It’s Sunday morning and, beneath a fluffy blanket of snow, the slopes are beckoning.
What’s a good Catholic to do?
Attend morning Mass at your hometown parish and sacrifice the heavenly thrill of carving first tracks?
Or head straight for the hills, promising yourself that you’ll get to church later?
Kissing Bridge in Glenwood offers another option.
You can hit the slopes early, then glide down one of the North Area trails – “Crazy 8s” is a popular route – to attend the 12:15 p.m. Mass in Crone Memorial Chapel.
“It’s nice to be able to have a Mass to come to when you’re spending a full day on the slopes,” said Paul O’Rourke of St. Catharines, Ont., who visits Kissing Bridge several times each season with a ski club.
“It’s a nice respite and it’s a beautifully situated chapel,” O’Rourke said after last week’s Mass. “Even though it may be cold outside, it’s very warm inside with the spirit of Christ.”
Some worshippers glide right up to the chapel on their skis or snowboards, which are stored on a rack a few steps from the door. Inside, a muffled crunching sound can be heard as people walk on the loose stone floor that drains melting snow and ice.
The chapel is named after the late Robert J. Crone, founder of the former Glenwood Acres Ski Area – which is now Kissing Bridge’s North Area – and the Glenwood Acres Ski Club. The chapel is located between the club’s chalet and the North Area service buildings.
Crone was regarded as a local pioneer in the sport of skiing. He was credited with introducing man-made snowmaking to the Eastern United States and with organizing this region’s first ski school and first ski patrol.
Club members built the chapel following Crone’s death in 1969, fulfilling his desire to have Mass celebrated slopeside.
“He tried doing an outdoor Mass at the bottom of the hill. That didn’t work,” recalled 87-year-old Paul Henderson. “When he passed away, some of us said, ‘Well, why don’t we build a chapel in Bob’s memory?’ ”
And that’s exactly what they did, during the fall of 1971.
Children of club members helped raise money by selling pizzas and candy door-to-door. A concrete contractor donated the foundation for the structure, which was designed by architect Leslie “Jim” Halfpenny, another club member.
“He designed it, then he helped build it,” Henderson said. “We were out every weekend, pounding nails.”
The first Mass was celebrated in late 1971 by the Rev. William R. Tuyn, who was fresh out of the seminary and newly ordained. Now, he’s among the retired priests – including Monsignor James E. Wall and the Rev. Walter J. Szczesny – who serve on alternate Sundays.
“They volunteer, but we try to get priests who ski,” Henderson said.
Kissing Bridge provides a daily ski pass, and the club pays them a small stipend to cover driving expenses.
After celebrating Mass last week, Wall traded his vestments for a ski jacket and took a few runs in the bone-chilling temperatures.
“It was a beautiful day, except it was cold,” said Wall, whose love of skiing has taken him from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Austrian Alps.
While a ski-in Mass may be a bit unorthodox, Wall doesn’t find it disrespectful.
“It’s wonderful that people even want to go to Mass. They could be spending the whole day skiing,” Wall said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Families have such little time together, anyway,” Wall continued. “It helps the family unite itself.”
Though Kissing Bridge Corp. bought the Glenwood Acres Ski Area property at auction in late 1973, the ski club remains the chapel’s steward.
“We have an informal agreement; they do pretty much everything,” said Mark Halter, president of Kissing Bridge. “For families that are churchgoers, this is a very convenient thing.”
The chapel also has been used for weddings, baptisms and memorial services. This year, the first Mass of the season was celebrated Jan. 5 and the last is scheduled for March 16.
Two or three dozen people typically attend.
“We get all kinds of people – even people that are not skiers but live in the area,” said Henderson.
Three sections of backless wooden benches provide seating, with folding metal chairs stacked nearby if needed. There are pegs to hang jackets and shelves beneath the benches for stowing gear, but upended helmets stuffed with goggles and hats often are placed on the deep windowsills.
Kent Iggulden and his wife, Felicia, are longtime members of Glenwood Acres Ski Club. On Sundays, he serves as an usher and she leads the congregants in song, a cappella.
“We are the first ones on the lift and we ski until quarter of 12, and then we go to church,” Iggulden said.
Younger worshippers often handle the readings. And, when Mass is over, they help collect the missals, which are stored in a cardboard box until the next weekend.
Also among the congregants last Sunday were skiers Susan and Christopher Stack, of Amherst, and their 11-year-old son, Sean, who’s a snowboarder.
“Our family’s Catholic, and we really don’t want to miss Mass,” Susan Stack said. “Going Saturday evening totally disrupts the stuff we have going Saturday.”
So when the family, which also includes 14-year-old Sharon, decides to hit the slopes on a Sunday, they get down to Kissing Bridge early and make a few runs before Mass.
“It makes for a very nice Sunday,” said Christopher Stack.