Let the skiing begin!

Whiteface plans to open Dec. 4

A snow gun is fired up at Whiteface Mountain Nov. 17, 2020. (Provided photo — ORDA)

(Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the new opening date.)

Due to warm weather conditions, state Olympic Regional Development Authority officials will open the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center a week later than expected, spokesperson Elise Ruocco said Wednesday, Nov. 25.

“Our snowmaking team has been hard at work, but with the variable forecast this week, we are shifting our anticipated opening day for skiing and riding to Friday, December 4,” Ruocco said in an email.

ORDA CEO Michael Pratt briefed members of the authority’s Board of Directors on Friday, Nov. 20 about when the Wilmington slopes are expected to open and how the authority plans to control the number of people skiing at any one time, in accordance with state public health guidelines. The original opening date was Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, but ORDA officials decided Tuesday afternoon to hold off until colder weather sets in next week.

Snowmaking began at Whiteface on Nov. 17, later than last year due to warmer temperatures in November. A year ago, the ski center opened on Nov. 15.

At this time, access to the mountain on Dec. 4-6 will be limited to those who have a season pass or are using the first day of their Frequent Skier Card, according to the ski center’s website. “Availability of additional tickets including e-tickets and Frequent Skier Card reloads will be determined based upon conditions and availability of terrain next week,” the website stated Nov. 25.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Oct. 18 that not only would ski resorts have to reduce indoor capacity by 50%, but they would also have to reduce outdoor capacity by 25% on peak days or when multiple ski trails are closed.

This year, the state-run Whiteface will have a small capacity on opening weekend, because some trails are usually still closed, according to Pratt. Last year, the mountain opened with four trails.

“We’re also starting with a conservative number so we have a good comfort level and we know we can be successful,” he told the ORDA board.

Pratt explained the ways the authority plans to control capacity.

“We’re doing that by limiting our day tickets,” he said. “We’re selling all tickets online through our e-commerce sites. That will also help us with contact tracing.”

Selling day tickets only in advance and online will also give the authority an idea of how many people plan to arrive each day, Pratt said.

Anyone who visits the ski center will be required to do a health screening through an app, according to Pratt.

Up-to-date information for visitors will be constantly added to the authority’s website, and new signage will be posted, including electronic signage.

Masks will be required at all times except when eating, drinking or skiing, according to the governor’s office. Social distancing is also required. Only members of the same party will be allowed to ride the gondola or the lifts together. Ski lessons will be limited to 10 people, and all shared equipment will be sanitized between each use.

The authority will utilize RFID technology that was installed at the ski center last year, which can scan tickets while the tickets are still in skiers’ pockets. This technology is common at ski resorts across the world but hadn’t been implemented at ORDA’s facilities until recently.

“We’re so happy we invested in it last year; it worked out great,” Pratt said.

The price of a full SKI3 pass, which allows skiers to visit any of ORDA’s three Alpine ski centers — Whiteface, Gore in North Creek and Belleayre in the Catskills — all season regardless of what day it is, is $919 this year for those over 30 years old. That’s about $20 more than last year. The price of this pass varies, though — it’s $639 for adults between the ages of 20 and 29. The price declines further for teens and kids. ORDA is also offering a “limited” SKI3 pass, which is similar to the normal SKI3 pass but with blackout days, for $739 for adults over 30 years old. A Whiteface-only pass, which carries some blackout periods, costs $669. All of these prices will increase after Dec. 9. Even in a non-pandemic year, passes and lift ticket prices usually fluctuate throughout the season.

The newly rebuilt Mid-Station Lodge at Whiteface will be open to the public this season. The old Mid-Station Lodge burned down in a late-night fire last year, and Cuomo announced $14 million in state funding to rebuild it back in January.

“The Mid-Station Lodge is turning out really nicely,” Pratt said.

Both floors of the lodge will be open to the public. It will offer public bathrooms plus some grab-and-go food options. The only part of the lodge that isn’t complete yet is the kitchen, which will be built out in the next phase of construction, Pratt said.

A new lift by the beginners’ Bear Den Lodge, with a higher elevation than the old one, has been installed and is expected to go through the certification process after Thanksgiving, according to Pratt.

For more information, visit https://whiteface.com/.

(Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this report.)