JOURNEYS INTO NEW JERSEY
A winter's Friday is the time for a weekly mass exodus as folks can seen heading out of the area to ski slopes in the Catskills, Poconos, New England by car, and beyond by plane.
But there was a time (before the interstate and before air travel became routine) that many more folks opted for local slopes. And local slopes there were.
Names like Great Gorge, Vernon Valley and Snow Bowl are now part of New Jersey's past. Today only Campgaw, Mountain Creek and Hidden Valley remain.
But the first of them all was Craigmeur.
Located in Newfoundland, New Jersey, Craigmeur became the first official ski area in the state in the winter of 1937. It was also the longest continual operating ski area and the largest "learn to ski" area in New Jersey. It was a great feeder area for the other larger ski areas in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.Named by Hugo Meury and wife Helen Craig after themselves, this first ski area began originally with just one small slope for Hugo, Helen Craig, their families and friends. After Helen's death, the hill opened to the public and grew quickly.
Craigmeur was the first ski area in New Jersey to have a rope tow. Some reports claim that the rope tow here was the second one in the United States.
Craigmeur was also unique as it was a reverse ski area. The parking lot and the lodge were at the top of the slopes.
Back in its early days the ski area was quite a phenomena.
For example, During the mid 1930s many of New York City's top department stores like Bamberger's, Bloomingdales, Wannamakers and Sax Fifth Avenue were all selling ski equipment and ski clothing in their stores. Some of these department stores also gave ski lessons inside their stores on ski slides. Some of the stores also sponsored the early ski trains out to the local ski areas. Ski trains and buses used to run from New York City out to several of New Jersey's ski areas. The Craigmeur Ski Area was one of them.
A train station was located just off Route 23 in Newfoundland. The train allowed skiers to access several slopes in the Montague area and High Point. For $2.50 skiers could get a round-trip train ticket to High Point State Park on Sundays. For $13.50, a person could get a round trip ride to Montague, stay Friday and Saturday night, ski and have meals in an all-inclusive offer. From there skiers would be shuttled up the mountain in buses to Craigmeur. Even back then many others also drove to the ski area.
In 1942, some white Christmas lights were hung down the side of one of the slopes.
These were probably the first lights used for night skiing in New Jersey.
Before the snowmaking and grooming equipment were installed, the owner was known to personally groom the slopes every day by side stepping the trails with his own long wood skis.
According to legend, there are stories that if he saw you fall and if you did not fill in the hole that you made or if you skied the same line all the time he would ask you to leave.
He didn't want the skiing experience ruined for the other customers.
In 1955 some of the first snow-making equipment was used there.
Craigmeur closed as a ski area in 1998.
In the summer of 2005 Dorothy Murray decided to sell the ski area property to the Morris County Parks Commission. The former ski area property has been preserved as open space, the Craigemur Recreation Area, featuring picnic facilities At times, rumors have been heard that the old ski slopes might be opened some time in the future as snow tubing runs.
Elizabeth Holste, widely recognized as the foremost authority on the history of skiing in New Jersey, has written a comprehensive book about Craigmeur and more. Her "Skiing In New Jersey" takes an interesting look back at the development of the sport that found its way to the Garden State during the 1920s.
Today only three ski areas remain open in New Jersey, but thanks to Liz you can relive the thrilling descents of yesteryear at dozens of rope tows and other lift operations that were found throughout the state. The book also covers key skiers who called New Jersey home, as well as ski equipment manufacturers of yesteryear.
Liz also maintains a Facebook page on the history of skiing in New Jersey. You can also catch her presentation in person on March 15 at the Jefferson Township Library in Oak Ridge (1031 Weldon Road), where she will be doing a New Jersey ski history talk with a slide show and some NJ ski area memorabilia.
By the way, there's also a Facebook page specifically dedicated to remembering Craigmeur as well as a great website maintained by Rick Bloger, who is these days involved in skiing with the Sparta High School ski team.
We hope to have Liz share some of those stories in some of our future journeys, but for now her book is worth the click or trip to a book store or library.
It can put you on the slopes decades earlier without leaving the comfort of your home.
Eric Model explores the "offbeat, off the beaten path overlooked and forgotten" on SIRIUS-XM Radio and at journeysinto.com.