It was 1963 when Fred Sarkis, then a national food service company executive, got a visit from two General Motors engineers.
As he recounted in an early publication of Bristol Mountain Winter Resort — then Bristol Mountain Ski Center — “the boys were out scouting for capital for a ski center in the beautiful Bristol Hills” and “the men had put together a land package that would give Bristol the highest vertical rise from here to the Rockies.”
Sarkis recalled: “One and a half million dollars later, in December 1964, the ski center opened.”
That was half a century ago. It hasn’t been without growing pains — Bristol Mountain nearly froze from debt in the winter of 1969-70 — but the mountain resort in South Bristol rose to become one of the largest ski destinations in the Mid-Atlantic. Bristol Mountain’s 1,200 feet make it the highest vertical between the Adirondack/Laurentian Mountains of the East and the Rocky Mountains of the West.
“I was afraid it was going to close. I am glad it survived,” said Frank Trovato, who remembers the challenges in the early years. Shortly before the 2013/2014 season opened Thanksgiving day, Trovato picked up his 50th season pass.
Five decades ago, when Bristol Mountain opened its inaugural season, its claims to fame included four, Italy-imported chair lifts — electricity and motor-operated to boot — and as the Daily Messenger reported, its “high powered lights” turned its “slopes into day.” Bristol Mountain’s “latest in safety features” included attendants manning all lifts at the bottom, top and mid-stations to help skiers and watch for trouble, along with attendants being linked via “control buildings through a telephone system.”
The passing decades at Bristol have brought advances that kept up with technology and trends, on and off the slopes. Think the addition of high-speed detachable quad and Magic Carpet conveyor lifts; two terrain parks; Summit Nordic and Demo Center; more lodges including one with a ski-in, ski-out option; upgrades to snowmaking and grooming equipment and methods; extensive lodge renovations; and a brand new kitchen — along with several more trails, hiking the number to 34.
It is rewarding, said Bristol Mountain General Manager Dan Fuller, who bought the resort with Tom German from Central Trust Company in Rochester in December 1984. Giving people a place where they can enjoy healthy, outdoor recreation is satisfying work, said Fuller. What’s more, Bristol Mountain is a place where “a lifetime of memories” are created, he said.
Memories on the Mountain
Perhaps the most widely known memory from Bristol Mountain is when U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy visited in March 1967. When Kennedy couldn’t make it for the ribbon-cutting ceremony as planned during his run for Senate in 1964, founder Sarkis recalled, he promised to visit another time. He kept his promise during a visit in which Sarkis experienced an unforgettable 80 or so minutes of one-on-one conversation with the senator as the pair took eight chairlift rides together on a cold, sunny March day.
Page 2 of 3 - “Senator Kennedy skied with wild abandonment. Had it not been for his falls, I would have been unable to keep up with him,” Sarkis wrote of that experience. “One dramatic fall was caught on film, and years later, after his death, his wife, Ethel, requested a copy.”
The visit was 15 months before the senator was assassinated in California on June 4, 1968.
Other memories carry colorful stories of escapades during winters that could have dragged on with cabin fever if not for an outlet like Bristol Mountain.
Take the ski instructors from Austria who not only offered expert coaching, but became fast friends with the mountain regulars such as Frank Trovato. Trovato recalled he and his friends, then in their late 20s, enjoyed hanging out with the instructors, socializing and buying them drinks. Trovato said they admired the instructors to the extent that they followed them around, “imitating them.”
There was also the attractive wife of the head instructor who, Trovato recalled, skied down the mountain on warmer days in her bikini.
That was one nice memory of Bristol Mountain in the spring, Trovato said, along with clearing rocks with his friends from areas of melting snow to help clear the way for the following season.
Bristol Mountain “was something to do — and it became part of my life,” he said.
Others share similar sentiments — for instance, Chuck Lill, another skier whose history with Bristol goes back to its beginnings.
“I have been lucky enough to ski many places,” said Lill, who has skied some of the most prominent resorts in the United States, Canada and beyond. At Bristol, it’s a “more intimate experience,” he said, with conveniences not found at other resorts such as easy access from parking lot to lift.
“It’s great skiing, great convenience and great snowmaking,” he said.
“They do an awesome job,” said Arthur Hirt, who has also skied many places and holds a torch for Bristol Mountain where he has skied for decades. He likes Bristol’s variety of trails, lack of crowds and other features not found at many other ski areas, he said.
Pepi Neubauer, a national and world champion skier from Naples who has skied dozens of ski areas worldwide, said Bristol Mountain is “one of the best areas in the East with snowmaking that is exceptional and the grooming is top of the line.”
“Having a ski area of this caliber is a wonderful thing for all ages,” said Neubauer, who won his 100th national title last year at Big Sky in Montana. “It is great skiing for all levels from beginner to expert, and all this in our backyard.”
A peek at the future
Up next at Bristol Mountain is its expansion to a year-round entertainment venue. Planned for spring 2014 is the opening of the Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventure Park, a $750,000 project that will offer a wide range of activities and equipment, including zip lines and other aerial features — of various challenge levels — for all ages.
Page 3 of 3 - “As we continue to further develop our winter business, we will continue to research opportunities for expanding into a year-round venue,” said Fuller.
Bristol now has an established state certified child-care facility open year-round. And the next major development, along with Aerial Adventure? It’s the Galaxy Glen project: ski-in, ski-out trailside cottages nestled around the Galaxy Express chairlift.
For hours, ski and snowboard conditions, resort events and more, visit http://bristolmountain.com