Whiteface legend died doing what he loved

Beloved ski patroller James Hoyt Sr. remembered

James Hoyt Sr.

WILMINGTON — The mood on Whiteface Mountain has been a somber one for the past few days. A ski patroller who’s been at the mountain since the very beginning in 1958 is no longer there.

James “Humpty” Hoyt Sr. is pretty much synonymous with the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center. He’s been a member of its ski patrol since it opened 60 years ago. He combed the many beginner, intermediate and black diamond trails up until he was 80 years old. On Thursday, while making the last sweep of the day, Hoyt died of natural causes.

Ski patrolman Bob Zande recalled hearing the news of Hoyt’s condition and seeing a crowd of people at the bottom of Whiteface watch as he was transported down the mountain.

“You could tell how loved he was,” Zande said trying to fight back tears. “Not that he was any different. People would’ve been concerned about anything. Seeing all the people look up the hill on his way down was very sad, but it showed how much they cared about him.”

He stopped himself from saying the cliche phrase, “He died doing what he loved,” and instead said, “Who could ask for a better way to go out?”

From left, Bob Zande and James Hoyt’s son James Jr. worked closely with Hoyt as members of the Whiteface Mountain ski patrol. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

Zande often wears a red baseball cap with the words “Hoyt’s High” stitched in to it, commemorating the Whiteface trail named after Hoyt in 2008.

Hoyt’s son James Hoyt Jr., who is the ski patrol director at Whiteface, said Hoyt’s High is a popular trail, but it doesn’t open too often because of a lack of snow.

“It’s got a lot of character to it,” Hoyt Jr. said, “Nowadays a lot of trails get made into highways just because of the amount of people on them.”

Hoyt Jr. and his siblings Allen, Robert, Michael and Carol followed in their father’s footsteps and were all on the Whiteface ski patrol at one time or another.

As an active member of the ski patrol well past the average age of retirement, some wonder how Hoyt stayed so athletic.

“He was always doing something and keeping busy,” Hoyt Jr. said. “That’s why he lasted as long as he did. I mean, he cuts all his own firewood. He’d cut about 10 face cords a year for the house, and he’s done that for every year as long as I remember.”

A face cord is a stack of firewood that measures 4 feet high by 8 feet long.

Hoyt, who was born in 1937, grew up and worked on the his family’s farm in Saranac Lake, Hemlock Hill Potato Farm, But they became known for more than potatoes. From about 1959 to 1969, Hoyt, his mother Pearl and his father Aaron hosted stock car races on their property.

Howard Riley, a local history columnist for the Enterprise, wrote that “the races drew huge crowds; one race card on a Friday night drew 1,500 paid admissions with probably another 500 gathered outside the fence with no room in the bleachers.”

Hoyt would participate in these races, driving his stock car with the number 55 on the side.

Hoyt Jr. said his dad loved the outdoors. He would often spend his free time skiing and playing golf. For a bit he was even a bronco buster who trained horses to carry people in saddle. Hoyt Jr. said his father was a role model for older folks and represented the idea that age is nothing to hold you back from doing what you love.

“Well, I think he was an inspiration to everybody, being as old as he was and skiing as well as he does,” Hoyt Jr. said.

Natalie Leduc, one Hoyt’s neighbors and a local ski historian described him as a “whale of a skier.”

Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellett thinks Hoyt stayed on the ski patrol for so long because he truly loved his work.

“He was extremely devoted to doing what he was doing,” he said. “You know, he woke up in the morning, and he was excited to come to work and he had a true passion for what he was doing.”

Hoyt wasn’t the type of person who could be told what to do. Certain sections of Whiteface are sometimes closed to the public to host New York Ski Educational Foundation practices and competitions. Hoyt’s job was to watch these trails and make sure people stayed off them until the NYSEF skiers were finished.

However, he would often poach the trails, meaning he would just go down them for fun even when he wasn’t supposed to. Ski patrolman Bob Hudak always thought it was a funny sight, seeing an empty track off in the distance with one little speck sporting the red and while ski patrol colors riding down the mountain.

Despite some goofy antics, Kellett said Hoyt was a leader and a mentor ever since the mountain opened more than half a century ago.

“I’ve known him personally since I was about 8 or 9,” Kellet said, “and he always took us kids under his wing. He skied with us showed us around mountain. He was an all-around great guy.

“He’s definitely going to be missed. He’s had a major impact on basically everyone that’s worked here.”

James Hoyt Sr.’s obituary