ELLICOTTVILLE – As tens of thousands of visitors descended upon this tiny ski village Saturday for the annual Fall Festival, snow seemed like the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
The sun blazed, sending temperatures into the high 70s. Cold beer flowed. Revelers wore shorts and T-shirts, rather than tuques and boots.
The ski and snowboard industry is still king here, but visitors increasingly are flocking to Ellicottville in the summer and fall.
“It used to be just a ski resort. It’s a lot more a four-season spot than it’s ever been,” said Bill Osbaldeston, owner of the Edelweiss Lodge on Jefferson Street.
The once-sleepy summer business has picked up due to corporate conferences at Holiday Valley, weddings and other banquets, a growing appreciation of the region as a mountain biking mecca and a variety of other reasons, said Brian McFadden, executive director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce.
The area now gets nearly the same amount of traffic in summer and fall as in the prime winter months, he said.
“Probably half our shops closed down for the summer. Now you can’t find retail space here,” he said.
When Chuck Dolph first began traveling here from Cleveland for weekend skiing trips, the snow was the only draw. He remembers renting attic space in a village house or staying in hotels in Jamestown or Olean.
But when Dolph bought a house on Elizabeth Street about eight years ago, he began spending more time in the summer and fall in Ellicottville, where he also plays golf and rides a bike around town with his wife.
His grown children, who live in New York City, also visit.
“Our kids grew up skiing here, so they’re very fond of the area,” he said.
Dolph said he still visits more regularly in the winter, and that’s when most of his Canadian neighbors arrive into town, as well.
The village’s growing profile as a year-round destination has helped spur tens of millions of dollars in development over the past few years.
It’s also resulted in a dramatic reshaping of the village population, with longtime residents selling their homes to out-of-towners who spend just weekends, holidays or vacations in Ellicottville.
Skyrocketing home values have prompted many local people to sell, and about 85 percent of village homes are now owned by part-time residents – mostly from Ohio, Southern Ontario and the Buffalo area, said Mayor Charles Coolidge.
But Coolidge said the area’s character remains intact.
“Ellicottville has grown, but we’ve kept our identity here,” he said. “It’s the atmosphere. It’s just a quaint little place to come to. We’re nestled in the hills. It’s just a beautiful little place with great scenery.”
Jim and Annette Honsberger, of East Amherst, don’t seem like the target market for Ellicottville.
“We’re not skiers at all. We like it when it’s not snowing,” said Annette Honsberger.
But the couple enjoyed a couple-hours stroll around the village, nonetheless.
“This is totally Americana,” said Jim Honsberger. “We like the independent shops. There’s unique things. It’s quaint.”
Fall Festival features bands, hundreds of outdoor vendors and chairlift rides to the top of the mountain at Holiday Valley and Holimont. It has been wildly popular for years, leading village leaders to add more festivals at other times of the year to increase street traffic.
But the annual event also has become emblematic of a broader tension in the village over its transformation into an all-season resort.
One permanent resident who was posting no trespassing signs along his property on Martha Street on Friday afternoon angrily declined an interview with The News.
“I hate Fall Festival and everything to do with it. We leave town. That’s how much we think of it,” the man said.
In 2012, crowds were so large – some estimated as many as 100,000 over the two days – that cellphone service in the area shut down.
Village officials, increasingly concerned about late-night revelry, including raucous house parties and outdoor music into the early morning hours, asked police to take a no-tolerance stance on open-container violations.
“It’s big, and it’s grown slightly out of control, I would say,” said Dennis Baldwin, co-owner of Ellicottville Bike and Bean. “Our town is small, and we only have so much room.”
Baldwin, who grew up in Ellicottville, acknowledged the “good and bad” of the village’s growth in recent years.
He said he has always liked the small-town feel of the area and doesn’t want to lose it. But at the same time, he appreciates the increase in tourism.
“You want to have enough people come in and buy stuff so I can retire someday,” he said.
The recent development includes an 80-room Wingate hotel built in 2007, dozens of new condominiums and townhouses, a $3 million expansion of the Ellicottville Brewing Co. that debuted in July and a Tim Hortons that opened Friday.
Some people are worried the growth is too much, too fast. But Coolidge and McFadden said the village has been careful and purposeful with development.
“We don’t want to be Disneyland. We really have controlled growth,” said McFadden.
A mile outside the village, Holiday Valley over the past decade has invested nearly $90 million on its property, including its Tamarack Club, condominiums featuring fractional ownership, an enhanced time-share concept.
It also nearly doubled the size of its main lodge, renovated the golf course and built an aerial park, a mountain coaster and a climbing forest.
The resort’s summer business was up by about 13 percent this year, thanks in part to the enhancements, said Jane Eshbaugh, spokeswoman.
The first thing some skiers notice is that the hills seem steeper when they’re not covered with snow.
Daryl Ehlenfield of Grand Island had that thought recently while climbing some of the same slopes that he’s skied for years
“It’s neat to see the hills when they’re green. Then, you really get an idea of what you’re doing in the winter,” said Ehlenfield.