Orville Slutzky; blazed trail for generation of ski resorts

‘The ski industry is about advertising, promotion, and constantly saying, ‘We’re the best,’ ” Orville Slutzky told Ski magazine. Mr. Slutzky and his brother grew up in the area.
Associated Press/File 1984
‘The ski industry is about advertising, promotion, and constantly saying, ‘We’re the best,’ ” Orville Slutzky told Ski magazine. Mr. Slutzky and his brother grew up in the area.

NEW YORK — Orville Slutzky, who with his brother founded the Hunter Mountain ski resort in Upstate New York, known in the 1960s for its celebrity clientele and in the 1970s and '80s for its unmatched number of snow-making cannons, died April 18 in Hudson, N.Y. He was 96.

Mr. Slutzky’s death was confirmed by his son Paul, who operates the family business with a sister and a brother.

Mr. Slutzky and his younger brother, Israel, a civil engineer known as Izzy, had been partners in a construction company when, in the late 1950s, they began bulldozing a ragged mountainside that a state engineering study had found unsuitable for skiing. But the proximity to New York of a 4,000-foot-high mountain made it worth the extra engineering, Orville Slutzky later told interviewers. About 125 miles from Midtown, the mountain is one of the tallest within a desultory conversation’s drive of the city.


The brothers, who were known for working prodigious hours well into their last years (Izzy Slutzky died in 2006), seized on ideas that later became standard practice in their industry. They were among the first to heavily invest in snow-making equipment in the 1960s, when the technology was fairly new, and were widely credited as the first to install enough of it — there are currently 1,200 snow cannons — to coat a mountain from top to bottom. (There are about 240 skiable acres at Hunter, from its highest trail head, at 3,200 feet, to the base, which is 1,600 feet above sea level.)

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The Slutzkys were also among the first to build condominium apartments at a ski resort and to offer floodlit night skiing; summer skiing on lubricated plastic chips instead of snow (which never caught on); free lift passes for skiers over 70 (which did); and discount deals for singles, families, and corporate groups. The deals filled the place to capacity for years, leading some ski writers to complain of a Times Square rush-hour ambience.

The brothers grew up poor, working on the family dairy farm in Hunter and in the guest lodge their parents had operated to make ends meet. The brothers started their construction company in 1939. They had built many of the areas’ roads and schools by the mid-1950s, when they conceived of the ski mountain idea as a way of bolstering the local resort economy after years of decline.

Having grown up in a region dependent on tourism, they knew their venture depended on people from New York City.

They retained a former Broadway publicist, Paul Pepe, who helped them gather investors, among them Jimmy Hammerstein, the son of the Broadway lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II. Whether or not Jimmy Hammerstein secured financial backing from Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Kim Novak, and Christopher Plummer, as the New York tabloids reported at the time, mattered less than the fact that the appearance of those names in the same paragraph as Hunter Mountain gave the resort an aura of glamour.


Among the celebrities there when the resort opened Jan. 9, 1960, were the playwright Moss Hart and his wife, the actress Kitty Carlisle, who did not ski but were photographed riding the chair lift.

The Slutzkys bought out their investors a few years later but retained the patronage of Newman, Novak, and Plummer, who were photographed skiing there, as were Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York, Robert F. Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy Jr. in the days before Vail and Aspen became the more popular destinations.

In a 1992 interview with Ski magazine, the blunt, sometimes impish Mr. Slutzky articulated the brothers’ basic business plan. ‘‘The ski industry is about advertising, promotion, and constantly saying, ‘We’re the best,’ ’’ he said. It was, he added, not that different from ‘‘a mouthwash campaign.’’

Orville Andrew Slutzky was born in Hudson. He was the third of four children of Isaac and Ella Miller Slutzky, both Jewish refugees — he from Russia, she from Lithuania — who had lived on the Lower East Side but met in Hudson. Isaac had settled there to try farming, and Ella met him on a visit several years later. As was common among aspiring immigrant families, Orville, his parents, and his two older sisters put Izzy, the youngest, through college; he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

In addition to his son, Paul, Mr. Slutzky leaves another son, Gary; a daughter, Carol Slutzky-Tenerowicz; and nine grandchildren. His wife, Ethel Mildred, died in 2010.


In 1964, a reporter for The New York Times was among the members of the press assembled for the grand opening of the Slutzkys’ new base lodge. In an interview that day, Orville Slutzky wistfully recalled another time.

‘‘My brother and I began skiing here 35 years ago,’’ he said. ‘‘In those days we climbed the mountain with skis in hand, and then slid down as best we could.’’ For skis, he added, ‘‘we used barrel staves.’’