CAROGA LAKE —When he was in high school, Jim Blaise was a competitive skier at Scotia High School and would make trips to Royal Mountain for competitions.
In 1972, the opportunity came up for him to build on his love for skiing when Royal Mountain was put up for sale.
“A couple of friends I knew in Johnstown told me the place was for sale,” Blaise said. “I really didn’t know anything about it and it is really fortunate that I am still here. I struggled through the first couple of years. I got through it with the help of my father and some people in the town that were helping me out. Without them I wouldn’t have made it one year.”
Royal Mountain has grown into a hub of activity with three ski lifts and a large snowmaking system to help local skiers enjoy the outdoors.
“Well it seems like it is a good idea to buy a ski area until you buy one,” Blaise said. “Back then there weren’t a whole lot of moving parts but now for a relatively small area like this one there are a lot of moving parts. We had a rope tow on the beginner’s slope and a T-bar out in front of my house. Obviously, no snow making. The lodge had about six picnic tables in it and that was about it.”
Then things took off with the help of opening the mountain during the summer months for motocross competition:
“A couple of things really turned it around,” Blaise said. “The motocross provided some cash to start putting some money into the ski area. We started out with a chair lift and then every year added some snowmaking, that was the whole key. I don’t think I ever thought it would get as big as it has.”
Now it is time to pass the torch to another young entrepreneur.
“It has been on the drawing board for a couple of years,” he said. “Corduroy Joe [Mulyca] is leaving at the end of the year and there is no way I could do this without him. We had the perfect opportunity with Jake being interested to make it happen. So it all came together at just the right time.”
Jake Tennis and his wife Brooke have purchased and will operate Royal Mountain and build on the base that Blaise established in close to 50 years of hard work.
“I broke my arm here snowboarding when I was 13 or 14,” Tennis said. “I was looking for something to do and Jim put me in the parking lot, parking cars in the winter. That is how it all started. I loved doing that. That is the best job on the mountain. You get to visit with everybody and get cookies. Then I started flagging motocross and then operating the gate and working the bulldozer for eight years. So I have been around here for 14 or 15 years. I knew when I was 17 that I would like to buy this place at sometime. We always talked and joked about it, even up to last year. There were a lot of unknowns. We got fortunate enough that it all worked out. “
Blaise knew that Tennis was the right choice.
“I always joked around with him saying he was the heir apparent,” he said. “He would just smile. He always had the interest and has a great work ethic. He is always out working around the place.”
Blaise stepped back last year between the ski and motocross seasons, with Tennis working on and putting his stamp on the motocross and supercross tracks.
“We are going to continue with the motocross and the snow drags,” Tennis said. “I used to do that and I convinced Jim to try it here. I reached out to one of the promoters and send him a map of our facility. That was five or six years ago. I have been running that for the last four years. That is all going to stay the same. We have added more terrain for skiing. That is finally open. We are going to put in an advanced terrain beginner area geared to the six to 12 year olds.”
Tennis, who works as a civil engineerfor C.T. Male Associates when not at the mountain, has been making the most of the opportunity to learn the upkeep and grooming of the trails from Corduroy Joe.
“I began working with Corduroy Joe last year learning how to groom the trails,” he said. “This year we are working side-by-side with two machines running.”
Tennis has also added a pair of weather stations at the Caroga Lake facility to help maintain a high-quality surface on the mountain.
“We are still making snow right up until mid-February,” he said. “We want to try to have a fresh skiing surface every weekend.”
One of the first challenges Tennis and his family had to deal with was making modifications to meet the COVID-19 mandates.
“With COVID, we spent a lot of time making modifications getting things ready to accommodate to skiers,” he said. “We had a feeling we would have a pretty solid year with all the limited indoor things you can do. We seem to be right on par with what we expected.”
And the skiers have been receptive to the changes.
“Things have been going good. Overall we have had a very good response to all the work we have done and all the adjustments,” Tennis said. “The new T-Bar lodge that is heated and has picnic tables in it has taken a load off the main lodge. We have added fire pits, which is helping people congregate outside. We have had good responses.
For Blaise, retirement has given him the opportunity to get back on skis and enjoy the snow.
“I haven’t skied in 20 years,” he said. “When I got the opportunity to ski with my granddaughters, Gabriella and Sophia Megna, that became number one on my list.”