LAKE PLACID - Opening ski centers as early as possible is a standard industry practice, and it's one that Whiteface Mountain officials embrace with open arms.
Whether it's New York, Vermont, Colorado or Canada, opening early makes headlines. "Whiteface Mountain to open early" is what state officials wanted to see in the media last week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday, Nov. 14 that the Whiteface and Gore ski centers would open on Nov. 15 and 16, respectively, two weeks ahead of their planned opening day.
The press release came from the governor's office, not from the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the facilities. But that's no surprise to local tourism
Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington (photo by Mike Lynch)
officials, such as Kim Rielly, communications director at the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism/Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"I think it probably gets greater exposure coming from the governor's office," Rielly said. "The press outlets are more likely to pick up the release."
Thanks to a combination of natural and manmade snow, ORDA officials scrubbed the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving opening day - Friday, Nov. 29 - and opened the earliest in the history of the ski centers. The reason they and other North American ski resort managers continually push the envelope and promote early skiing can be summed up in one word, "excitement," according to ORDA Communications Manager Jon Lundin.
"It gets people excited about the ski season," Lundin said. "It's great for the local economy. People start thinking about ski equipment and jackets and what they need for winter wear. And people from outside the area who might not have plans for the weekend may decide to come to Wilmington and Lake Placid for a ski day or a ski weekend."
On Monday, Lundin reported the Whiteface skier numbers for the first three days of the 2013-14 season: 323 on Friday, 281 on Saturday and 74 on Sunday. By mid-season standards, that's fairly low, but that's not the point, according to Rielly.
"I think one of the greatest benefits is that we've gotten the word out," Rielly said. "Whether they're coming up today or not doesn't really matter, but the fact that it plants in their minds the fact that skiing is starting already sort of jump-starts our ski season a little bit."
That early start helps build momentum and creates more excitement going into the holidays, which are make-or-break for many ski resort communities.
"The holidays are the biggest revenue generators," Lundin said. The Christmas and New Year's holidays are huge, and later in the year when you look at Martin Luther King Day and Washington's birthday, those are big holidays that bring skiers in. We have the added benefit of the Canadian holidays."
Images of snow are eye candy to die-hard skiers, and they are much-needed ammunition for ski industry marketing campaigns. Much of the benefit is psychological.
"Just the fact that we're able to post photos of snow in Lake Placid and in the mountains on social media sort of helps us get in that positive mode," Rielly said.
While an early start doesn't attract peak visitation at ski resorts, there is a real economic benefit.
First of all, many seasonal workers - such as lift operators - are on the job sooner than expected, and that money gets trickled back into the local economy. ORDA held a winter job fair on Wednesday, Nov. 13, and its employee roster will swell from about 300 year-round positions to about 1,100 for the winter at all its venues.
"Here at ORDA, we play a major role in the economics of this area," Lundin said.
Secondly, the early opening did attract visitors looking for a ski weekend, and that helps hotels, restaurants and shops. On opening day, Rielly spoke with some local business people, including Jill Cardinale, owner of The Pines Inn in Lake Placid who took a few runs on the Whiteface trails in the morning. Cardinale reported several bookings that were a direct result of the snow conditions.
"One person, who she assumed was coming up to go skiing at Whiteface today, actually came up because he wanted to HIKE in the snow," Rielly said.
Whiteface Mountain was closed Monday to Thursday and is expected to reopen Friday to Sunday, Nov. 22-24. It will be closed again Monday to Thursday, Nov. 25-28, and will reopen for the rest of the season on Friday, Nov. 29. For more information, visit online at www.whiteface.com.