Chautauqua County sits directly in the path of lake effect snow storms that gather strength over Lake Erie and drop more than 200 inches of snow annually. More often than not, the holidays are welcomed with a carpet of white and the winter season becomes a frozen crystal wonderland. This pocket of precipitation is precisely why winter is a perfect time to plan a visit.
With annual snowfall that rivals Colorado ski towns, southwestern New York offers plenty of opportunity for downhill snow sports. Near Findley Lake, the Peek’n Peak Resort and Spa provides an excellent backdrop for true beginners all the way to expert level skiers and snowboarders with 27 slopes and trails, state-of-the-art snowmaking, eight chairlifts, four progressive terrain parks, a Bag Jump, and a renowned ski and snowboard school. There’s even a tubing area with two new lanes added this year and trails for cross country skiing. The instructors at Peek’n Peak’s Snow Sports School are professionally trained and the lodges, dining rooms, pool and spa are welcome amenities after a day on the slopes.
Hundreds of miles of trails groomed by five local snowmobile clubs provide an ideal setting for riding over old railroad beds, former trolley lines, open farm fields, heavily wooded areas, and seasonal roads. Trails officially open a week or so before Christmas, weather permitting. New York requires that all sleds be registered so check for details before you travel. While on the trails, look for blue diamond shaped signs that indicate 25 tour stops on an interactive, self-guided Nature at Your Finger Tips cell phone tour developed by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. The tour can be accessed by regular and smart phones by dialing the number on the sign or scanning the QR code to access information, audio files, pictures and video related to the natural history or significant historical events in the area.
Go cross country skiing or snow shoeing along many of the trails throughout the county. Long Point State Park, Lake Erie State Park, Chautauqua Institution, and the Jamestown Audubon Center offer dedicated trails and open spaces. Join Evergreen Outfitters for guided snowshoe hikes planned around weather conditions.
Memories, nostalgic and newly made, are waiting at the Fenton History Center. Held November 26, 2015 to January 16, 2016, the Center’s annual holiday exhibit, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, fills four floors of the elegant 1863 Fenton Mansion and includes a dozen decorated Christmas trees. Listen to Christmas carols, learn about Jamestown’s holiday traditions, and visit the gift shop. Returning in 2015, costumed museum guides will take visitors on candlelight tours of the mansion on Saturday evenings in December.
Winter is a great time to stop at the wineries in Lake Erie Wine Country. Tasting rooms are less crowded, the experience is more educational and intimate, and many new vintages are released. Also winter and Ice Wine, a specialty dessert wine unique to the northern climate, just naturally go together. Visit during the annual Wine and Chocolate Weekend, February 12-14, 2016 for a special Valentine’s treat. Each of the participating wineries will pair a luscious chocolate creation with a wine accompaniment. On January 16, 2016, the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield will host “Frozen”, an ice wine festival featuring regional ice and dessert wines, ice carvings, and a bonfire.
Try seasonal brews during a tour at Southern Tier Brewing Company. Stop by the Empty Pint Brewery Pub for a selection of 14 draught beers, including some guest taps, Wednesday through Saturday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Hickory smoked pulled pork, meatloaf, and cheese sandwiches, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages are also on the menu. Arrive early on Saturday and take a 45 minute guided tour of the brewery at 12:15, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30, 3:15 or 4 pm. Tours are $15, available on a first come basis, and often sell out. They also take place in a working production facility that may be hot, cold, wet and noisy, so be prepared.
Take a nostalgic 45 minute bobsled ride through the historic grounds of Chautauqua Institution. Sleigh rides are offered on Saturdays and Sundays throughout January and February and run every half hour from 1 pm to 3 pm. Tickets are available at the Chautauqua Bookstore on Bestor Plaza. This is a lot of fun for couples or the whole family, but be sure to bundle up if you go.
President’s Day Weekend brings with it the annual Winter Festival in Mayville, February 12-14, 2016 featuring events, activities, and contests for all ages including fireworks, a flare parade, bonfire and horse drawn wagon rides. If the weather cooperates, you might see a castle made from blocks of ice harvested in the traditional way from Chautauqua Lake.
Hide away for a weekend at a bed and breakfast, vacation home, resort or inn. Chautauqua isn’t your everyday winter weekend getaway. With all that snow, the weather could easily cover your tracks and snuggle you in for some good getaway time by the hearth, with some hot chocolate, a bottle of local wine or some Southern Tier beer. For more ideas on visiting Chautauqua County any time of year, visit TourChautauqua or call 1-866-908-4569. Be sure to reserve a 2016 Chautauqua County Visitors Guide.