Almanack Contributor 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.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Adirondack Cross-Country Ski Season Preview

Two inches. According to Olavi Hirvonen, owner of the Lapland Lake cross-country ski area in Northville, two inches of dense snow is all that’s needed to get at least a few kilometers of Lapland Lake’s trail network open for skiing. And if anyone should know, it’s Olavi: with 34 years experience grooming Lapland Lake’s trails on a daily basis, he’s considered to be the most experienced groomer in North America.

While we’re waiting for the snow to fly, here’s a round-up of what skiers can look forward to at Adirondack cross-country ski centers this winter.

Lapland Lake in Northville has 38km of trails that are snowcat groomed with trackset and skating lanes, plus an additional 12km of marked and mapped snowshoe trails. Lapland Lake will host its two-day annual Open House and first annual X-C Ski Swap Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26.

Garnet Hill Lodge in North River has 55km of groomed trails and is adjacent to the Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area for virtually unlimited backcountry touring. As in past winters, Garnet Hill will offer its popular “ski down, ride back” shuttle bus service to lodge guests and day visitors.

Dewey Mountain Ski Center, located in Saranac Lake and owned by the Town of Harrietstown, has 15km of trails that Olympians Billy Demong and Timothy Burke consider home. The trails are groomed and maintained by Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, and the area enjoys strong community participation in programs like its Dewey Mountain Youth Ski League (where Burke and Demong both learned to race), Graymont Tuesday Night Race Series, and the popular Friday Night Ski Jams. Dewey Mountain Friends, a grassroots support group, has undertaken a multi-year effort to widen and improve trail grading, drainage and signage, and eventually replace the ski center’s lodge building.

Cascade Ski Touring Center in Lake Placid has 20km of trails that wind through spruce / fir woods and connect to Mount Van Hoevenberg and the Jack Rabbit Trail. Cascade’s full moon ski parties have become a Lake Placid institution, with lighted trails, bonfires and hot chocolate, and live music in the lodge. Full moon dates at Cascade this winter are January 7, February 4, and March 10 (all Saturdays).

Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid has more than 50km of trails that were home to the 1980 Winter Olympic cross-country skiing and biathlon competitions. The expertly groomed, scenic trail system continues to be the site of World Cup and Junior Olympic competitions, but is open to recreational skiers as well. The 30th Annual Lake Placid Loppet, known as one of the best amateur ski races in the country, will be held on February 4. There are 50km and 25km classic or free (skating) technique events that follow a demanding but beautiful course laid out for the 1980 Olympics.

All of the ski centers above expect to open as soon as there is sufficient snow, so in the meantime wear your pajamas inside out, do a snow dance, and above all else… THINK SNOW!

Photo credit: Mount Van Hoevenberg / ORDA

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


Monday, October 31, 2011

Commentary: ORDA Privatization Not The Answer

In a recent editorial, the Glens Falls Post-Star stated “it’s time for officials to re-think the financial and ownership model” underlying the New York State-owned winter sports facilities managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), including the Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers.

The Post-Star argues that declining taxpayer support for these facilities (the state currently contributes $4.6 million dollars to ORDA’s $30 million annual budget, down from a $7 million contribution in 2008-09), jeopardizes their future viability. “For the sake of the Adirondack economy and for the towns and counties that thrive on the successful operation of these venues” the Post Star’s editorial staff suggests “a different approach is needed.” » Continue Reading.


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.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Commentary: ORDA Should Run Belleayre

Belleyare Mountain Ski Center, located in the Catskills and currently operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), could instead be managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), according to officials at ORDA. The idea comes from Governor Cuomo’s Commission on Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE), and could be implemented as early as next winter. If implemented, the proposal stands to benefit skiers and the economies of the Catskills and Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

June is Adirondack Birding Festival Month

Take the Teddy Roosevelt Birding Challenge this spring in the Adirondacks or join birders from across the country during June’s birding weekend celebrations in the Adirondacks. See boreal birds like the black-backed woodpecker, three-toed woodpecker, boreal chickadee, spruce grouse, Bicknell’s thrush and several migrating warblers.

Join friends and fellow birders at the 9th Annual Adirondack Birding Celebration June 3-5, 2011 at the Paul Smith’s College Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. The Adirondack Park Institute will host birding trips, lectures, workshops and the popular Teddy Roosevelt Birding Challenge. A special keynote address will be given by noted bird expert, author and naturalist Scott Weidensaul. Registration opened May 1, 2011. For more information or to register, call (518) 327-3376 or log onto AdirondackParkInstitute.org.

