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Snow Day

First major snow perks up Adirondack skiers

October 27, 2016
By ANDY FLYNN and ANTONIO OLIVERO ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Despite the power outages Saturday night, Oct. 22, officials at the state Olympic Regional Development Authority took advantage of the first measurable snow in the Olympic Region to promote their winter facilities.

During the storm, which dumped more than 5 inches of wet, heavy snow on the lower elevations of Lake Placid and Wilmington, ORDA staff posted a video of the snow on the Whiteface Mountain Facebook page with the message, "It is DUMPING right now at mid station. Time to think winter at Whiteface."

On Sunday morning, with blue skies contrasting the white blanket of snow on the slopes, ORDA posted photos of the ski center and skiers climbing the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway.

Article Photos

Skiers make their way up the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway on Sunday, Oct. 23 after receiving about 5 inches of snow the night before.
(Photo courtesy of ORDA/Whiteface Lake Placid)

It was the first snowstorm of the season and the first measurable snow in the lower elevations. Snow had coated some of the summits in the High Peaks the night of Sunday, Oct. 9.

Meanwhile, Cross Country Ski Center department head Mike Battisti at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex announced on Facebook that his facility was open for business.

"6" of snow at Van Ho, we are open for business! Grooming on the flats, no trackset. Bring your rock skis, some debris and slush puddles here and there. Lodge will be open!"

In the ski report, Battisti listed packed powder conditions for the primary surface and variable conditions for the secondary surface. Off-track depth was 6 inches and average base depth was 3 inches. Six trails were groomed: Mini Loop, Bobcat, Flatlander, Flatlander Plus, Flatlander Extension and Zig Zag.

"We had a good day, mostly local die-hards," Battisti said by phone Monday morning. "Hopefully, it's a preview for a good season ahead."

By Monday morning, Sunday's sunshine had taken its toll on the snow, and the one-day, early-season skiing was over.

"Just too much blue sky yesterday ... most of the snow is gone. Closed until the next blanket of white!" reported the ski center's Facebook page Monday.

About 50 people showed up to ski at Mount Van Hoevenberg Sunday, according to Battisti.

The early opening helped ski center operators promote their facility and got people in the door to buy season tickets.

"It gets people thinking about skiing and snow," Battisti said, adding that they received a lot of phone calls about the venue on Sunday.

By contrast, the warm winter last year led to "one of the worst operating seasons in memory" at Mount Van Hoevenberg, according to ORDA's 2015-16 annual report. The venue relies on Mother Nature to cover its trails, as it has no snow-making capabilities. Due to the extended warm stretches, the center remained closed for a good portion of the season. It was only open for 37 days, with fewer than 12,500 skier visits, down from about 35,000 the year before. The trails closed on Feb. 15 and did not re-open. Last winter, the biggest snowfall was 3 inches in April.

"By then, people had pretty much given up," Battisti said.

During the thaws, season pass holders and visitors were directed to ski on the trails at the Olympic Jumping Complex, which makes artificial snow for training and events. Those trails were used for all nordic ski races last winter instead of Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Snow making at Mount Van Hoevenberg would allow the crew to build a thicker base on the trails that could withstand the thaws and extend the skiing days. Yet there are obstacles to snow making at the Cross Country Ski Center, including the cost of equipment and regulations; the trails are on state Forest Preserve, which has land-use restrictions.


Whiteface Mountain

While the official opening day of the season at Mount Van Hoevenberg depends on the weather, Whiteface Mountain expects to open on Friday, Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. It could be earlier, as it has been the past few years, if colder temperatures allow the crews to make enough snow ahead of time.

With up to 6 inches of fresh snow, several people hiked up the mountain Sunday to telemark ski down its trails, and others cross-country skied up and down the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway.

Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellett said Monday that the ski center is still more than four weeks away from its tentative open date.

"But people should keep their eyes peeled," Kellett said. "We have opened earlier in the past couple of years. Whenever the first real snow comes, people just get all amped up. Everyone gets the fever to come skiing again."

This summer has been dry, but last week's deluge of rain, Saturday's heavy snowfall and a 10-day forecast full of rain and snow give Whiteface more water with which to make snow, creating the possibility of another early opening. Whiteface opened on Thanksgiving Day last year and on Nov. 16 the year prior.

Kellett said the recent wet conditions were a welcome sight.

"We're definitely gearing up for snowmaking," Kellett said. "The rain helped us with really bringing the river levels back up to where we want them to be to make snow.

"For snowmaking it was definitely a little lower than we like. But the rivers always drop a little in the summer. Luckily we got that rain, it helped our cause, and with rain and snow the next week-and-a-half or so, we should be all set with where we want to be with the river level."

Whiteface typically begins making snow at the start of November. Kellett said the mountain's trails can be ready to officially open as soon as a week after that.

With temperatures below freezing, Whiteface crews fired up the snow guns on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Kellett spoke highly of modifications that were made to the ski resort's lodge in the past year, and he said Whiteface has vastly expanded its mobile fleet of energy-efficient snow makers. He said 48 new, energy-efficient snow guns have been added for this year, and there will be improved snowmaking capabilities at locations such as Boreen and Danny's Bridge.

"There are a couple of thousand locations where we can make snow," he said. "Not all of the locations have permanently installed snow guns. This makes us more efficient, not just from a power consumption standpoint, but more guns on hand."

Whiteface is looking to bounce back after last winter's paltry snowfall totals resulted in its worst season on record, according to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority's annual report in June.

Whiteface's total skier days for the 2015-16 season dropped to 167,501 from 216,219 in 2014-15. The number was the lowest for Whiteface since 2011-12 and the second lowest in the past seven years. Whiteface received 58 inches of natural snow and more than 17 inches of rain compared to a typical average of more than 100 inches of snow. As a result, its total yearly revenues dropped to $7,698,359 from $9,549,752 in 2014-15.

"These weather conditions, combined with a weak Canadian dollar resulted in a decline of skier days and revenue of just over 20 percent," ORDA's report read.

On the other hand, the summer of 2015 was the greatest summer to date, with the reconstructed highway up the mountain logging its most visitors since 1999 and generating record revenue, up almost 10 percent to $673,380.

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