Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upcoming Adirondack Ski Season Preview

The first few snowflakes of the year have already dusted the highest peaks of the Adirondacks, and skiers and riders are looking forward to opening day. Here’s a preview of what’s in store for this winter at downhill ski centers in the Adirondack region.

At Gore Mountain, 130 new high-efficiency tower guns will provide a major improvement in the mountain’s snowmaking capabilities. The new guns will be installed on trails that constitute some of the mountain’s most popular intermediate terrain including Sunway, Wild Air, Sleighride and Quicksilver. The new guns will also be installed on Sagamore, the expert trail which forms the core of Gore’s Burnt Ridge terrain pod that opened in 2008. Emily Stanton, Gore’s marketing manager explained the significance of the new guns: “It’s huge. Not only will the new guns allow us to better utilize our pumping capacity to make more snow, they will allow us to devote snowmaking resources to other parts of the mountain more quickly. It’s the biggest upgrade to our snowmaking plant since we tapped the Hudson in 1996.”

There will be expanded glade terrain at Gore this winter as well, with two new black diamond glades at the Ski Bowl and an extension of the intermediate Chatterbox glade. The entire Ski Bowl terrain pod and the Chatterbox glade were themselves new last year. The new glades at the Ski Bowl will provide a by-pass to the headwall section of 46er, the expert trail that follows the line of the Hudson Chair. That headwall section of 46er was unskiable last year due to unfinished trail grading and a lack of snowmaking, and unfortunately it will likely remain unskiable this year. Stanton explained “with all the other work that’s been going on, we just weren’t able to get to 46er this year.”

Gore’s base lodge will see a complete renovation of the Tannery Pub, a new outdoor grille, and a new lower level patio. The grooming fleet has also been upgraded with the purchase of a new groomer at the end of last season.

And last, Stanton mentioned excitement over the Saratoga North Creek Railroad’s ski trains this winter. “The train isn’t just transportation, it’s an experience. They’ve really done a first class job. Ski packages for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, late December through late March, are already set up on the railroad’s website. It’s is a wonderful marketing opportunity for us, and a year-round asset for North Creek too.”

At Whiteface, General Manager Bruce McCulley and ORDA Public Relations Coordinator Jon Lundin gave an overview of what they’ve been working on during the summer months. In the lodge, the rental shop and retail store will be extensively re-modeled, as will the kitchen for the J. Lohr café. The rental shop will also be outfitted with new “rockered” Rossignol skis. Rockered skis are a recent ski design trend that allows for easier turn initiation, a plus for beginners.

A new winchcat groomer has been added to the fleet, terrain in the Sugar Valley Glades has been expanded, and four new high-efficiency automated fan guns have been added to the snowmaking plant. The fan guns are considered state-of-the-art in terms of their automation, consistency, and ability to make snow in marginal conditions over a large area.

Last year, Whiteface was plagued by a number of lift malfunctions, and the Little Whiteface double chair was taken off-line in late February for the remainder of the season. That lift has been extensively renovated this summer, including new towers from mid-station up. McCulley elaborated: “That lift had an awful lot of hours on it. Some of the towers were as old as 1958, others went back to the 70s. We’ve gone through the entire mechanism, overhauling or replacing just about every component. Functionally it’s the same lift, but the mechanism is essentially new.” The Little Whiteface double serves a key role as an alternate for when the gondola is on wind-hold, and as an option for skiers who wish to access upper mountain terrain without returning all the way to base to ride the gondola.

Whiteface had one of its most successful seasons ever last year, as measured by skier visits and revenue. “It was a perfect storm” said ORDA’s Lundin. “We had a favorable Canadian exchange rate, and all it did from Christmas until spring was snow.” Marketing efforts helped as well, with programs like the Whiteface Road Warriors and recognition as the East’s #1 ski resort (Ski Magazine, December 2010). Lundin is clearly excited for this winter: “We’re looking to ride the wave of last year’s snow and follow up with another blow-out year.”

Not every skier is looking for the big mountain experience – and price tag – offered by Gore and Whiteface. Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake and McCauley Mountain in Old Forge are excellent small-to-medium sized alternatives. At Mount Pisgah, the ski area’s 1940s-era T-bar is being replaced with a new T-bar lift. The lift replacement is expected to be completed by November, along with new lighting for night skiing. Big Tupper is another alternative for skiers, and the area is expected to be run again this winter by community volunteers. Surprisingly, there is even free skiing to be found at small, municipally operated hills like the Indian Lake ski slope and Dynamite Hill in Chestertown. The importance of these small- and medium-sized “feeder” areas can not be underestimated: besides providing an opportunity for beginning skiers to learn the sport, these areas also provide a positive regional economic impact.

Hickory Ski Center, in the southern Adirondacks, was recently brought back to life after having been shuttered from 2005 to 2009. Since the area re-opened in January, 2010, the lodge has been renovated, new grooming equipment and an electronic ticketing system have been purchased, and the lifts have been refurbished. Hickory relies exclusively on surface lifts (2 Pomas and a T-bar) to serve its 1200’ of vertical, and the lift upgrades have virtually eliminated breakdowns.

Historically, Hickory never really had adequate grooming capability, but a state-of-the-art winchcat purchased last year now allows the ski area to provide groomed corduroy conditions on its mid- and lower mountain terrain, broadening the area’s appeal to beginners, intermediates and families. Hickory’s challenging upper mountain terrain and its natural snow conditions (no snowmaking) have long appealed to advanced skiers, but Hickory is looking to emphasize the area’s appeal to families. “We’ve had many families associated with the mountain for a long, long time and I think that’s one of our strong suits,” said Bill Van Pelt, a shareholder. “Our target market is absolutely families.”

Just outside the Blue Line, West Mountain and Willard Mountain have been busy with improvements and upgrades as well. West is adding several high-efficiency automated fan guns (West’s snowmaking operation is 100% fan guns), and is looking to leverage its electronic lift ticketing system (new last year) to provide skiers with more convenience and flexibility. Willard is also adding fan guns to their snowmaking plant. Like most ski areas, both Willard and West make investments in their snowmaking operations every year. Chic Wilson, Willard’s GM and owner, calls snowmaking “the most important part of our business,” a sentiment echoed by Mike Barbone, GM at West Mountain.

ORDA’s Lundin summed up what every skier is already feeling: “Get out. Ski. It’s gonna be a great year.”

Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.

Jeff Farbaniec

Jeff Farbaniec

Jeff Farbaniec, of Saratoga County, is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.

Jeff's emphasis at the Almanack is on the ski sports - everything and anything related to Adirondack skiing. Jeff lives in Wilton, just south of the Blue Line, with his wife and their two young children.


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