The 7th Annual Birding Festival in Hamilton County is slated for June 10-12 in partnership with Audubon NY. Birders will travel through remote and wild forest areas of Hamilton County, including: Speculator, Lake Pleasant, Piseco & Morehouse, Blue Mountain Lake, Indian Lake, Long Lake, Raquette Lake and Inlet. See wood warblers and Boreal Birds like the Olive-sided and Yellow Bellied Fly Catchers, Gray Jays, three-toed woodpeckers and boreal chickadees. Guided walks, canoe excursions and evening presentations add to this weekend of birding in the Adirondacks. Be sure to check out National Historic Landmark Great Camp Sagamore, a vintage Vanderbilt Camp and 27 building complex. Guide walking and birding tours are available.

Can’t make the festivals? Check out the online.

Photo courtesy EPA.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stony Pond Ski Traverse and Falls Brook Yurts

Some of the best ski tours in the Adirondacks are traverses: Avalanche Pass to Tahawus, Siamese Ponds and the East Branch of the Sacandaga, and Hoffman Notch to name a few popular point-to-point routes. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to ski one of my favorite lesser known tours with a group of friends, from Route 28N in Minerva to Irishtown, passing Stony Pond and Big and Little Sherman Ponds along the 6-mile traverse. As a bonus, near the end of the traverse, our group made a detour to visit the Falls Brook Yurts, owned by Jim Hanley and Michele Quirk. The ski-through has become something of an annual tradition, organized by Jim and Michelle to mark the (almost) end of winter.

Nearly twenty of us met Saturday morning at the Irishtown trailhead. Jim shuttled food, gear and refreshments by snowmobile the two thirds of a mile up the trail to the yurts while the rest of us grouped up for the shuttle to the Stony Pond trailhead several miles north of Minerva on Route 28N.

At the Stony Pond trailhead, any thoughts of spring skiing vanished. Snow earlier in the week and cold temperatures gave us beautiful packed powder conditions over a firm 2- to 3-foot base. The traverse begins with a rolling 2-mile climb to the lean-to at Stony Pond, passing numerous wetlands and beaver flows along the way. Stony Pond itself is a large, attractive body of water and makes a good destination for a short out-and-back ski tour. Our group continued across the frozen pond, then made a short uphill climb through the woods before descending to Little and Big Sherman Ponds. That short descent is the most challenging skiing on the tour, but is easily negotiated with a strong snowplow. Not far beyond the Sherman Ponds the route begins a series of long, gradual descents, dropping nearly a thousand vertical feet in two and a half miles to the Irishtown trailhead.

Before reaching the trailhead, we turned onto the short side-trail to the Falls Brook Yurts. Jim and Michele have owned and operated the yurts for 12 years, renting them to families, groups and individuals for weekends or several day stays. The yurts are well-equipped with propane lighting, heat and cook stoves. Guests carry in their own food and personal gear. If you’d like to stay in the yurts, plan ahead: both yurts are booked well in advance most weekends year-round.

Hauling propane, cleaning between guests, and general maintenance of the yurts and the 20 acres they are sited on is a lot of work, especially in winter, but today’s ski tour and visit to the yurts was meant to be pure fun, socializing and celebration. Thanks to Jim’s snowmobile shuttle in the morning, we had plenty of hot and cold food and – most importantly – celebratory beverages waiting for us at the yurts. The spring sun and daylight savings time allowed plenty of time for those of us who weren’t staying overnight at the yurts to linger and socialize for a few hours before heading down the trail for the short ski back to the Irishtown trailhead. Winter is bound to end soon, but there wasn’t a single person on Saturday’s trip who wouldn’t mind if it stuck around for just a few more weeks.

The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Central Region trail guide is the definitive guide to the Stony Pond trail and other trails in the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest.

Photos: Irishtown trailhead; Stony Pond leanto; on the trail; arriving at the yurts.

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


Monday, January 24, 2011

Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks

Jeremy Davis is founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP) and author of two books on that subject. Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Davis about NELSAP, his books and lost ski areas of the Adirondacks.

Jeff: So, just what is a “lost” ski area?

Jeremy: It’s a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important.

Jeff: And what is NELSAP?

Jeremy: NELSAP is the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, which I founded in 1998 in order to document and preserve the history of ski areas in New York, New England and elsewhere that are no longer in operation.

Jeff: What was the inspiration behind your founding of NELSAP?

