Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Commentary: Adirondack Winter Sports Under Threat

If it wasn’t painfully obvious before, weather for this early January week that stretched into the sunny 60’s at some Adirondack locations should serve as a reminder that global warming is going to have serious impacts on the Adirondack region. Unfortunately, few here in the mountains seem to understand the gravity of the situation for our local economies.

Our friends working at Gore Mountain Ski Resort have been hardly working at all and consequently spending a lot less on dinners out, winter gear, and even beer and other important winter supplies. The few trails open on Gore are so crowded (with even the small crowd that’s there) that the die-hards refuse to make runs for fear of being run-over. Whiteface in Lake Placid has been forced to cancel its annual World Cup Freestyle competition (now being held at Deer Valley, Utah) and has virtually no beginner trails open.

Meanwhile, two of the largest developments in Adirondack history are expected to be rammed through the Adirondack Park Agency by pro-development George Pataki appointees. The most bizarre part of these projects is that they, believe it or not, have relied on development of two area ski resorts to appease locals and persuade some that the good they’ll provide for the local economy by way of skiing will outweigh the damage to the park.

Fred LeBrun noted in his column today:

[Tupper Lake project] developer Michael Foxman’s mega-vision to create the high-end Adirondack Club and Resort, which would include 700 expensive units on 6,400 acres, much of it in back country, has been highly controversial since it was proposed three years ago. Part of the plan, a sop to the locals, is reopening Big Tupper Ski Center as an economic engine.

In North Creek (Warren County), local politicos and real estate agents are pushing (with the help of newly appointed APA member, Warren County Board of Supervisors Chair, and Johnsburg Town Supervisor Bill Thomas) a project called – get this – Ski Bowl Village at Gore Mountain that would include exclusive trailside housing, an equestrian facility, retail shops and restaurants, a major hotel, two smaller inns, a spa, a private ski lodge, and a 9-hole golf course, on 430 acres, some of which on what was a town-owned park and before that the historic North Creek Ski Bowl where downhill skiing an early start in New York State.

Folks – skiing in the Adirondacks in the future will be all but dead. If there hasn’t been a proper ski season for Adirondack resorts in at least four years, and the experts agree that the coming year will be the warmest on record (again), it’s time to see the forest for the trees – no project tied to the ski season has a hope of being successful on that basis in the long run.

A recent regional global warming meeting reported that:

In the Northeast, the climate may be changing even more rapidly, particularly in winter. Compared to 1970, there are now 15 to 30 fewer days of snow on the ground in the Northeast, one study found. Some regional models also show an increase in average temperatures of 1.4 degrees over 102 years, but a spike of 2 to 4 degrees over the past 30 years.

“Climate has always been changing, so we can’t talk about climate change as something new,” said Art DeGaetano, director of the Northeast Climate Data Center at Cornell University. “Clearly, the temperatures we’re seeing today … are much warmer than we’ve seen for the last 1,000 years. Clearly, there’s warming almost everywhere.

“Climate change is upon us,” he said. “Climate is going to warm, so we do have to act and we do have to prepare.”

If there are any segments of the Adirondack economy that you can count on to take a nose dive in the next 20 years it’s winter sports. It doesn’t take a genius to understand “15 to 30 fewer days of snow on the ground” means that investing hundreds of millions in Adirondack skiing and snowmobiling industries is not a good idea. Despite the ignorant claim by Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center that there is “No cause for alarm. Enjoy it while you have it,” you might also forget large investments in ice fishing shanties and winter carnival concessions in case you needed to be told.

So why – oh please tell us why – are state and local governments spending so much money on these debacles?

Let’s start with ballsy developers:

The [Tupper Lake] developer is calling for the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency to come up with $50 million to $60 million for infrastructure costs. In essence, that would require the county taxpayers to guarantee the bonds for his private venture. That is a stupefying request. Even more mind-boggling is that there are those in the town and county who are ready to go along with the developer.

And add a dose of misguided Republican cronyism:

Gov. George Pataki, down to his final weeks in office, announced plans Friday for a $7 million expansion of the state-run Gore Mountain Ski Center that will enable the Johnsburg attraction to boast having the eighth-largest vertical drop in the eastern United States.

The state will spend an additional $3 million to complete the railroad line connection between [Republican] Saratoga Springs and [Republican] North Creek.

Skiers from Saratoga Springs, as well as the Albany and New York City areas, will be able to take the train to North Creek and leave their personal vehicles at home, Pataki said.

“You’re not going to have the traffic; you’re not going to have the pollution, and you’re not going to have the congestion. But you are going to have the economic growth,” he said during a press conference at the North Creek train station.

Bill “Snow Is All We Have” Thomas:

When completed, skiers from New York City and elsewhere could take a train up to North Creek, delivered within a half-mile of the ski bowl area, Thomas said. “It’s very important to tourism in Johnsburg,” Thomas said of the resort plans. “I see it as a big catalyst for Main Street businesses.”

Betty “I’m Not Running For Congress” Little:

“Gore Mountain is a tremendous asset for the state and for our region. All of us here today share the desire and realize the importance of making an already great skiing experience at Gore Mountain even better. That requires sizable investments by New York State.”

Ahhh… Betty… New York State doesn’t make “sizable investments,” the people of New York State do.

Since 1995, the state has poured $70 million into the Olympic Regional Development Authority. If we assume about 100,000 year-round residents, that’s $700 per person! And that doesn’t count state and local tax discounts, increased costs of services for local communities serving ski resorts, the higher costs of goods and services priced for the tourist market, county funds (like the Tupper Lake 50 or 60 million), and who knows what else. According to NCPR, “This year, Lake Placid’s sports and tourism venues received more than $40 million in state subsidies. That’s roughly $15 thousand for every man, woman and child living inside the village limits.”

Developers, local politicians, ill-informing media – go outside! See, that there is no snow, and not likely to be regular snow at anything near historic levels in our lifetimes. Stop pushing fantasies that hide your real motive – unlimited development of the last great wilderness area east of the Rockies.

And while we’re at it – we received an e-mail from Bill McKibben today announcing a “a day of demonstrations for April 14” – a great idea (info at Stepitup2007.org).

It’s going to be an unusual day. People will be rallying in many of America’s most iconic places: on the levees in New Orleans, on top of the melting ice sheets on Mt. Hood and in Glacier National Park, even underwater on the endangered coral reefs off Key West and Hawaii. But we need hundreds of rallies outside churches, and in city parks, and in rural fields. It’s not a huge task — assemble as many folks as possible, hoist a banner, take a picture. We’ll link pictures of the protests together electronically via the web—before the day is out, we’ll have a cascade of images to show both local and national media that Americans don’t consider this a secondary issue. That instead they want serious action now.

If you are planning to organize an event, please let us know – we’ll list events as they’re organized – wouldn’t events at local closed ski resorts be something?

UPDATE: Pam Mandrel, over at BlogHer, has linked to this post and included some other posts about global warming’s impact on the American ski industry. Thanks Pam for a great follow-up.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.




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