Garnet Hill Lodge Files for Bankruptcy Protection

North River, NY’s Garnet Hill Lodge filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week.  Garnet Hill features 55 k of groomed ski trails, in addition to high-end lodging and dining.

According to the Albany, NY Times Union, owner Mary Fahy filed bankruptcy papers to avoid foreclosure by the lodge’s mortgage holder.

Fahy and her husband, John, bought the resort on Thirteenth Lake in 2006.  But in the last two years, Garnet Hill hasn’t turned a profit.  In 2010, the lodge lost $133,000, and it’s lost nearly $80,000 year to date.  The couple have split up, with Mary Fahy remaining at the lodge.  She alleges that her former spouse is trying to prevent the sale of the property.

When first put on the market, the property was listed for $2.5 million.  An auction scheduled for March fell through when it failed to attract enough qualified bidders.  Pine Meadow Properties LLC, of Johnsburg, NY, has offered to buy Garnet Hill for $1.2 million.

According to information obtained by OXF, the lodge will be open through the winter.  At present, they’re still accepting reservations.

“[The Fahys] were our salvation from the van Cotts,” said Dick Carlson.  Carlson was Garnet Hill’s former ski director, working there for about 25 years.  In that time, ownership has changed twice.  He was hired by George Heim in the early 1980s.  In 2001, Heim sold the place to a Utah couple named van Cott, who sold to the Fahys in 2006.

Carlson felt that weather may have hindered the Fahys in the first year of ownership.  He recalled warm temperatures and whitecaps on Thirteenth Lake in December of 2006, their first year.

“Garnet Hill holds so much promise” compared to other ski areas, he added.

In addition to its groomed trails, Garnet Hill is a jumping-off point for the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.  This 100,000 acre swath of the Adirondack Park has dozens of lakes and ponds, interspersed with low hills and 33 miles of hiking trails.  Carlson credited retired DEC ranger Steve Ovitt with building several bridges that expanded  backcounty skiing and hiking options.

Carlson worked at Garnet Hill for 25 years, running the ski program.  His first employer was George Heim, who bought the lodge in 1977.  In the early days, Carlson recalled “piecemeal skiing, ” on perhaps 10 k of trails with sketchy grooming.  Over time, Heim and Carlson expanded the trail system and worked to improve the grooming.

“The ski center was only ever there to attract people to the lodge,” Carlson told OXF.  But in addition to lodgers, Garnet Hill attracted skiers from all over, not only Glens Falls and the capitol district, but also the New York City metropolitan area.

While some regulars feel that the Fahys de-emphasized the ski program, Carlson said that the current owners put time and effort into it.  But he said that Garnet Hill just didn’t have the “killer groomed trails” of previous years.

One might think Carlson biased, as the Fahys dismissed him at the beginning of the 2009-2010 ski season.  But his opinion was confirmed by other skiers contacted by OXF.  Jeff Farbaniec, who’s  skied at Garnet Hill for 25 years,  wrote that “the entire ski shop staff” was let go at the same time as Carlson.  Of a January 2011 trip, another person wrote, “The grooming wasn’t what it used to be.  They used to groom all day.  Last year, it was a once a day affair at best.”  This correspondent also cited saplings growing in the middle of some trails as inattention to off-season maintenance.  A third wrote, “The new owners from Boston installed an Irish pub that is great but got rid of the people that really know [cross-country skiing.]”

Pine Meadow Properties, the potential buyer, is looking to take ownership before Christmas.  Donald Preuninger, the principal, said, “We’re working to complete the sale and have as good a season as possible.”

“The trails will be in better shape than they have been in a long time,” he added.  “We intend to bring back many of the people who made Garnet Hill’s reputation, both in the ski shop and the restaurant.”

“If the sale goes through, Garnet Hill is poised to come back,” said Carlson.

Mary Fahy did not return a phone messages and e-mail seeking comment.