Hunter Mountain: it’s not just for skiing

by Sonja Stark on April 22, 2015

Hunter Mountain Fire Tower

Hunter Mountain Spruceton Trail

HUNTER, NEW YORK: Hunter Mountain is best know for it’s advanced snowmaking technology with dozens of guns blanketing the mountain during the ski season making the resort one of the best in the East. But, snow reputation aside, Hunter is also the second highest peak in the Catskills and ideal for a day hike on a beautiful spring morning.

Incidentally, Sunday was one of those days and, especially for the masochists who like snow, there’s still plenty of it at higher elevations. A foot and a half of the slippery, crusty stuff turned my trek into a bit of an embarrassment when I tumbled twice onto my kneecaps, spilling my water, and nearly damaging my camera, all because I scoffed at the idea that my Kahtoola MICROspikes were needed this late in April.

The door hatch to the cabin atop the Fire Ladder was locked but the last perch still provided fantastic views of the Blackhead Range and Windham High Peak. Below me, a group of Japanese hikers arrived via a steep trailhead called Stony Clove Notch. They spread out their blankets on the dry, warm earth for a much-deserved lunch.

A picnic table next to the Ranger Station afforded me a place to munch my own sandwich and kick back with the Sunday New Times travel section. The wet splotches on my pants from where I fell in the snow dried fast in the direct sunshine.

I returned to the car the same way I came up; along a well-established jeep road called Spruceton trail dotted with blue tree markers and used for horse travel.

My journey was a fairly easy ascend/descent of seven miles made just slightly more challenging when I detoured for a 2.2 side trip on Colonel’s Chair. The rocky 500-foot descent and ascent is not worth the effort, in my opinion. If you like scenics of the Hunter Ski Bowl, take a ride atop the ski lift anytime during the summer.

Hunter Mountain

Hunter Mountain

Hunter Mountain


Spring into hiking with French Mountain

by Sonja Stark on April 16, 2015

Seeing double atop French Mountain in the Lake George region on a balmy April morning.

Seeing double atop French Mountain in the Lake George region on a balmy April morning.

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. – The remaining pockets of snow in Lake George glitter like forgotten tinsel in the bright sunlight. Our red Microspikes cradle our hiking boots for (hopefully) the last time this season, gripping at thin slabs of ice between glacier-scoured stone and crunchy, dead leaves.

Leftover piles of cold melt fast when it’s this balmy and, at this rate, all should disappear by days end. It’s my Mom’s first time hiking in the Adirondacks since her surgery a month ago so we’re pacing this climb slowly, breaking often for electrolytes.

This short vertical climb of 1.2 miles or 2.4 roundtrip is French Mountain, a notable region ravaged by three bloody campaigns fought during the French and Indian War of 1755. A monument at the head of the footpath marks the site where British American Colonel Ephraim Williams (benefactor of Williams College) was killed. I’ve driven past this camels hump of a mountain dozens of times and never thought it hike-able, until now.

After the short history lesson offered up by the plaques, we sidestep down and off the trail and onto the Warren County bike path. Despite the slippery snow that has yet to melt on the paved surface one lone biker with fat wheels pedals past while we trek north looking for a trail marked with blue triangles and painted trees. It’s discovered shortly after a large boulder graffitied with flag art. We let Renee – Mutti’s precocious black poodle – lead the pack.

There are traces of narrow snowmobile paths and old logging routes branching and forking off the trail, but – no worries – it’s easy to keep your internal compass oriented; just look up.

Every 10 minutes, we peel off layers of outerwear and admire the improving views. The gurgling water runoff echoes through the bare tree branches giving returning migrating birds a refreshing drink.

Mutti decides not to push her luck and fashions a footrest out of a downed log to take a breather while George and I head to the top. Despite the partially-posted gravel road, which, admittedly, spoils the serenity and solitude of being alone at the top, the panoramic views are surprising stellar from this small height. Follow the trail further, skipping over the bald precipice and mindful not to trespass, and you’ll see hints of the southern tip of Lake George as well.

Williams Monument Lake George French Mountain

French Mountain Lake George blue trail

French Mountain Lake George

French Mountain Lake George

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Saving money on travel with P2P

by Sonja Stark on April 10, 2015

Who wants to borrow my  lightweight, 2-person, Wenonah Minnesota II racing canoe?   If you like it, it's yours for 25% less than what I paid.

Who wants to borrow my lightweight, 2-person, Wenonah Minnesota II racing canoe? If you like it, it’s yours for 25% less than what I paid.

Want to save a ton of money on travel in 2015? I’ve been doing a lot of research about the peer-to-peer marketplace (P2P), or sharing economy and though I have yet to use any of the services mentioned (because nearly all are available in cities other than Albany), it sounds like they will do just that – save you money.

For the uninitiated, P2P is a business model that challenges the traditional way capitalism and regulation work by giving individuals a say in how they share or rent out their underutilized goods and services.

Especially popular with millennials right now, the P2P marketplace lets you eat a home-cooked meal with a budding chef: Feasty, or place your pup with a sitter: DogVacay, or bum a ride with a stranger: Lyft (the cars with the furry pink mustaches or carstache), Getaround or SideCar, if not for free then at a price considerably lower than standard resources.

Instant gratification for hundreds of services are available at the click of an app. Need or want to share your tuxedo, power tool or food blender – things that would otherwise gather dust – with someone who needs them? Go to Streetbank or peerby (only available in the Netherlands right now).

Need or want a boat, scooter, canoe or bike for the day? There’s an app for that too.

