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Hunter Mountain Co-Founder Orville Slutzky Dies At 96; 'Industry Giant'

Orville Slutzky

UPDATE (April 22, 2013): Ski journalist Dick Healy reported to SnoCountry.com that, while some 600 chairs were set up in Colonel's Hall in the Hunter Mountain Base Lodge for Orville Slutzky's funeral and celebration of iife Sunday (April 21), more than 1,000 people came to pay tribute.

 

Healy said hundreds stood outside the building and lined the interior walls. Many volunteer firefighters attended as Slutzky himself was a volunteer firefighter and past president of the organization. 

 

ORIGINAL STORY:

 

Orville Slutzky, the patriarch and co-founder of Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl in the New York Catskills, died peacefully April 18 at age 96. A funeral service and celebration of life will be held in Colonel’s Hall in the main base lodge at Hunter Sunday, April 21 at 10 a.m.

 

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing today of one of Hunter Mountain's co-founders, Orville Slutzky,” read a statement posted on the resort’s Facebook page.  “Orville was a great leader, but more important, he was a great man. He will be deeply missed. Our condolences go out to the entire Slutzky family.”

 

Orville was born in Hunter in 1917 and was raised on his parent’s farm in Jewett, N.Y. Orville and his late brother, Israel (Izzy), opened the doors to Hunter for the 1959-60 season, one that lasted 30 days. Izzy died in 2006 at 92. Orville’s wife, Ethel, died in 2010. The couple spent 67 years together.

 

The brothers, who owned the I. & O.A. Slutzky construction firm, had offered through an article in the New York Herald Tribune to donate the land for a ski resort to stimulate the local economy. The stipulation was it had to be turned into a ski resort called Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl and that it had to have snowmaking. The venture was financed by New York theatre investors.

 

GM For 50 Years

 

But, things went sour with few paying guests and bankruptcy was declared. The Slutzkys were not deterred and took control of the ski area. Orville became General Manager and remained active for half a century. 

 

The rest, as they say, is history. Hunter Mountain became an iconic ski area, catering and marketing to the giant New York City metropolitan area. Their investments and innovation in snowmaking paid off. Endless drum-beating by former theatre publicist Paul Pepe succeeded as “the snowmaking capital of the world” perception became reality. New Yorkers “believed” Hunter had good snow, no matter what they saw outside.

 

Orville worked endlessly, last taking a vacation sometime in the 1960s. He worked seven days a week, 12-14 hours every day. He came to his now iconic cluttered office, monitored closed-circuit televisions of the mountain and the base lodge, and met with his children – now running the ski area – almost to the end.

 

Reaction came quickly to the Facebook notice: “Lots of us kids growing up in the hills worked for Orville at some point and it was always an adventure! He scared the hell out of me - until he showed me true leadership - if you were trying, he had your back. He put lots of folks to work, including my dad for a while after he lost his business to fire. A true legend. A great man. Godspeed,” wrote Karl Anshanshin.

 

“RIP. An icon of the ski industry has left us,” writes Liz Holste. “Hunter Mountain will never be the same. Thoughts and prayers to the family.” “A sad day but he built a great place,” writes Ira Heitner.

 

Popular With Snow Media

 

Orville was immensely popular with the many journalists who covered Hunter over the years. His door was always open and snow journalists couldn’t help but become his friend – no doubt leading to the voluminous press coverage the ski area received in the marketplace.

 

Orville and Ethel Slutzky

“He was the absolute best ski area operator on a personal basis I ever knew,” Dick Healy, ski writer for the Troy, N.Y. Record told SnoCountry.com. “He was always the first one to get to the mountain every morning and the last one to leave at night.

 

“I know. One day I was skiing at Hunter and stayed late in the base lodge. My car, at the furthest end of the lot, wouldn’t start, so I hiked back to the lodge. Orville was the only one there, so he grabbed his truck and starter cables, got my car going, and followed me until he was sure I was OK,” Healy reminisces.

 

“Orville was a mentor to many of us starting out in the snowsports business that made us think before doing whatever we were doing,” Tony Furman, longtime New York and ski industry publicist who had Hunter as a client over the years, told us. “He was caring, thoughtful, and always a pleasure to be with even when correcting something we might think of doing that wasn't right. He was never one to not congratulate you on a job well done, and ask us back to do a good job for the next season. He helped me in the work done for other clients by the lessons he taught by making me think a little deeper about what I was doing. For that, I'll always be grateful and I try to do that with my son, as well. Goodbye Orville and thanks for being there.”

 

“Orville was a champion to the snowsports industry. He was one of my close friends who inspired me and taught me the business. I have lost a personal friend. His contribution to our industry will have a long-lasting effect for many generations of industry. I give my deepest sympathy to his family,” S.R. “Sandy” Black, retired snowsports columnist from Pennsylvania, told SnoCountry.com.

 

Michael Berry, President of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), put it succinctly and poignantly when he told SnoCountry.com, “He taught us how to work.”  NSAA recently honored the Slutzky brothers with its Lifetime Achievement Award. 

 

What It Means: The most oft-quoted comment by Orville was, “You’ve got to keep your mind busy and your body busy or the ghosts will carry you away.” Orville Slutzky was likely the most accessible, friendly, and knowledgeable ski resort executive ever to run a resort. My own memories of those personal, informative conversations in his office will last a long time. No ghosts would ever find Orville Slutzky “inactive.” The industry lost a giant.

 

Photos: Top: Orville Slutzky; Bottom left: Orville and Ethel Slutzky in the early years. (Hunter Mountain/Facebook) 

 

 

 

 

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