don, purchased Catamount Ski Area.
Their son’s, and current owners, Tom Gilbert and Rich Edwards have also grown up in at all of these ski centers operated by their fathers, first as participants of the sport, and soon after, as employees in almost all facets of the business. Tom is also active in other ski industry activities, serving as board member of STRIDE Adaptive Sports, Treasurer of Massachusetts Ski Area Association, member of the ASTM International Committee F27 on Snow Skiing Standards, and is an active participant with the New York Passenger Tramway Advisory Council, a division of the Department of Labor responsible for safety in skiing.
Catamount has remained one of the top recreation draws in the Berkshires, thanks to philosophy of continually improving and expanding the ski area and its services. Since acquisition, the team has added lifts – including two chairlifts and three Wonder Carpet lifts; greatly upgraded facilities for beginner skiers and riders; and nearly doubled the amount of skiable terrain at the mountain and continued to diversify the summer operations.
Trail expansions and improvements included such popular runs as Sidewinder (originally built in 1990, and re-cut and re-graded in 2001; Catapult, the steepest run in the Berkshires; Upper Promenade, which now gives beginners a mile-long run and affords more experienced skiers nearly a 2 mile route from the summit, and one of the Berkshire’s best snow terrain parks.
In 2006, Catamount replaced the old Ridge Run Double Chair with a new Summit Quad Chair Lift. This increased uphill capacity to the summit tremendously. Also, the boardercross was moved to Sunrise and expanded for double the fun. The Fishers Fluke trail was added in 2014 as was glade skiing in the meadows area.
In 2009, Catamount opened the first self-guided Arial Adventure Park to operate at a ski resort. Currently this park has in excess of 170 elements making it one of the largest in New England.
Snowmaking has been continually expanded and improved upon over the years. Today, more than 98 percent of terrain is covered with snowmaking- using updated versions of the snow guns Bill developed nearly 40 years ago.
Both Tom and Rich can be found almost anywhere in and around the mountain both winter and summer (as well as spring and fall). So the legacy continues.