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.

New York’s three state-owned ski areas are currently the responsibilities of ORDA (Gore and Whiteface) and DEC (Belleayre), and have two completely separate reporting lines. Some level of administrative efficiency and cost savings should result from a single management structure. But the benefits would likely be more than just cost savings. Knowledge and resource sharing should produce a better overall ski product, resulting in an increase in skier visits and economic impact from operation of the state-owned ski areas. After all, if the State of New York is going to be in the ski business, shouldn’t it do so in a coordinated manner? It would seem to be a win/win for everyone.

Belleayre could get more budget and infrastructure, Gore and WF could get more people from the New York City region spending money in the Adirondacks with their season passes, and skiers would have more options and value from their passes. There are potential obstacles. For one, ORDA was created by the State of New York to manage the facilities used during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid. However, ORDA has operated Gore for many years, which has few if any ties to Lake Placid and the Olympic facilities. There is no reason why ORDA’s mission couldn’t be expanded to include operation of Belleayre. While some Gore stakeholders have criticized ORDA as being too Lake Placid focused, Gore has certainly gotten its fair share of improvements and promotion over the years.

Belleayre stakeholders might understandably be concerned about Belleayre losing some of its uniqueness and identity. Plus, Belle has achieved a track record of success on its own under the current management structure, more than doubling skier visits from 75,000 to 175,000 over the past ten or twelve years. So if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But Gore and Whiteface have been successful in retaining their own personalities under ORDA, and in the end the benefits should outweigh the potential disadvantages.

Back when all three ski areas were under DEC management, a Gore/Whiteface pass could be used at Belleayre, and vice versa. I’d love to see that opportunity available again to New Yorkers.

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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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.

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