Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016-17 Adirondack Downhill Season Preview

whiteface mtnLast winter’s mild temperatures and lack of snow left winter sports enthusiasts disappointed, but there is already snow on many summits and die-hards earned turns on the Whiteface Memorial Highway several weeks ago.  It looks like the start of the downhill season could be just a few weeks away.

Here’s a look at what’s new at ski areas across the region.

gore mountainFor the Olympic Region Development Authority (ORDA), which operates the Gore Mountain ski center in North Creek and Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, energy and environmental initiatives are at the forefront. Both ski mountains say they have committed to using solar and other renewable energy sources to power their snowmaking and ski lift operations.

At Gore, a newly completed 20-acre solar facility is expected to offset 85% of the ski area’s annual electricity consumption. Officials at Whiteface say 100% of last winter’s operations were powered by renewable energy, and a new solar facility currently under construction is expected to further Whiteface’s commitment to renewable energy.

Skiers may not notice the switch to renewable energy, but they’re sure to notice the impact of snowmaking upgrades this season. 66 new high-efficiency snow guns have been added to Gore’s fleet and 55 new high-efficiency guns have been added at Whiteface. The new guns produce more snow at a fraction of the energy consumption of the guns they replace, and they can be operated at warmer temperatures. Officials at Gore and Whiteface say they’ve purchased nearly 500 of the high-efficiency guns over the past 5 years.

Gore’s environmental efforts were recognized this past summer with the National Ski Areas Association’s Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence. The award recognizes not only Gore’s solar power purchasing plans and snowmaking efficiency upgrades, but also more service of locally sourced foods, environmental education efforts around the mountain, and various recycling and other energy reduction efforts.

whiteface mtnNordic skiers have plenty to get excited about at Gore too. A new 4.3k network of six looped cross-country trails has been constructed at the Ski Bowl, Gore’s “second hub” at the foot of Little Gore Mountain. Four of those trails will be equipped with lights and snowmaking. Access to the cross-country trail system is included with all day tickets and season passes.

Oak Mountain, in Speculator, is looking forward to a great winter too. They’ve widened the Kunjamuk Trail, run timing cables, and made other improvements so that Kunjamuk is now a USSA-sanctioned racing slope. Snowmaking improvements continue at Oak this year, with a new fan gun to be used around the base area and bunny hill. There’s also been remodeling and additional seating installed in the base lodge and bar.

McCauley Mountain in Old Forge is targeting December 10th for their first day of operations this winter, earlier if Mother Nature cooperates. Located in the snowbelt of the western Adirondacks, McCauley offers a variety of skiing on more than 600’ of vertical.

Titus Mountain, located near Malone, continues to make snowmaking upgrades. A park groomer was purchased near the end of last season and should pay big dividends in terms of snow conditions in Titus’ terrain parks this winter. Titus is shooting to open as early as Thanksgiving weekend if conditions allow.

Mother Nature was not kind to Hickory Ski Center (Warrensburg) and Big Tupper (Tupper Lake) last winter. Both ski areas rely 100% on natural snow, and were unable to open.  Big Tupper’s plans for this winter are currently on hold, but Hickory is planning to operate on weekends and holidays if conditions allow, offering skiers and riders some of the most challenging natural snow terrain in the east as well as groomed slopes for beginners and intermediates.

A great option for skiers in the Saranac Lake region is Mount Pisgah, a small (330’ vertical) ski center that has enjoyed tremendous community support. Mount Pisgah has a new (2012) T-bar, snowmaking and lights for night skiing.

Just outside the Adirondack Park, in Queensbury, West Mountain has seen more than its fair share of improvements under new ownership that has been in place since 2013. Last year saw the debut of the new West Express triple chair lift and the Gnar Wall, a black diamond trail that follows the lift line of the West Express. Plans are in place for replacement of the Northwest triple chair, but that project will have to wait until at least 2017-18 for completion. Crews have renovated the long dormant lodge at the Northwest base area for this winter, and the plan is to offer limited food and beverage service there. West’s rental shop has purchased a new $350,000 fleet of rental skis as well as a new automatic tuning machine.

If you haven’t tuned your skis and gotten your gear in order yet, now’s the time.

Photos, from above: Early season snow at Whiteface; the first snow of the season at Gore; and a pre-season snowmaking test at Whiteface (courtesy ORDA).

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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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