Jeremy: As a kid, not long after I had first learned to ski, we took a family trip to North Conway, New Hampshire. On the way up I saw this mountain called Mount Whittier that had closed down about five or six years earlier, and it made me wonder what had happened. At the time it was still pretty visible, but now it’s almost completely grown in. A short while later, on another family trip to Jackson, New Hampshire, we saw another lost area from the top of Black Mountain, called Tyrol. Seeing those two abandoned areas sparked my curiosity and made me want to learn more about them, but there weren’t any resources back then. After that, whenever we took family ski trips, if we saw an old area on a road map that we knew wasn’t open, I’d drag my parents there to check it out. They were really supportive about that and found it fun. Gradually I collected more and more information – postcards, brochures and trail maps, old ski books. Then, while I was in college, I decided to put what I had on the web. That was October of 1998. Gradually, more and more people began to see it and they would send me more information. The thing that really catapulted the website was a Boston Globe article in December of 2000 on the front page of the New England section of the Sunday paper. By 7am I had more hits than I had gotten in a year. The traffic shut down the site and overloaded my email. The AP picked up the Globe story and it ran in what seemed like every New England newspaper over the next few weeks. The project just mushroomed from there. What we have up on the site now is just a fraction of all the information that we’ve collected over the years. It’s a lifetime of work.

Jeff: You’ve got nearly 700 lost ski areas listed on the website now, 19 of them are lost Adirondack ski areas.

Jeremy: Right, in fact those 19 areas are just the start. I think the real number is probably between 50 and 60 areas within the Adirondacks. We’re always looking for more information. If we can get to the owners, or the people who ran the ski school or managed the areas, that kind of primary source information is invaluable.

Jeff: Are there any lost Adirondack areas that you’re particularly interested in, areas that you’re looking for more information on?

Jeremy: Paleface, near Jay, is one. Paleface was run like a dude ranch, an all-inclusive resort with lodging, a bar and restaurant, indoor pool, and skiing. There was a double chair, a T-bar, and a dozen trails with 750 feet of vertical. It operated from 1961 until the early 1980s, and had been re-named Bassett Mountain near the end. Mount Whitney, also near Whiteface, is another one we’d like to gather more information about. And there are lots of other Adirondack areas that we have to research.

Jeff: What factors led to these ski area closures? Were there any factors that were particular to the Adirondacks?

Jeremy: Well, you have the same factors that caused ski areas all over the Northeast to close down: insurance and snowmaking costs, the gasoline shortages in the ‘70s, bad snow years, competition and changing skier preferences. But there are some interesting cases in the Adirondacks: Harvey Mountain is a good example.

Jeff: What happened there?

Jeremy: Harvey Mountain was a classic, family-owned ski area on Barton Mines Road in North River, just a few miles up the road from state-run Gore. It had a T-bar, 400 feet of vertical, and operated from 1962 to 1977. It was a great alternative to Gore. But they weren’t allowed to have a sign advertising the mountain on Route 28 at the bottom of Barton Mines Road. They got around that by paying somebody to park a truck with a sign for Harvey Mountain each day at the turnoff for Gore, but eventually regulation and competition from Gore caused the ski area to shut down.

Jeff: It seems like there’s a good number of lost Adirondack ski areas that have been re-born: Hickory outside of Warrensburg, Oak Mountain near Speculator, Big Tupper. Is that unusual?

Jeremy: It is pretty unusual for a lost area to re-open, and there’s a unique, interesting story behind each one of those. Besides those three that you mentioned, several towns have their own rope tows that are still open: Indian Lake, Long Lake, Chestertown, Newcomb, Schroon Lake. A lot of people don’t realize those areas exist and are completely free. There’s also Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake, which is municipally operated and very affordable. You’ve also got places like Willard, West Mountain, Titus Mountain (near Malone) and McCauley Mountain (Old Forge) that still have that local, more intimate feel. So we’re really lucky in the Adirondacks to have these smaller areas that can introduce people to the sport and be an affordable alternative to the big areas. Hopefully the number of ski areas has stabilized, and short of some economic catastrophe, we won’t lose any more.

Jeff: Will there be a Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks book, similar to the books you’ve authored for the White Mountains and Southern Vermont regions?

Jeremy: Eventually there will be. I don’t know what region we’ll do next, but the series will probably continue with a new book every two years or so until we’ve covered all of New York and New England. That will be eight books in total, so that’s a lot of work.

Readers who may have information to share with NELSAP are encouraged to visit NELSAP’s website or contact Jeremy Davis at nelsap@yahoo.com. Reader input has been a critical part of NELSAP’s success over the years.

Photos: Top: Spring skiing at Harvey Mountain (courtesy Ann Butler and NELSAP). Middle: Paleface Mountain (courtesy NELSAP). Bottom: Davis at Gilbert’s Hill outside Woodstock, VT, site of the first lift-served skiing in the United States (courtesy Jeremy Davis).

