Last winter’s mild temperatures and lack of snow left winter sports enthusiasts disappointed, but there is already snow on many summits and die-hards earned turns on the Whiteface Memorial Highway several weeks ago. It looks like the start of the downhill season could be just a few weeks away.
It may seem like fall is reluctant to give up its grip on the northeast, but ski season is just around the corner. Gore and Whiteface are targeting the day after Thanksgiving to start spinning their lifts, with most other New York ski areas following suit shortly thereafter. Here’s a look at what’s new for skiers and riders across the region. » Continue Reading.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, the best time of year is almost here. With overnight temperatures dipping below freezing, ski areas around the region have begun firing up their snowmaking equipment to prepare for the start of the 2014-15 ski season.
Crews have been busy with projects all summer and fall, here’s a look at what they’ve been up to. » Continue Reading.
I put the Pomalift disc between my thighs and waited. Within a second, I was airborne and launched six feet forward, then settled back to Earth. At Hickory Ski Center, sliding up the mountain can be as exciting as the trip down.
The first thing you’ll notice about Hickory is the large percentage of skiers with telemark gear or powder planks. Snowboarders are welcome, but you’ll rarely see them. This is a skier’s mountain. No matter what they have on their feet, almost everyone here is an expert or aspires to be one. That’s a hint. Hickory is for those that have developed their skills at lesser venues, not for neophytes. » Continue Reading.
This is the time of year when skiers’ anticipation is at its peak. The first snows have already whitened the higher elevations of the Adirondacks, signaling winter’s approach.
If you’re a die-hard skier, you’ve lined up your season pass and tuned up your equipment. You wear your pajamas inside-out and you’ve flushed a tray of ice cubes down the toilet (trust me, it works) to ensure a winter of bountiful snow.
Maybe you’ve even had a bonfire to sacrifice a pair of skis to Ullr, the Norse god of snow and skiing. All that’s left now is waiting for the chairlifts to start spinning. Ski areas in the region have been busy too, working on improvements and upgrades all summer and fall. Here’s a quick look at what they’ve been up to. » Continue Reading.
New skis for Christmas? If so, your timing is about perfect. Snow conditions at Adirondack ski areas are arguably the best we’ve seen so far this season, and trail counts have been steadily expanding. If the storm that is predicted to drop a foot of snow region-wide tonight and tomorrow delivers as promised, ski conditions will be ideal.
We skied Sunday and Monday at Gore, where roughly 30% of the mountain’s trails were open. Snowmaking crews were at work getting more expert trails ready to come online. A very dense natural snow base on the unopened trails and in the glades means that trail counts could expand significantly with some natural snow. Recent reports from Whiteface show similar conditions there. » Continue Reading.
Maybe it’s pent-up demand following last year’s lackluster ski season, but skiers seem more excited than usual about the approaching ski season. Adirondack ski areas are eagerly anticipating a bounce back from last winter’s disappointing snowfall too, and have been busy with upgrades and improvements all summer.
Snow this weekend meant some tentative trips down the Whiteface Memorial Highway, and cold temperatures last night have kicked-off snowmaking at Gore and Whiteface. » Continue Reading.
It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult start to the ski season. Besides a notable lack of snowfall, the cold temperatures that ski areas need for snowmaking operations have so far been hard to come by.
I started my ski season on Thanksgiving weekend, when both Gore and Whiteface opened for the 2011-2012 season, and I’ve now got several days at both mountains under my belt. Although trail choices have been limited (both mountains are about 20% open as of this writing), conditions have been surprisingly good, thanks to efficient snowmaking plants and modern grooming equipment. You can check out my most recent visits to Gore and Whiteface here and here. » Continue Reading.
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.
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 email@example.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.
Downhill skiing and riding in the Adirondacks could begin as early as November 27 at both Whiteface and Gore mountains, if freezing conditions allow for making snow this month. But the biggest news in snow sports this winter is the return of two long dormant ski areas (reported here at the Almanack last month), Hickory Ski Center and Big Tupper. Hickory Ski Center, a 1,200-foot resort for expert skiers outside Warrensburg, will reopen this winter for the first time in four years. The legendary Adirondack slope has only a dozen trails, mostly black diamond, and a T-bar and two Poma lifts (famous for breaking down regularly). But the sixty-year-old resort is beloved by hundreds of hard-core skiers. Last year, William Van Pelt, a Saratoga native who now lives in Houston, decided to invest in the property. He’s added some snowmaking and plans to add grooming. Visitors can expect the usual old-fashioned atmosphere of a tiny resort, combined with a few nods to the 21st Century – such as WiFi in the homey base lodge, and a $45 lift ticket.
