Monday, March 23, 2009

A New Ski Business Plan for Hickory

While negotiations continue over Big Tupper Ski Area, whose reopening hinges on a 625-lot residential development, a different group of investors is pursuing a condo-free strategy to resurrect Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg.

“My initial interest in Hickory was in its history (founded by a WWII member of the 10th Mountain Division) and reputation as a challenging hill (notwithstanding its small size),” Bill Van Pelt IV said in an e-mail.

Van Pelt, a financial planner from Saratoga now living in Texas, is leading several shareholders and Hickory board members in trying to come up with a new business plan for the old-school mountain, which has 1,200 feet of vertical drop, 17 trails, two Poma lifts, a T-bar and a rope tow.

Operating private ski areas has proven a challenge in the Adirondacks, so the group is trying to come up with a viable game plan.

“Mad River Glen provides an example with which I am personally familiar,” Van Pelt wrote. “I made an early, conscious effort not to tackle the problem with real estate development as a component of the plan. That reflects my personal preference (I don’t like golf courses with houses on them either) and, coincidently, the culture of Hickory and its board.”

Mad River Glen, in Waitsfield, Vermont, is proudly skier-owned and natural — no snowmaking. [Post-deadline correction: there is a modest system with two guns that supplments a fraction of the terrain.] Shareholders are trying to decide whether they should leave Hickory’s snow cover to nature or modernize with a snowmaking system and a chairlift.

Either way, Van Pelt told the Glens Falls Post-Star that the mountain will reopen next season after several years in limbo. He and other board members are receiving enthusiastic e-mails from former Hickory skiers and soliciting their suggestions via skihickory@mccltd.com.

The only other privately owned ski area still running in the Adirondack Park, Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake, hosts motocross races in summer to make ends meet. Big Tupper Ski Area, in Tupper Lake, has been closed for a decade; a consortium of Philadelphia-based investors proposes to make skiing the centerpiece of a vast high-end development and say the slope is otherwise not financially sustainable. Oak Mountain recently went into bankruptcy but was run this winter by the village of Speculator.

Map from New England Lost Ski Areas Project.


Mary Thill

Mary Thill is a freelance journalist based in Saranac Lake. She recently began working as a writer and editor at The Nature Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter.




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