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


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lapland Lake Ski Center’s Olavi and Ann Hirvonen

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Benson, near Northville. Olavi competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team., and in 1978 he founded Lapland Lake, which he and Ann have built into one of the East’s foremost cross country ski centers.

Jeff: What events led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 1960?

Olavi: Well, it’s a long story… I was born in Montreal and was brought to Finland when I was eight months old. I was raised there by my grandmother and learned to ski as a youngster. I came to this country in 1949 after serving in the Finnish Army. After being here a couple years and married for a few months, I received greetings from the U.S. Army with special orders to go to Alaska as an instructor in the Arctic Indoctrination School. In the wintertime I taught skiing, snowshoeing, and Arctic survival, and in the summer it was mountain climbing, rock climbing, glacier travel.

Jeff: Alaska must have been an incredible place in the 1950s.

Olavi: I liked Alaska, yes. Good fishing and good hunting, and lots of lingonberries in the woods! [lingonberries are a Scandinavian food staple].

Jeff: Your service in the Army led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team?

Olavi: After the Army I had a ski lodge in Vermont that I was leasing. I had an invitation to go to the U.S. Olympic training camp in Colorado, but we were adding on to the ski lodge in ’59 and early ’60, and I couldn’t take the time to go because of all the work that I needed to do at home. So I trained by myself, until a week before the tryouts, and then I went out to meet up with the team in Winter Park, Colorado, which is at 10,000 feet. I had headaches night and day and didn’t do very well at all. On the fifth day, at a race in Aspen before the tryouts, I came in 26th and I thought I’ll never make it. The day after that we drove up to Steamboat Springs, and I went out to check the course for the first race of the tryouts. All of a sudden I felt like somebody turned the power switch on, like my old self. I came in second in the tryouts.

Olavi: Well, there’s more to the story. Because I hadn’t been trained by the Olympic coaches I was something of a black sheep. I didn’t get to race my best distance, the 30K, which was the first race. I found out the night before the race, and I was very disappointed. Instead I raced in the 15K and the 50K.

Jeff: Which event did you do better in?

Olavi: Well, the 50K, but I had never skied 50K in my life. I didn’t medal, but I ended up being the second US finisher, after breaking my ski. I had to ski on a single ski for more than a mile. I got a ski from a spectator and finished the race. That happened in the first 10K.

Jeff: That’s an incredible story, how did that happen?

Olavi: I stepped out of the track to make way for a Finnish competitor and that’s when I broke my ski. That was Veikko Hakulinen, and he won the silver medal. We became good friends after the Olympics. In the 40K team relay, he came from 20 seconds behind in the last leg to win the gold medal by just one meter. [Veikko Hakulinen was the only athlete at the Squaw Valley games to win three medals. The third medal was in the 15K].

Jeff: And what led you to eventually found Lapland Lake?

Olavi: We were living in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s, and I had seen Trapp Family Lodge, the first cross country ski center in the United States. My late son worked there as an instructor in the 1970s, and it had been in my mind since the Olympics to one day start something like that.

In 1977 I had built two houses, one that we were living in and one that I was still finishing, and they were both for sale. I thought one of them might sell, but they both did, and so in the spring of 1978 we were homeless and we headed out. My plan was to head into upstate New York, but farther north than here. Driving north on Route 30, I saw the sign for Benson and I thought “I have to make that left.” It was like a magnet, I had not planned to come here. Eventually we found this place. It had cabins, lots of land and a lake, and it was for sale.

When we finally made the deal to buy the property, the lady who sold the property to us, the former owner, wanted to take us out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant she asked me what sports my late son had been involved in [Olavi lost his son Esa in an accident in 1977]. I said biathlon and cross-country skiing, and she said her nephew was on the U.S. biathlon team. So I asked her what’s his name, and she said John Hall. Well, I could hardly believe it because John Hall had been my son’s good buddy in college. That connection must have been the magnet that pulled me here.

Jeff: What were the early years like? Did you operate Lapland Lake as both a touring center and a vacation resort right from the start?

Olavi: Originally, this place was a farm. The lodge was a barn, for cows. In the 1930s, the owner put up some summer cottages but they weren’t winterized. We closed on the property August 3, 1978 and we had the first ski race December 15. There wasn’t much time to work on the trails that first year. We had to jack up all the cottages and put in foundations. I got a backhoe and I dug all of the water lines underground. We worked round the clock to get the place ready.

Jeff: Last year was a really tough year for snow. How did you do?

Ann: We average 117 days of skiing and over 11 feet of snow per year. Last year was our lowest snow year ever (80 inches), but we had over 100 days of skiing. We worked the snow and we were lucky with what we got.

Jeff: How much snow do you need to open?