Meanwhile, in Tupper Lake efforts are under way to open the long-dormant Big Tupper Ski Area. The resort, with about 30 trails and more than a thousand feet of vertical, closed around a decade ago. More recently, developers included the resort in the massive Adirondack Club and Resort, a plan for 600 high-end vacation homes and a hotel. But with the controversial project held up in the permitting process, some locals under the name ARISE, or Area Residents Intent on Saving their Economy, pushed to open at least part of the ski resort on their own this year. According to the web site, lift tickets will be a mind-blowing $15, although that’s subject to change. Plans are to open the resort Dec. 26 on Friday-Sunday as natural snow permits.
Further to the south, McCauley Mountain in Old Forge plans to open on December 12th and another troubled ski resort, Oak Mountain in Speculator, will open the day after Christmas (though tubing begins a month earlier). Oak Mountain, run by the Germain family for five decades, was taken over by the village three years ago. Now owned by the local Industrial Development Agency, the resort is staffed mostly by volunteers. The IDA still hopes to sell it to a private operator – asking price two years ago was $2.4 million. It’s a terrible market now, admits Mayor Neil McGovern. “But a tremendous value.”
Adirondack Ski Resort Details:
Gore Mountain, North Creek Phone: 518-251-2411 Cost for adult: $71 weekend/$64 weekday Vertical drop: 2,300 feet Trails: 82
Best deal: Coke Wednesdays ($38 lift ticket with a can).
What’s new: Gore’s Burnt Ridge opened last year to mixed reviews (their chairlift can be awfully windy and the base lodge access trail is rather flat and tough for snowboarders) — but new terrain is always welcome. This year, the mountain has expanded its Cirque Glade trail and will be running a shuttle bus from the North Creek Ski Bowl to the resort (which means adventurous skiers can ski from the Gore summit all the way down to the bowl, and then catch a ride back). It’s a prequel to an interconnect between the two areas that should be open next winter, and which will vastly increase Gore’s vertical drop.
Best deal: Same as Gore, plus $35 Sundays on Dec. 13, Jan. 10, Feb. 7, March 14 and April 4.
What’s new: Lookout Mountain, open for the second year this winter, will have a new glades area. Look for the National Alpine Championships, here for the first time sine 2003, from March 20 to 23, with men’s and women’s slalom, giant slalom and super G competition.
Skiers can get a preview of improvements at Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg at an open house November 8. Click on the graphic for details. Also, Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, launched a beautiful new Web site last week. Opening day there and at Gore Mountain, at North Creek, is tentatively set for Friday, November 27. The resurrected Big Tupper, in Tupper Lake, is getting its permits and has posted season rates at its Web site. Opening day is expected December 26. McCauley Mountain, in Old Forge, has also posted season rates. Royal Mountain, in Caroga Lake, has just completed three years of snowmaking and grooming upgrades and will have an open house Sunday, November 1. Mt. Pisgah in Saranac Lake is in the midst of a capital campaign to replace its T-bar.
Adirondackers will have two new old places to ski this winter. Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg will hold a volunteer work day Saturday to get the hill in shape for its re-opening. Another group of volunteers is trying to get a chairlift running again for skiing at Big Tupper, in Tupper Lake.
Hickory Hill has been closed for four years, so it won’t need an Adirondack Park Agency permit to resume business; however, Big Tupper has not been operational for more than five years, so it will need approval from the state land use agency. “Everything seems to be falling into place,” Hickory president Bill Van Pelt said this week. A previous volunteer work day on Sept. 12 attracted about 30 people, who repainted buildings, tuned lifts, drilled a new well and created a new drop-off area, he said. Hickory’s new owners, a group of mostly local shareholders, are also pursuing snowmaking, he said, and they expect to have at least a partial system in place this year, but details are still being worked out.
Ticketing will be electronic, Van Pelt said, so when a skier passes through an archway to get on a lift, sensors will keep a tally of how many vertical feet the person has skied this season. Ticket prices are now available here.
To volunteer at Hickory Saturday contact operations manager Shawn Dempsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dempsey advises: plan to come prepared with a lunch, hiking boots, gloves and any brush-clearing equipment, shovels, rakes.
Van Pelt said Hickory’s opening date will depend on snow and snowmaking. In Tupper Lake, volunteer organizer Jim LaValley said Big Tupper’s opening date is set for December 26. The mountain will go without snowmaking for now, LaValley said, but he’s optimistic about the forecast. “It’s going to be a good year because you’ve got El Nino spinning and the sunspot cycle has made its shift.”
APA staff made a site visit Wednesday, and LaValley said he expects to receive the operating permit by November or December. Volunteers are working continuously on getting a chairlift ready for inspection, improving the base lodge and electrical systems. There will be a call for a volunteer work day in the next few weeks, LaValley said, but in the meantime people who wish to pitch in can contact him at email@example.com or (518) 359-9440. Ticket prices have not yet been set. For future information a Web site is being developed at skibigtupper.org.
You can read more about Hickory’s and Big Tupper’s years of limbo here.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
General inquiries about the Adirondack Almanack should be directed to Almanack founder and editor John Warren.
To advertise on the Adirondack Almanack, or to receive information on rates and design, please click here.