Olympian Ashley Walden is new ORDA CEO
LAKE PLACID — Ashley Walden has been named the new president and CEO of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and will take over from current ORDA CEO Michael Pratt starting Sept. 11.
Walden, 41, is a former Olympic luge athlete and a current resident of Lake Placid. She will be the first woman to ever lead this state authority. Pratt, who started his career with ORDA as a Zamboni driver during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, will retire on Sept. 29 after leading the authority since 2017.
The hiring of Walden was announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday, Aug. 21, following her confirmation by the ORDA Board of Directors earlier that same day. The ORDA board voted unanimously to hire Walden following an executive session, according to board documents.
“Ashley’s accomplishments, first as an athlete and now as an executive, run parallel,” ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens said in a statement. “She sets ambitious goals, overcomes challenges and inspires others to reach their full potential. I have no doubt she will do that as the Olympic Authority’s president and CEO, following in Mike Pratt’s giant footsteps.”
“I’m obviously extremely excited and honored to have even been considered, let alone selected, for the position,” Walden said on Monday, Aug. 21. “(I’m) really just looking forward to joining the ORDA team and working alongside so many great staff that are a part of that team.
“(I have) a tremendous outpouring of respect for Mike Pratt and the amount of work that he has done to build up the Olympic Regional Development Authority to the position it currently has and really lay the groundwork for an exciting future.”
ORDA declined to share what Walden’s annual salary will be. The exact amount is still being finalized by the board, according to Martens. According to board documents, Walden’s salary will be “based on the recommendation of the search committee and a review of the salary history of the outgoing president and CEO.”
As of last year, Pratt earned a base pay of $207,565. His total pay was $236,615, according to SeeThroughNY, a data platform operated by the independent Empire Center.
Since 2019, Walden has been the executive director of the Adirondack Sports Council, which led planning for the 2023 FISU Winter World University Games. Before that, she was director of sport and operations for USA Bobsled and Skeleton, the sports’ national governing body, and served as a leader for the team during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She worked there for seven years. Walden earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management at Northeastern University and a master’s degree in project management at DeVry University.
Hochul said she believes Walden will bring “dedication, leadership and deep sports knowledge” to the job and build upon the state’s capital investments into ORDA-managed winter sports venues over the last few years. The total public investment into ORDA over the past six years has topped $620 million, Adirondack Life magazine reported. The state in its most recent budget earmarked $92.5 million for ORDA. Hochul called these funding infusions a “generational investment.”
ORDA announced the job opening and Pratt’s retirement on May 18. The position was posted publicly. The search committee, composed of six ORDA board members, began reviewing the 19 applications they received on May 24 and conducted interviews from June 14 to July 1. Walden was formally approved in a resolution by the ORDA board, following her recommendation by the search committee to the board.
“I’m obviously really passionate about winter sports,” Walden said. “I got my start in sports here, at one of the ORDA venues, so it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. When I saw the opportunity to be involved and to lead the ORDA team, for me it was just something that I really (was) super enthusiastic about.”
Ashley Hayden Walden grew up in Westborough, Massachusetts, and she was introduced to Lake Placid and the sport of luge at the age of 12 during a slider search — with luge sleds on wheels — near Boston, hosted by the U.S. Luge Association. She was subsequently invited to a one-week winter camp in Lake Placid to try luge on the ice. Her first time sliding on ice was during the winter of 1994-95 at age 13 on Mount Van Hoevenberg’s old luge track, built for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and torn down to make room for the current sliding track, built for the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games.
“They give you a helmet and a sled and elbow pads,” she told the Lake Placid News in March 2022 for the “Olympic Legacy” series. “They give you a brief instruction. They start you fairly low on the course, and so there’s not an actual start. You’re kind of in the middle of the course.”
The memory of her first luge run is a blur.
“But I do remember getting to the bottom and saying, ‘I gotta go again,'” she said.
Walden spent the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons competing on the USA Luge junior team. After the 1998 Olympic Winter Games at Nagano, Japan, she earned a spot on the senior team for the 1998-99 World Cup season. She’d already won four Junior World Cup races and an overall junior World Cup title. She turned 17 years old that November and graduated from Westborough High School the following year.
Walden’s senior team luge career spanned from 1998 to 2011. During that time, she competed in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games at Salt Lake City, coming in eighth, and she won the USA Luge Start Championships 10 years in a row.
During her luge career, she also met her future husband, Bengt Walden, a Swedish luger who competed at the 2002 Winter Olympics. They married in 2006, allowing Bengt to compete for the U.S. luge team during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games at Vancouver, Canada. They both retired from luge in 2011 and now live in Lake Placid with their children, ages 4 and 10.
North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty, Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer, state Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) and state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) each congratulated Walden on her appointment in a statement.
“As we all just witnessed, one of Ashley’s strengths is being able to work with others and form a team to get the job done, which the success of the World University Games has proven,” Lake Placid village Mayor Art Devlin said in a statement. “Using all the resources that the Olympic region has to offer, I look forward to seeing Ashley do the same thing at the Olympic Authority.”
“While the village looks forward to working with Ashley, it is bittersweet as we will be losing Mike Pratt,” Devlin added. “Mike has done an excellent job of taking all of his experiences and listening to those under him to repurpose and rebuilding all of the Olympic venues to what are unarguably amongst the best in the world. On behalf of myself and the village of Lake Placid we wish all the best to Mike in his retirement and to Ashley in her new endeavor.”
ORDA was established in 1981 to operate the venues used for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, some of which were also used for the 1932 Olympic Winter Games. The authority is headed by a CEO and governed by a 10-person board comprised of executive, legislative and local appointees.
ORDA generated approximately $66.9 million in direct economic impact during the 2022-2023 fiscal year by spending money locally to sustain the operations of its various facilities, according to a study conducted by Tourism Economics. Visitors to ORDA facilities contributed approximately $133.8 million to the local economy by spending money at both on-site and off-site establishments such as restaurants, hotels, retailers and other recreation/entertainment venues, according to the study. The study calculates those figures using “data and insights from numerous third-party studies and surveys, in addition to data on the origin and number of visitors at Olympic Authority facilities,” according to a June statement from Greg Pepitone of Tourism Economics.
ORDA manages winter sports venues in Lake Placid: Mount Van Hoevenberg sliding and Nordic centers, the Olympic Speedskating Oval, the Olympic Center — which includes the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, Lake Placid Conference Center and 1932 and 1980 rinks — and the Olympic Jumping Complex. It manages the Whiteface Mountain Veterans’ Memorial Highway and three ski areas: Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills, Gore Mountain in North Creek and Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington. And it owns the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, leasing it to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and ORDA’s new corporate offices on Church Street.
(Adirondack Daily Enterprise Managing Editor Elizabeth Izzo contributed to this report.)