Olavi: Well it depends on what type of snow. The best is a wet snow, and then cold after that. We can ski with just 2 inches on the lake trail. But six inches of wet snow lets us open just about everything.

Jeff: What’s involved in the trail grooming?

Olavi: At this time of year before the snow comes there’s clearing limbs and trees that have come down, and clearing drainage pipes. In the summer we mow the trails. It’s continuous maintenance. In the winter we groom every day. I’ve got a new 2010 Prinoth Husky Snowcat groomer, I think it’s our fourth snowcat groomer, plus a couple snowmobiles.

Jeff: Do you do all the grooming yourself?

Olavi: Yes, I still do. I have a young man who just started who I hope I can get to groom with the snowmobile, so at least I’ll have a backup if I get sick or hurt. It depends how good he is.

Jeff: How has the grooming evolved?

Olavi: When we first started I just had a snowmobile and track sled. We used mattress springs to break up the snow if it got hard or there was freezing rain. The trails were narrow, and groomed with tracks for classic skiing. Then people started skating, and I complained that people were destroying my tracks. So I widened the trails, bought our first snowcat, and started grooming for both skating and classic.

Jeff: Has anyone taken you up on your “Groomer’s Challenge?”

Ann [explaining to Olavi, who apparently hasn’t seen this on the website]: That’s online. We checked with the Cross Country Ski Association, and we don’t think there’s anyone who has more hours of grooming experience than Olavi in North America. One gentleman said he had been grooming as many years, but he was from downstate where the seasons are short. So in terms of total number of days grooming, we haven’t heard of anyone who’s got the depth of experience that Olavi has. It’s been on the website for three years now.

Jeff: The grooming and the design of the trail network seem to have given Lapland Lake the reputation of being a skier’s ski center.

Olavi: From the start I had the idea of making the trails all one-way loops, other than some connecting trails. We have a limited amount of acreage, and I wanted to get as many kilometers of trail as possible and take advantage of the natural terrain. We also get lots of beginners. We have a great ski school and we do a lot of lessons.

Jeff: Olavi, do you still ski?

Olavi: I don’t ski much anymore. I work days, and usually when I do ski it’s in the evening with lights on the Lake Trail or the easier trails with a headlamp. But I find my balance is nothing like what it used to be. I’ll be 80 on December 26. You know your limitations.

Jeff: A number of cross country ski areas have installed snowmaking: Trapp, Mountain Top, and others. Is that something you’d consider here?

Olavi: No, I think it’s too much of an expense to be worth it for us, it wouldn’t pay. So far we’ve been very lucky with our natural snowfall.

Jeff: Where do your customers come from?

Olavi: We get day skiers from the Capital District, Johnstown and Amsterdam, even Kingston and New Paltz. Overnight guests from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. We get lots of Canadians and Europeans. About 65% of our skiers are experienced skiers. We get racers early in the season, but later they travel to races. We also have a great volunteer Ski Patrol.

Ann: On weekends we’ll have 300 to 400 skiers. We hit 1,000 once, but it was just too many: people were elbow-to-elbow in the ski shop.

Jeff: How does this winter look?

Ann: Our reservations and our season passes are up. People seem to feel more comfortable spending money.

Jeff: Do you think a ski center can exist on its own as a viable business, or does it need to be paired with an inn or lodging business to be successful?

Olavi: I think it works best with lodging. It gives you something to fall back on, something for the summertime. And lodging in the winter without the skiing doesn’t do very well either. You have to have that combination.

Jeff: One thing that has always stood out is your website and the way you communicate with skiers.

Olavi: That’s Ann. When we met she was a PR person at Ellis Hospital. She doesn’t want to miss a ski report, and quite often she’ll update it more than once during the day. I’ll give her a report while I’m grooming. We try our best to be honest, but sometimes you still get it wrong.

Ann: At the time, I thought I was taking a big gamble spending money on the website, but it’s really paid off.

Jeff: How do you two share the work: the ski trails, the retail shop, the cottages and the restaurant?

Olavi: Ann is really the manager, and I do most of the outside work, the trails. In the winter, after the trail grooming, I come in and work in the ski shop selling skis and doing repairs. Ann gives me a to-do list.

Ann: Olavi may say I am the manager, but he’s really the heart and soul of the operation. He puts so much of himself into the trails and the grooming… Olavi says “I groom it the way I want to ski it.”

Jeff: Thanks very much Ann and Olavi for your time, and congratulations on your continued success with Lapland Lake. Olavi, congratulations on your upcoming birthday, and your Olympic anniversary. Kudos!

Photo of Olavi and Ann courtesy the Finland Center Foundation.

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



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