LAKE PLACID - The ski centers and other winter venues run by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority got off to a strong start this year.
Cold temperatures to begin the season allowed ORDA's downhill ski centers - Whiteface and Gore in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills- to get an early start on snowmaking.
Skaters enjoy some time at the Olympic speed skating oval, which is operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. (Photo by Andy Flynn)
"We've been cranking snow," Whiteface General Manger Aaron Kellett told ORDA's Board of Directors recently. "We have a good mix of new, efficient snow guns and fan guns, which has allowed us to make snow on our lower mountain trails and in warmer temperatures pump more water and save more money. We've been able to jump from trail to trail really quick this year, and Mother Nature's been a big help to that."
Kellett said Whiteface's summit chairlift was opened in mid-December, which he said is "pretty much unheard of."
"We're normally scrambling to get a summit trail open for Christmas, and we're well ahead of the game here," he said.
The snowmaking system at Whiteface can pump 6,000 gallons of water per minute, but Kellett said it averages about 5,000 gallons per minute. He's applied for a grant through New York State Electric and Gas that would provide funds to increase the size of the mountain's pumphouse and expand its fleet of efficient snow guns.
"If that goes through, we're hoping to be at about 10,000 gallons (per minute)," Kellett said. "So that's going to be a really significant change to the way we make snow at Whiteface Mountain."
Whiteface opened on Nov. 15, its earliest opening ever. As of Monday, Dec. 30, it had 45 of 88 trails open, or roughly 51 percent of its terrain.
Gore Mountain Ski Resort General Manager Mike Pratt said recent investments in snowmaking equipment at his mountain are paying big dividends.
"We've pushed about 135 million gallons of water so far," he said. "That's just over half of what we'll push in the entire season. It's incredible to have it done this fast."
With the upgrades, Gore can now pump 5,000 gallons of water a minute but averages about 4,000 gallons, Pratt said.
"We thought it was a big deal to get to 2,600 gallons a minute, and now we're closer to 4,000," he said. "That's the modern guns allowing us to hit that mark we've been striving for."
Skiers and snowboarders were able to hit Gore's slopes on Nov. 16, the second-earliest opening in the mountain's history. As of Monday, it had 44 trails, or 64 percent of its terrain, open.
Gore also boasts several facilities improvements this winter, Pratt explained, including a new 150-foot conveyor lift for beginner skiers and riders, a remodeled Mountain Adventure Center in the Northwoods Lodge and a new slopeside deck for the Tannery Pub and Restaurant.
Belleayre Mountain Ski Center opened in late November. This is the second winter ORDA has run the Catskill ski area. The addition of 10 fan guns to the snowmaking system this year have been a major boost, manager Tim Maxwell told the ORDA board.
"It's allowed us to really pump a lot more water," he said. "We're actually running out of water on certain days right now. Between the additional high-efficiency guns, the fan guns and Mother Nature, we've really gotten a jump on this year."
"The changes have been very evident this year," said ORDA board member Joseph Kelly, who lives in Delaware County. "I can't remember when we opened up with as much terrain as we did this year. I think the changes that have been made are becoming quite evident to the skiers. People are happy with what's going on."
ORDA President and CEO Ted Blazer said the authority's vice president, Jeff Byrne, was able to negotiate a deal with its concessionaire, Centerplate, to make $1.3 million in investments to Belleayre.
"With a bit of that money we're renovating the kitchen in the lower lodge and also our rental program," Maxwell said. "We've got 800 new pairs of boots, 400 pairs of brand-new skis, along with 500 others that we already had that we sent up to the ski shop at Whiteface to get completely tuned up. We got 220 new snowboards from Burton. We've got a full-service tuning shop for the first time in a while, which is up and running right now."
The kitchen renovations, including a new walk-in freezer and new countertops, were expected to be ready in time for the holidays, Maxwell said. A 300-foot-long magic carpet lift was also added this season.
As of Dec. 30, Belleayre had 30 of its 50 trails open.
The combined bobsled, luge and skeleton track at Mount Van Hoevenburg opened in October and was able to survive 60- to 70-degree temperatures before winter set in due to several new high-pressure pumps installed at the track.
"They worked very well and allowed the U.S. team to train early, ahead of everybody else in the world, and the benchmark of that early training is they won 11 of 21 medals in the (FIBT) World Cup (bobsled and skeleton races) here in Lake Placid (in December)," said Tony Carlino, who manages the Olympic Sports Complex. "We're dominating, and the early opening of the ice has helped the U.S. team."
Carlino also manages the Olympic Jumping Complex, which has installed snowmaking for a biathlon roller loop at the facility that was extended last year. The U.S. Olympic Committee helped subsidize the project, Carlino said.
"The loop is open and ready for our Olympic team to train on until they leave for (next year's Winter Olympics in) Sochi, as well as the 120-meter ski jump for private training for the U.S. ski jumping team. Our 20-, 48- and 90-(meter jumps) are open for training at the jumping complex as well as the tubing chute for our guests in town."
ORDA is applying for a grant to install more efficient lighting for the biathlon loop that should drop the facility's electric bill significantly, Carlino said.