Why buy when you can borrow, right?

How about getting some help with a task around the house, maybe cleaning your stove oven or removing debris from your gutters? Try TaskRabbit.

One that I’d love to try the next time I fly out of JFK is JustPark – a driveway with my name on it.

Collaborative consumption in the hospitality industry is especially hot as well as hotly debated right now. Airbnb has been the poster child of this model for quite some time. The short-term house/bedroom sharing service allows tourists to avoid modest hotel charges by staying in a spare room rented out by the renter, in essence becoming a sublet for a few nights. Its controversy stems from users not needing to charge or pay hotel taxes and/or not following through with state occupancy red tape. Yet, that has stopped travelers from around the world, including homeowners in Cuba who now list their tropical beach shacks, to the masses on Airbnb. Many agree it’s a welcome alternative to the island’s outdated and fully-booked state-run hotels.

Criticism for this sharing economy is nothing new. Naturally, there are dark sides to sharing stuff with strangers but from the stories I’m hearing the net result sounds promising. Should anyone experience first hand any of the sites I listed, I’d love to hear how it went.


Letchworth Park on Easter Sunday

by Sonja Stark on April 5, 2015

Letchworth Park

No need to travel to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon – not when the Empire State has their own impressive gorge. Letchworth State Park, referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” has been voted the No. 1 state park in the country in a USA Today poll. Of the 6,000 state parks across the nation, readers and travel writers came down to pinning the prize on Western New York’s gem.

“As visitors walk along the glen, the stream cutting through the park descends more than 400 feet with 200-foot cliffs to either side, all within the space of 2 miles,” USA Today wrote.

Located 35 miles southwest of Rochester or 60 miles southeast of Buffalo, the deep gorge boasts three large waterfalls on the Genesee River and as many as 50 smaller chutes on surrounding tributaries. There are 66 miles of hiking trails including horseback riding, biking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

There’s also whitewater rafting on 5 miles of blissful scenery and fun rapids – perfect for the first-timer. Cool off by body surfing on the “New Wave Rapids” or find yourself a private swimming hole.

Watkins Glen State Park in the Finger Lakes region was third in the survey.


Putting the seat down in Troy, NY

by Sonja Stark on March 31, 2015

NY Times Troy Article

I know dozens of people who love living in the beautifully preserved urban gem that is Troy, NY. It’s diverse, creative and buzzing with new retail hotspots set in historic Beaux-Arts style buildings.

It comes as no surprise then that The New York Times, my favorite read on Sunday, debuted a short piece about the comeback of the Collar City. The overview included five retro-cool businesses in the Victorian-emblazoned downtown: Lucas Confectionery Wine Bar, Rare Form Brewing Company, Weathered Wood of Troy, Enigma.Co and The Shop. I’m sure there are many more worth listing.

The writer, C.J.Hughes, unearthed the “Troylet” pejorative upon seeing the expression hanging off the bathroom door at the eclectic Lucas Confectionary. Hughes probably quickly learned that the derogatory urban moniker may have characterized the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Troy decades ago but locals agree that it certainly doesn’t apply today.

Like dozens of small towns along the Hudson – Tivoli, Red Hook, Cold Spring and Hudson – Troy’s riverfront resurgence (there’s been many) is absolutely wonderful for culture and commerce. And Troysters with the best sense of humor have found a way to profit from the tongue-in-cheek expression.

You can order the same bathroom signs as the Confectionary online at Enjoy Troy Co. or in their quirky boutique, Artcentric (across from The Arts Center). Since 2003, owners Linda Passaretti and Tom Reynolds of Enjoy Troy Co. have been instrumental in promoting their beloved city by blanketing it with the iconic “enjoy troy.” logo.

By the way, mark your calendar in 2016 – the city celebrates their bicentennial. No need to wait that long for a delicious laugh though. Try the “Troylet Bowl” – a hearty breakfast of 2 eggs, corned beef hash, bacon, homefries and your choice of cheese at a River Street eatery called the Infinity Cafe. With any luck, the uncensored dish will gain as much nationwide popularity as Rochester’s “Garbage Plate.”

Are there more businesses with this kind of self-deprecating wit and marketing prowess? If you know any, let me know and I’ll update this blog entry.



Good luck charms adorn this mountain house at Deer Valley Resort.

Good luck charms adorn this mountain house at Deer Valley Resort.

Honey popcorn enjoyed at the "Bear" house.

Honey popcorn enjoyed at the “Bear” house.

Bear-ly enough room for everybody.

Bear-ly enough room for everybody.

The "Raccoon" house

The “Raccoon” house

Moose sightings are a common occurrence driving on the highway through Parley’s Canyon from Salt Lake City to Park City. The giant mammals roam freely through golf courses, residential neighborhoods and up and down Main Street.

On my first day, I saw a hungry fellow grazing on exposed sagebrush while riding one of the Deer Valley ski lifts. A local Park City resident that rode the lift with me lamented that the marauding creatures are quite destructive. “They feast on my backyard garden causing untold damage every summer!”

Most locals agree that they would much rather see moose in the same form as these whimsical sculptures – lifeless. The Last Chance run is gaining popularity for these lucky “kitschy art” charms that do little else than entertain. Skiers, including me, stop to take photos of the free-spirited bears, mountain goats and raccoons mounted to multimillion dollar homes.

What’s the sentimental appeal of these characters? No denying, they are cute and cajole plenty of smiles but this is Deer Valley, not Disney World. The owners weren’t around to ask but the fanciful art collection is proliferating with neighboring homes taking up the trend.


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