Two cross country ski areas will operate in Osceola this winter after all.
Osceola Tug Hill Cross Country Ski Center founder and owner Hugh Quinn plans to stay on to run the ski shop but will leave trail maintenance and grooming up to Tom Pryor and Kristin Gaugler, a husband and wife team who bought about half the trail acreage over the summer. Quinn had warned he’d close down completely and retire if he could not find a buyer for the property where he has run the ski center for 40 years.
Meanwhile, Osceola Ski and Sport Resort, opened by retired state trooper and Camden Nordic ski coach Dustin Hite and his wife Christina, is approaching its first full season barely a mile down Osceola Road.
Not only will cross country skiing on groomed trails be maintained in a spot on the Tug Hill Plateau that can get 300 inches of snow a year thanks to lake-effect from Lake Ontario, but it will be expanded.
Operators of both say there’s plenty of business. Pryor compared the pairing to that of the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake area, where nordic centers at Dewey Mountain and state-run Mount van Hoevenberg make it a destination for enthusiasts.
“People want to cross country ski, and if they have a place to stay, then they can ski two different places in two days,” Pryor said. “I’m not doing anything to compete with Dustin. His operation is going to be much more extravagant than ours. We’re just going to try to continue on with what Hugh did: Keep it simple and provide a good facility for people to ski.”
Pryor and Gaugler bought the 102 acres and the trails south of Oscola Road, about 28 kilometers’ worth. Pryor recently retired from teaching English special education and coaching at the high-school level, and Gaugler is a high school guidance counselor in Syracuse. Both have skied for years at Osceola-Tug Hill, and when they learned that Quinn was looking for a buyer they thought about it and proceeded to make an offer.
Though they live in Chenango County, Pryor grew up in Old Forge, and worked a couple years grooming cross country trails at the town-owned McCauley Mountain nordic center. Back then, he groomed by hauling a loaded barrel with old skis attached behind a snowmobile to groom and set tracks, but he and Gaugler bought a high-end specialized grooming machine for Osceola-Tug Hill to replace one Quinn had sold as he looked to retire.
Pryor plans to take charge of grooming, while Quinn will run the ski shop, where he sells and rents the remainder of inventory of skis and related gear he’s built up over the years.
“We’ll do a different grooming technique. We’ll groom first and then track second. And we’ve widened the trails a little bit,” Pryor said.
The cafe will be kept but there’s little other non-skiing infrastructure upgrade coming other than perhaps some fire pits outside. The emphasis will be on the skiing experience, which is what proved successful for Quinn, Pryor said.
“And if I fall through thin ice, it won’t be the first time in my life … We’re very lucky to have his knowledge. That’s key. And he has a lot of followers. … I’m going to do everything I can to continue what he started. There’s not going to be any major changes.”
As for the trails on the north side of the road, Quinn said he had made a commitment to consider another offer before Pryor and Gaugler came forward. He does expect it will be available for skiing, however.
While he would have preferred a simpler transition, the arrangement allows Quinn to work less, he added.
“I would have preferred an all in one sale, but the way it is working out may very well be a better solution in the long run,” he said. “All and all, life is good.Grandkids are 4 and 6 and a blast to be with.”
Down the road, Hite is taking a broader approach at Osceola Ski and Sport Resort. This will be the first season for a newly built lodge with a kitchen serving soup and sandwiches, “comforting food,” Hite said. He has also applied for a wine and beer license. In addition, there is a gear rental and sale shop, and lessons available, led by area high school nordic racing team members.
Opening was pushed back from last winter by delays in getting state water and septic approvals, though a few family and friends did use the 20 kilometers of trails. A biathlon range has been built, with a backstop embankment for shooting. Four cross country running races scheduled for this year, and two biathlon events are tentatively scheduled for mid-winter.
A lodging component is coming perhaps by December, Hite said.
And skiing may be here soon.
“We’re in October and feasibly, winter’s within four to six weeks, six weeks probably,” he said. “We’ve had some of the best skiing in November, and then in December we get poor weathter and then in January it gets better again. At any point in time on the hill we could have good weather, or good ski weather.”
All involved are also optimistic that the timing is good. Not only are long-range winter forecasts favorable, but they believe the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has prompted more people pursuing and trying outdoor pursuits this spring, summer and early fall will translate into more interest in cross country skiing.
“We’re outdoor sports enthusiasts. We love skiing,” Gaugler said.“That’s how I get through the winer, because I think it’s a shame to hibernate for so many months when we have so much of the white stuff.
“My hope is especially with the timing of this pandemic that this may be an opportunity for the sport to grow and people to try it that have never tried it before. So I’m hoping that this could be a good thing for the Osceola area.”