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Titus Mountain outside of Malone has gotten a facelift and new energy. Photo: David Sommerstein
Titus Mountain outside of Malone has gotten a facelift and new energy. Photo: David Sommerstein

Titus Mountain makes a comeback

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This week, we're revisiting some of our best stories from 2013. Today, the story of a North Country ski area that's made a big comeback after years of neglect.

Titus Mountain, outside Malone, has new local owners, a new lodge, new trails, and a burst of energy.

Titus is one of a shrinking number of ski areas that play an important role in teaching people to ski. In March of last year, David Sommerstein prepared this story.

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A Titus Mountain slideshow. Photos: David Sommerstein

 

At the base of Titus’ bunny hill, the entire fourth grade class from Massena is on skis for the first time ever.

Some kids slide backwards and squeal for help. Erin Cook wobbles, but stays on her skis.

COOK: It was kind of hard knowing what you were doing, kinda hard to walk on them. “Did you fall?” No, not yet. “Do you think you will?” Yes. “Is it fun?” No.

Emily Pedersen’s faring a bit better.

PEDERSON: At first it felt weird, but now I got the hang of it.

Titus is proud of its first time skier program for kids. It’s like an assembly line, from sidestepping to stopping to going up the bunny hill in minutes.

SKI INSTRUCTOR: Then you’re gonna bring your skis together like this. You’re gonna slide and make a pizza stop. Stop! Beautiful! Good, go to the rope tow.

By the end of the day, many of these kids will be cruising the bigger hills. Jill Vaquez is a parent helping to chaperone today.

VAQUEZ: I think it’s a good experience for them, because a lot of ‘em, their parents don’t have the means to get them out and when they go to the school, they get to experience new things.

Vaquez hadn’t been up to Titus in years. She says it looks better under the new ownership.

VAQUEZ: It’s wasn’t as clean. It wasn’t as neat. It wasn’t as organized.

Inside the renovated lodge, I hear two people gasp, “awesome”, when they walk in. It looks Adirondack-y, with two stone fireplaces, a long wooden bar, and lots of windows and skylights.

BOILARD: It’s calm, comfortable, and it’s peaceful.

Annie Boilard of Huntingdon, Quebec reads a book by a window. Lots of Canadians ski at Titus because it’s minutes from the border. Boilard says she likes that she can glances out the window and see her 16 and 20 year-old boys skiing. She says the atmosphere is smaller and safer than a place like Whiteface.

BOILARD: My youngest likes it, but my oldest wants bigger. “Do you think you’ll go sometime to the bigger mountain?” No, never! [laughs] It’s close here and I don’t like to drive over there. It’s too far. It’s too big. For me, it’s too big.

Titus officials are fine with it even if kids like Boilard’s sons do graduate to bigger mountains.

SAVAGE: Every year, we take hundreds, probably thousands of kids and introduce ‘em to the sport, and we like to think of ourselves as a nursery for all the larger ski areas in the area.

Dene Savage is Titus’ marketing director. He grew up on this mountain. His father was the first general manager in 1960 when it was christened Moon Valley.

Paul Augustine, a businessman from Minnesota, bought the area in 1980. He expanded the hill to three peaks and more than 30 trails, added super-popular night skiing, and renamed it all Titus Mountain.

But Savage says Augustine contracted Parkinson’s Disease. As he got sicker, his management team in Minnesota didn’t share his passion for Titus. The place settled into, Savage says, a “ho-hum rut”.

SAVAGE: When you would come to the mountain, if you had something you wanted to do you went and did it. But you never came and were surprised by anything or really saw a whole lot new goin’on.

Augustine died on New Years Day 2011. Titus almost closed. But one of Malone’s biggest business families, the Monettes, bought Titus and poured about a million dollars into restorations and expansions.

MONETTE: It brings a lot of tourism to town. It’s a jewel for Malone, and we wanted to keep it going.

Bruce Monette says there was self-interest, too - losing Titus would’ve hurt the family’s chain of convenience stores and its Holiday Inn, too.

Feelings run both ways in Malone about the Monettes. Bruce Monette says he’s aware of the accusations on local bulletin boards – that they fix gas prices, that Titus is now just another part of their empire. Monette says they’re like the New York Yankees.

MONETTE: Y’know the Yankees have a giant fan base. But they also have a lot of people that don’t like the Yankees.

In addition to the lodge, the Monettes have added 14 new trails, mostly ungroomed glades that younger skiers and boarders love. Titus now offers ladies-only ski classes. And there’s a new sugarhouse this spring, making syrup on site from 6,000 maple trees. Monette says they’re filling a niche and growing it.

MONETTE: We’re not Whiteface that’s gonna attract the double black diamond skiers. We’re a family mountain where you can come, ski, bring your entire family, your kids, let ‘em run wild, have all the fun they want, and know where they’re gonna be at the end of the day.

Lift tickets sold are up this year, especially after last year’s brutal winter for ski areas. But the Monettes will have to prove they can repeat their early successes.

People learn to ski at all mountains, of course. Even double black diamond Whiteface has a robust ski education program. But there are far fewer smaller, family style ski areas left in the Adirondacks.

Places where girls like fourth grader Erin Cook of Brasher Falls can ski for the first time. She’s the girl who said she wasn’t having a good time this morning.

I bumped into her at the end of the day, lounging in the cold sunshine with a self-satisfied smile on her face.

COOK: I ended up getting better at it than I thought I would be. I was able to go faster, then stop. I feel like I can do it again.

 

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