“Ladies and gentleman, we are starting on time as we always do here at Plattekill,” says Laszlo Vajtay ’84 into the microphone, looking outside to the crowd of eager spectators huddled together at the slope’s finish line. Huge snowflakes are falling and swirling rapidly around their bundled heads.
It’s about 3 p.m. on a blustery January afternoon – just minutes before start time for the New York Section 4 high school ski race at Plattekill Mountain in Roxbury, N.Y.
Inside the confined hut, a coach hands Vajtay the lineup of racers. Then, one by one, the skiers fly out of the gate and down the course. Meanwhile, Vajtay effortlessly rattles off names and times into the microphone. At one point, he taps the microphone with a nod to a college pastime.
“That’s WRRC,” referring to his days as a show host for Rider’s radio station.
For the past 17 years, Vajtay has been able to combine his radio experience, management skills and passion for skiing as the co-owner and operator of Plattekill Mountain, along with his wife, Danielle.
“I knew when I was 8 years old that I wanted to one day own a ski mountain. I would dream about it as I was coming home after a day of skiing,” said Vajtay, who learned the sport at age 4.
Nestled in the western Catskill region of upstate New York, Plattekill offers skiers and snowboarders of all levels a big-mountain experience in a small, family-business atmosphere.
There are 35 trails, including a two-mile scenic beginners’ trail and a double black diamond 1,100-foot vertical drop – one of the steepest slopes in the region. The mountain’s unique location also offers the occasion for plenty of lake-effect snow.
“It’s all about the experience. Let our mountain sell itself to you,” said Vajtay as he stood inside the top floor of Plattekill’s rustic lodge, overlooking the mountain’s captivating beauty. “We won’t sell more than 2,000 ski lift tickets a day, so there are no lines. We also guarantee that the slopes won’t be icy. We know what we like to ski on.”
It’s the same mountain that Laszlo’s and Danielle’s families fell in love with when they first discovered Plattekill Mountain. Vajtay began skiing at Plattekill at age 7 and worked there as a ski instructor in high school. Even while studying for his degree in Business Administration at Rider and working for his family’s manufacturing business, Vajtay spent as much time as possible on the slopes.
“All the while, I was a ski instructor. I would head up to Plattekill every weekend, religiously,” said Vajtay, who eventually became the mountain’s ski-school director. Then, in 1993, Vajtay came across a business venture he and Danielle could not pass up – Plattekill was up for auction.
He wrote a business plan to acquire the mountain, and the couple bought their childhood winter playland. Since then, they have successfully developed a profitable business while maintaining a “mom and pop” environment. In 1995, they started offering mountain-biking trails and in 2002, they added a chair lift. Out of 35 trails, 17 now have snowmaking capabilities.
“My favorite part about the job is to truly see and experience how much my kids love skiing this mountain and how passionate they are about it at such a young age,” said Vajtay of his sons, Nicholas and Matthew. “Since he was 4, Matthew has been my shadow. I might be making snow or grooming the slopes, and he’ll be right behind me asking, ‘Did you check the snow quality?’ Watching my kids grow into the business is the best part.”