LAKE PLACID - With the cross-country ski center at Mount Van Hoevenberg closing on Sunday, April 13 and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center shutting down its lifts on Easter Sunday, April 20, winter has taken its last gasp of air as locals begin their annual transition to mud season in the Adirondacks.
And while officials at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the ski centers, don't have skier visit numbers they can share at this time, they feel confident that the 2013-14 ski season was a strong one.
"The season was a little bit longer than we thought it would be, and that's great, on both ends," said ORDA Communications Manager Jon Lundin. "On the front end by opening up early and on the back end by closing later than what our expected date was."
Whiteface Mountain as seen from state Route 86 on the Wilmington-Jay highway Friday, April 11. (Photo — Andy Flynn)
Whiteface opened on Nov. 15, two weeks earlier than originally planned thanks to cold temperatures and snowmaking, but the weather didn't cooperate for long.
"We had a difficult Christmas time, and then in the middle of January, we had that rain period," Lundin said. "But all in all, it was a good, solid winter."
For Mount Van Hoevenberg, the ski season started later than expected, but Lundin reported a strong nordic season this year.
"The Loppet and the Kort-Loppet (ski races) drew over 300 racers for that event," Lundin said.
On April 13, the daily report from Mount Van Hoevenberg read: "Not a very nice day to wrap up the season, but we're here if you need us! Leave the aluminum poles at home today, chance of thunderstorms."
With reliable skier visit numbers yet to be tabulated, Lundin said the success of a ski season begins and ends with hospitality, not just the bottom line.
"We like to see more skiers than what we had the previous year," Lundin said. "But most of all, we want to make sure that people get what they come to expect when they come to Lake Placid or Wilmington. If we're able to supply that and give them an unbelievable and unforgettable vacation experience, that's what it's all about."
Asked to sum up season in one or two words, Lundin said, "unexpected."
"I didn't expect the weather that we had and some of the challenges that we had," he said. "And then we're still seeing people coming out. I know I talk about the recession a lot, but we still see people coming out and, because we're such a drive-to destination ... I guess it shouldn't be unexpected, but it's great to see that folks are really planning vacations and they're really getting into the vacation family mode once again."
Additional media stories about Lake Placid and its Olympic heritage during the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia provided a bump in visitation to the ORDA venues.
"They always do," Lundin said, "because when you watch the Olympics, whether they're on NBC or CBC, there's always reference to Lake Placid because of what we did in 1932 and 1980, and then all of the athletes that we have that compete from the region. There are a lot of people who I've bumped into since the games who maybe never really heard of Lake Placid, but by just the constant Lake Placid, Lake Placid, Lake Placid, they felt like they had to check this place out on the web. And then they found all the unique things we have to offer."
A week ago, ORDA officials announced their Easter week schedule for Whiteface Mountain, deciding to keep the ski center open throughout the week, not just on the weekends as is typical at the end of the season. At the time, 85 percent of the trails were still open.
"There's still a lot of snow on the ground," Lundin said Wednesday morning, April 16. "It's cold. Look at today, for goodness sake. There's about two to two-and-a-half inches (fresh snow) on the ground. There are still people who want to ski. They haven't turned their skis in for golf clubs and fishing rods yet, so it's a great chance for us to serve them."
As of press time on Wednesday, April 16, three lifts were servicing the 22 percent of trails open at Whiteface.
Whiteface ends it season on ski day 149 this Sunday. It will include a non-denominational Easter service at the top of Little Whiteface at 8 a.m. the gondola opens at 7:15 a.m. (free for the service). The inclement weather location will be the Ausable Room. Following the service will be an Easter buffet in the J. Lohr Wine Bar and Cafe from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. The cost is $18.95 for adults and $12 for kids 12 and under. An Easter egg hunt with more than 2,000 eggs for ages 6 and under will begin at 11 a.m. on Mixing Bowl. For ages 7-12, it will be at 11:30 a.m. on Bear Trail (ski down from the top or walk up from the bottom). For more information, visit online at www.whiteface.com.