ELLICOTTVILLE – Holiday Valley has long been noted for its winter activities – super snow skiing featuring plenty of trails for all levels of skiers.
But with more than $8 million of improvements made over the last two years, this recreation destination is now a year-round playground for all ages.
From the redesign of the Double Black Diamond Golf Course and the recently opened Sky High Adventure Park, to the first-class lodging and resort pool complex, Holiday Valley has become a must-do vacation spot for all seasons. There are accommodations suited for all at different price levels, and there are plenty of amenities.
“We strive to make Holiday Valley family friendly, so people can make a memory here,” said Steve Carney, director of golf and summer activities.
Located 50 miles south of downtown Buffalo in this quaint but lively village, Holiday Valley is an ideal place for family vacations, group golf outings, weddings, bachelor or bachelorette parties, business conferences, team-building exercises and overnight getaways for couples.
“We are definitely trying to cater to a lot of people,” said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley’s director of marketing. “The addition of Sky High has brought more people to the lodge, and golf has picked up as a result. The kids can go to Sky High or hang around the pool while the parents golf. There are many different activities for all ages.”
Double Black Diamond Golf Course is unusual because of its design around the ski trails. Some of the multiple elevation changes and undulations in the fairways and rough can be a bit overwhelming, leaving even the best golfers puzzled over how to execute shots.
The redesign, completed in 2009, was rated one of the top redesigns in the country by Golf magazine.
The course meanders through woods and around ponds and creeks. It is challenging, but good scores can be had. It is definitely a shotmaker’s course because controlling your ball flight is essential on most of the holes.
“I believe we have the nicest back 9 in Western New York,” Carney said. “From the scenery, and all the uphill, downhill and sidehill lies, it’s challenging but fair. It’s not a golf course where you have to hit it super long, and the four sets of tees makes it fun for everyone.”
The scenic views are spectacular, with majestic hills as the backdrop on many of the holes. Those hills that are packed with several feet of snow in the winter, are now lush green pristine fairways.
Black Diamond is well maintained and features many doglegs, and water comes into play on at least six holes.
The highlight – or lowlight, depending on your play – of the round is “E’vil Corner,” a three-hole stretch that is both exciting and frustrating.
Saying the par 4, 350-yard 11th hole is tight is a major understatement. With trouble on both sides of a fairway that is only 20 yards wide, your drive needs to be around 200 yards and straight to give you a good look at the green that is guarded by a big ravine in front and woods on both sides. Take a bogey here and be happy.
“It is the toughest 350 yards you will ever play,” said Carney, who is in his 13th year at Holiday Valley.
The par 3, 187-yard 12th hole is gettable, but wayward tee shots can lead to some big numbers as the green is long and narrow.
Black Diamond’s signature hole in No. 13, a 446-yard par 4 with a tee shot as scenic as you will ever find. A split fairway welcomes your ball which is launched from an elevated tee box, more than 550 feet higher than the landing area. The green is small and well guarded with sand traps. It’s a hole worth the price of admission and one you have to see to believe.
“It’s a phenomenal hole,” said Carney. “In the fall it might be the most beautiful hole in Western New York.”
The Sky High Adventure Park is located in the Tannenbaum area of the resort. Visitors can spend most of the day here as there is plenty to do.
The Aerial Park has 13 treetop courses where patrons cross platforms and bridges, climb rope ladders, navigate obstacles and fly around on numerous zip-lines. It helps – a lot – if you have good balance, strength and flexibility (and guts). All are important in order to negotiate the courses, but there are several levels of difficulty – from easy (yellow and green) to difficult (black and double black).
Everyone gets a harness that has a special locking lanyard that safeguards you from falling if you slip or let go. The minimum age for the Aerial Park is 7. You will get an intense workout in the three hours at the Aerial Park. Cost for adults is $42.
The Mountain Coaster is like a roller coaster with cars that ride on a track. One or two riders load a car adjacent to the Tannenbaum Lodge and ride up the hill parallel to the Spruce Lake lift. At the apex the car begins its thrilling descent zigzagging and spiraling down through the woods. Riders can accelerate or decelerate using handles on the sides of the car. Children must be at least 3 years old to ride with an adult on the Mountain Coaster.
The Climbing Forest has 10 trees with color-coded climbing holds. The difficulty ranges from very easy (yellow) to very challenging (purple). A staffer fits each climber with a harness that is clipped into an Auto Belay system. You climb to the top of a tree, and then just let go and the belay system slowly lowers you to the ground. The Climbing Forest is open to people ages 5 and up.
Sky High is open on weekends from early May to mid-June. The park is open daily from mid-June through Labor Day and open on weekends from mid-September through early November.
“Ski season is still our bread and butter, but summer is catching up because of the golf and Sky High,” Eshbaugh said.
The Inn is located at the golf course and features 95 rooms and seven suites. This is where the pools are located and various activities, including ping-pong and bean-bag toss games.
The Cabana Bar at the pool complex was replaced with a new timber roof structure and is a fun place to hang out after a round of golf or a day poolside.
The Tamarack Club offers standard hotel rooms and one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums. There are also other rental properties available.
The staff is friendly and accommodating. The bartenders and servers inside at John Harvard’s Brew House and outside at the cabana bar are attentive and knowledgeable. There’s even free coffee near the Inn’s front desk in the lobby.
“We want our staff to be friendly, smile and say, ‘hello’,” Carney said.
After a day on the golf course or at Sky High, many patrons hit the village where there is plenty of nightlife to please folks of all ages and interests. The main streets lined with trees and flowers are full of boutiques, restaurants and “libation stations.”
“We have packages that are even geared toward festivities going on in town,” Eshbaugh said.
The fall season, with the colorful foliage in full bloom, is an ideal time to make a trip to Holiday Valley.
There are several stay-and-play golf packages available. For more information, go to holidayvalley.com.