Ski Long Island?
Don't laugh. Late 20th century skiers didn't have to drive three or more hours to the nearest resort but could hit the slopes in their own backyard.
The Island at various times from the end of World War II until 1980 was home to commercial or municipal ski areas in Mill Neck, Old Bethpage, Huntington Station, Smithtown and Farmingville.
Rope tows and at least one T-bar lift served the small operations made possible by Ice Age glaciers that deposited hills geologists call a terminal moraine.
Historical records are sketchy, but Long Island's first ski area was either the Oyster Bay Ski Area that operated in Mill Neck from the late 1940s through the winter of 1957-1958, or Bethpage State Park.
The park offered a single rope tow on the 18th hole of the Green Course from 1948 until the early 1970s, according to George Gorman Jr., deputy regional state parks director. It was billed as having the first ski tow on Long Island, serving a 400-foot slope with 100-foot vertical drop.
"We had snow-making machines" at some point, Gorman said. The building that housed them and the machinery inside are still there.
The story of the Mill Neck area and artifacts from it are part of a new exhibit, "Snow Day in Oyster Bay," at the Oyster Bay Historical Society through March 23. It includes a 1955 promotional map published by the state showing 40 places to ski, including Oyster Bay.
Ken Summers, 64, of Brightwaters, said the ski area was opened around 1947 by his parents, Oscar Jr. and Miriam Summers, and two friends, Jerry and Isabel French. Other accounts have it opening in 1949, after Bethpage.
"They were all skiers, and in order to make a few bucks they decided to put this venture together up on the hill in Mill Neck," Summers said. It was on the leased former pasture of the Renville Smith dairy farm, south of Ski Lane, west of Lake Avenue and north of Glen Cove-Oyster Bay Road.
The area operated -- natural snow permitting -- weekday evenings and weekend days. The runs were 600 to 800 feet. The area originally had two rope tows, with a third added in 1951, powered by the rear wheel of a pickup truck. Tickets cost 75 cents.
"I probably skied there the first time when I was 2 or 3 years old," Summers said. "We started a little junior ski patrol and we had toboggans and we took down a couple people with broken legs. We set up ski jumps and had a great time."
Oyster Bay Cove resident Caroline DuBois, 68, said the Oyster Bay hill was the first place she skied as a young child.
Her father, Eugene DuBois, managed a national ski team that competed in Chile in 1937, and she donated his 72-inch wooden skis and bamboo poles to the historical society.
"It was a great place to learn how to ski because it was so close and not too scary," DuBois said. "It was a not very steep hill and it was a very short run. It took maybe a minute or two minutes to get to the top and about the same amount of time to go down."
The demise of the ski area stemmed from a now-familiar story on Long Island -- the property owner sold the land for a housing development.
In 1958, the Hi-Point Ski Club was created on Dix Hills Road in Huntington Station. Newsday's ski columnist at the time, Bill Voorhees, referred to it as "the island's first real ski area, serviced by machine-made snow."
The club was the inspiration of Republic Aviation design engineer Carl Josephson, who sold $100 memberships and in seven weeks raised $23,000. The members built the area, which opened in December 1959.
The Merrywood Country Club ski area at Landing Avenue in Smithtown opened in 1962 with snow-making equipment, two rope tows, a ski school and a shop offering rental equipment.
A latecomer to Long Island downhill skiing was Brookhaven Town, which operated the Bald Hill Ski Bowl in Farmingville from 1965 to 1980 with rope tows and a T-bar lift. An amphitheater now fills the old ski bowl.