The Crooked Lake Review

Fall 2007

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A Review of

With Our Own Four Hands

And a Lot of Help from Our Friends
and New Neighbors Swain Ski Area
Came to Be

by Dave and Bina Robinson, AuthorHouse, 2007

Reviewed by Martha Treichler

Dave and Bina Robinson made history in New York State when during the second World War, they dreamed up the idea of having a ski area for western New York. One night when he was on bow watch on his tanker in the Merchant Marines, it struck Dave that Rochester had a lot of snow, but no ski areas. He and Bina decided to "look for a hill, buy it, and put up a rope tow."

They did find out later that there were indeed several small ski slopes in western New York, and the owner of one of them, Bill De Wolfe, later ran the Swain Ski School for ten years.

Bina's lively book tells the story of how she and Dave, building by building, piece by piece of equipment, built a ski area. But, it turns out that she is really saying that it took more than their four hands. She gives credit to their neighbors, their employees, their banker, their family and friends , who gave heroic help along the way. She tells how their four children grew up to be invaluable helpers. Each of the children has a chapter in the book, giving his or her own story of what it was like to grow up on a ski slope.

Their ski area grew because they provided what their customers needed. A ski shop happened because the Robinson's customers needed supplies and equipment, and there was no ski shop within a fifty mile radius.

Skiing was more complicated in the days when the Robinsons were creating a ski area. There were no Teflon bottoms on skis, so skiers had to have help having their skis waxed and lacquered. Leather boots had to be fitted and laced up. Cable bindings were adjusted to fit each individual pair of boots. So, a ski repair shop became a necessity.

Skiers wanted hot food, so the cafeteria and restaurant grew and grew. Ski slopes had to be groomed continually, so equipment and machinery were added.

Since from the first a Ski Patrol was a necessity, Dave, Bina and friend Dick Clark, took first aid classes and made up the first Ski Patrol. Dick's sons were added. Co-workers of Dave's from Kodak joined. One ski patroller, Harry Stoneham, is one of the longest-serving patrollers in the country with over sixty years of service. The Robinson's all-volunteer Swain Ski Patrol is "one of the oldest continually operating chapters of the National Ski Patrol in the country."

The Swain Ski School was at first just Bina teaching local children or an occasional customer, but as the need for ski instructors grew, so did the Swain Ski School. In 2004, it had grown to 120 instructors, who taught from 6,000 to 20,000 skiers a year. The school provided specially-priced packages for school students that included everything they needed: lessons, equipment rental, lift tickets, and chaperones.

Another accomplishment for them was that they were one of the first ski areas to make snow. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle described, on January 22, 1956, in an article by Floyd King, " a successful weekend made possible by man-made snow at Swain." He stated, "Almost every ski area in Northeastern United States and Canada was washed out of business last weekend by the prolonged January thaw"."One of the exceptions was Swain Ski Slope where the largest crowd in its history enjoyed skiing on corn snow, framed by a Grandma Moses winter wonderland". Floyd gives us his explanation of how it was done, and Bina gives us the real, personal nitty-gritty.

So, the Swain Ski Center grew and grew. Bina shows the hard work, the long hours, the money worries. But, she says, "It wasn't all tragedy and heroism.", and she tells us of the good times, too. A few of the problems were some of the funniest moments. Take the bat in the attic, or the indoor rain barrels.

Dave and Bina's story shows us that they not only built a Ski Center that provided fun and healthy exercise for thousands of people, but they also changed the hamlet of Swain and Allegany County, New York, forever.

Pictures in the book include before and after shots of the barn that became the base lodge, one of daughter Janet skiing with family dog, Killy on her back, and family and friends.

The book may be purchased for $14.95 from Sundown Books in Geneso, Swain Town Historian Marilyn Weidman, or these stores in Swain: Maude's Country Store, Downhill Drew's, and the Alfred Sports Shop. It is also available from the publisher at for $9.95 plus $6.95 shipping.

Establishing a Ski Area at Swain by Dave Robinson
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