Monday, March 16, 2009

Kids Enter Big Tupper Ski Area Fight

It’s hard to believe that Big Tupper, the ski area in Tupper Lake with a vertical drop of 1,136 feet, has been closed for a decade. A pair of local owners threw in the towel in 1999 after a string of money-losing seasons.

Small and midsize ski centers are marginal businesses in the Adirondack Park. There’s only one still privately owned inside the Blue Line: Royal Mountain, in Caroga Lake, which balances the books by hosting motocross in the off-season. There are some little town-run hills, and the village of Speculator recently took over bankrupt Oak Mountain. The state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s larger Whiteface and Gore Mountains seem to be going strong in Wilmington and North Creek.

Tupper Lake has a long skiing tradition, and you can’t blame people there for wanting their kids to grow up on the home slope. Diana Foley, a town resident, is organizing a rally at the base of the mountain at 4 p.m. today for local students to show support for reopening it.

But strings are attached. Ever since the ski area was sold in 2004 it has become the centerpiece of a development plan that also includes 652 high-end home and townhouse lots, a 60-room inn and other amenities. Foley has spoken out in favor of a tax exemption for the Adirondack Club and Resort.

The project has become a sensitive issue, drawing questions about its scale, financing, tax breaks, new utilities and backcountry building lots. Inside Tupper Lake, there have been shows of political and public support. Some have questioned whether asking kids to wear ski jackets and carry signs shills them into a much larger debate. And to miss a point. Nobody is against skiing.

Foley said this morning that the kids are fully aware of the broader issues, and many young people came unsolicited to a rally in favor of the project last month. “I think the more noise we can make the better,” she said. “What are the students going to have when they graduate from high school?” There are few jobs in town, she said, and the resort as a whole, not just the ski area, would give Tupper Lake an economic boost

A memorandum from the developers detailing ski deals that the town will get as part of an exchange for creation of a new sewer district is distracting. Free skiing for Franklin County residents age 70 or older is nice, but free skiing for septuagenarians no matter where they live is standard across the country. Likewise free skiing for young children. Any Tupper Lake student with straight As or perfect attendance would get a free season pass. Whiteface and Gore’s Youth Commission Programs offer youth-group deals including six full days of skiing and a lesson for $103, regardless of grades or attendance. Titus Mountain, north of the Blue Line, offers similar incentives to young skiers.

Which is not to say that lead developer Michael Foxman doesn’t have a point when he argues that the ski area can’t be self-sustaining; the second homes are necessary to support it, he maintains, and so a hostage situation enters its fifth year.

His Philadelphia-based investor group originally planned to open a new base lodge and skiing by Christmas 2006, but the project is still in Adirondack Park Agency-ordered adjudication as well as mediation with three dozen concerned parties. The parties aren’t supposed to talk about it, but last month Foxman sent a letter to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican saying the plan remains alive.

He also noted that Big Tupper languished on the market for five years when the economy was “booming,” criticizing a suggestion by an environmentalist involved in the mediation that the town try to obtain the ski area and pursue other buyers. “Had it not been for the actions of [the environmentalist] and his peers (not the APA), your readers and their children might be skiing Big Tupper now,” Foxman wrote.

Organizers say Foxman is expected to attend the child rally today and a meeting of the Tupper Lake town board tonight.


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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