Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Snowmaking Begins: Ski Season Preview 2012-13

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.

At Whiteface, new snowmaking is being installed on the Hoyt’s High expert trail, which now seems destined to become one of the mountain’s signature black diamond runs. With its 4,700 foot length and 1,400 foot vertical drop, Hoyt’s High challenges advanced skiers with a sustained pitch that rivals the best black diamond terrain found anywhere in the East.

The snowmaking expansion will help to spread out advanced skier traffic across the mountain and better incorporate Lookout Mountain into the ski area’s flow. Cut in 2008 as part of Whiteface’s Lookout Mountain expansion, Hoyt’s High has until now been relatively under-utilized due to its reliance on natural snow cover. The work crews at Whiteface have also been busy with renovations to the Base Camp Market (formerly Base Camp Café) and Cloudspin Lounge.

Earlier this year, the Olympic Region Olympic Authority (ORDA) named Aaron Kellet the new general manager for Whiteface. Kellet replaces Bruce McCulley, who is leaving ORDA and Whiteface to become pastor of his church. Kellet has worked at Whiteface since 2000, including as Assistant General Manager since 2009.

It’s been a busy off-season at Gore, too. Mike Pratt, Gore’s General Manager, states “We are very focused and ready for winter with snowmaking improvements, new grooming equipment, and loads of building changes.” Building on Gore’s huge snowmaking expansion last year, tower guns and fan guns have been added this year in key, high-traffic locations including Showcase, 2B, the top of Pine Knot, and the Saddle area. Snowmaking pipelines have been extended down the right side of Sunway between Foxlair and Wild Air, allowing for the installation of 5 new tower guns that will significantly improve snowmaking coverage along the widest part of Sunway. That stretch of Sunway is one of the most highly trafficked areas on the mountain, particularly in the early season. Trail crews have also added four short crossover trails on the lower mountain to improve access to and from Burnt Ridge.

The exterior of Gore’s base lodge and other outbuildings have been painted or stained in the historic “Johnsburg Brown” and “Johnsburg Red” color scheme that matches the North Creek train station complex. Inside, the Tannery Pub has a new kitchen, a new bar, and a completely remodeled seating area. The lodge’s patio has been re-surfaced, new picnic tables have been added, and the area between the patio and Northwoods Gondola has been filled and re-graded. At the mid-mountain Saddle Lodge, new carpeting and a new beverage station have been installed.

New snowmaking guns installed on the Sunway trail at GoreGore and Whiteface may be the biggest, but they are certainly not the only ski areas in the Adirondack region. Smaller mountains provide skiers and riders with options that may be closer to home and less expensive. Trails are often less crowded and snow conditions as good or better than the bigger ski areas. These ski areas have been busy preparing for winter too.

Just north of the Blue Line, in Malone, Titus Mountain has added 15 new trails, including eleven glades, bringing the ski area’s trail count to 42. The ski area’s base lodge has also been significantly expanded. “We’ve completely gutted and renovated the lodge. People will not recognize the place” said Bruce Monette, who purchased the ski area a year ago with his two brothers Brian and Christopher. Oak Mountain, in Speculator, will also be operating under new ownership this winter. The ski area was sold by its previous owner, the Town of Speculator, to the O’Brien family earlier this year. Matt and Laura O’Brien had operated the ski area two winters ago under contract with the former owners, and have more than 20 years’ experience in the ski industry. Oak has 14 trails, a 650’ vertical drop, snowmaking and a recently renovated full-service lodge. The mountain also has a well regarded ski school, and the O’Briens are looking to expand Oak’s ski and ride programs.

New T-bar lift at Mount Pisgah became operational in January 2012Both McCauley Mountain in Old Forge and Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake are municipally owned ski areas that offer excellent family-friendly options. Located in the western Adirondack snowbelt, McCauley averages well over 200 inches of snow annually, more than any other Adirondack ski area. McCauley has 21 trails, a 630’ vertical drop, and snowmaking for times when Mother Nature is stingy. A recently announced long-term plan will provide better energy efficiency, access and utilization of McCauley’s lodge and base area, with nearly three quarters of a million dollars in improvements spread out over several years. Consider visiting McCauley on a Friday, when lift tickets are just $12 all season long. At Mount Pisgah, a brand-new T-bar lift came online in January, culminating more than two years of effort by supporters and volunteers. The new T-bar was funded by state grants and community donations. Though small (5 trails, 330’ vertical), the ski area offers night skiing, snowmaking, and lessons. There’s also a network of cross-country and snowshoeing trails. Adult lift tickets start at just $10 for an hour and a half of skiing.

Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg had a tough time last winter since it relies completely on natural snow. But the ski area is geared up and in great shape for this winter, following several years of projects that include base lodge renovations, new grooming equipment and upgrades to the mountain’s venerable Poma surface lifts. Volunteer work weekends have been ongoing since early Fall to clear brush and prepare the trails for this winter’s snow. Big Tupper, also 100% reliant on natural snowfall, had an equally difficult winter last year and recently announced that they will not operate this winter. ARISE, the community volunteer group that operated Big Tupper the past three winters, cited flagging volunteer enthusiasm, fundraising difficulty and pending litigation against the Adirondack Club and Resort in their decision to not re-open.

Anyone approaching the Adirondack Park traveling past Glens Falls on the Northway is sure to have noticed West Mountain’s ski slopes. Mike Barbone, West Mountain’s owner and General Manager, says the ski area is looking forward to its 51st year of operation. “We’re in the business of making snow,” Barbone says, so improvements and upgrades are made to the ski area’s snowmaking plant every year. Willard Mountain, located just outside the Adirondack Park in Washington County, also makes improvements to its snowmaking system each year. Willard Mountain recently took delivery of a new state-of-the-art Prinoth groomer, and terrain park enhancements and trail grading projects continue for this winter as well.

With ski season set to begin in less than a month, there’s just one thing left to do: THINK SNOW!!

Photos (top to bottom): Whiteface today (November 6); Snowmaking at Whiteface last night; new snowmaking tower guns on Gore’s Sunway trail; new T-bar lift at Mount Pisgah.

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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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