NOV 2015 - ALPINE SKIING & SNOWBOARDING
What’s New on the Slopes
By Jeff Farbaniec
It may seem like fall is reluctant to give up its grip on the Northeast, but ski season is just around the corner. Gore and Whiteface are targeting the day after Thanksgiving to start spinning their lifts, with most other New York ski areas following suit shortly thereafter. Here’s a look at what’s new for skiers and riders across the region.
Crews at Gore Mountain in North Creek have been busy with a slew of improvements slated to come on line for this winter. Three more trails have been added to the map, including Hudson, a black diamond run at the North Creek Ski Bowl; Peace Pipe, a connector that will provide a shortcut to the Pipeline Traverse; and Forever Wild, a “freestyle glade” accessible from Lower Sleighride that will combine natural terrain park elements with tree skiing.
Snowmaking crews are a skier’s best friend, especially early in the season, and Gore continues to upgrade its snowmaking operation this year with three dozen new low-energy tower guns to be installed on Showcase and Wild Air. Crews have also installed water and air piping to allow snowmaking on both 46er and the new Hudson trail. Behind the scenes, variable drives have been installed on the snowmaking plant’s pumps to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. These pumps provide the firepower that drives the entire snowmaking system.
Gore’s lodge has gotten its share of upgrades too, including a reorganized rental shop area, and updated computer systems to modernize the rental process. The Bear Cub Den daycare has relocated to a quiet and secure location on the lower level of the base lodge, and Guest Services has been relocated to the resort entrance in the Northwoods Lodge. (goremountain.com)
Speaking of lodge improvements, wait till you see the new solarium that’s been added to the base lodge at Whiteface in Wilmington. The solarium adds another 100 seats to the Base Camp Café and includes a full-service coffee bar complete with tap beer, wine, and a variety of organic natural food offerings. Aaron Kellett, Whiteface’s general manager commented, “We want to offer healthier products for the wellness lifestyle, and the new solarium with its natural foods will fill that void. It’s a beautiful setting and it’s going to be a great place to hang out and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, look out at the slopes and enjoy the experience.”
Skiers and riders will also appreciate the on-mountain improvements at Whiteface this year. Snow grooming and snowmaking have become a hallmark of the mountain over the last several years. This is due in large part to Whiteface’s investments in state-of-the-art equipment. This summer, a new PistenBully 600 groomer was added to the mountain’s fleet of ten groomers. And when it comes to snow, when Mother Nature isn’t providing it, the low-energy, high-efficiency guns are. Fifty-five new guns have been added to the upper mountain trails along with two new mobile fan guns. (whiteface.com)
Gore and Whiteface are also both part of an exciting initiative to advance solar energy in New York State. Earlier this year, the Olympic Region Development Authority – which owns and operates Gore and Whiteface as well as Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills – committed to using solar power to operate the ski lift and snowmaking operations of all three ski areas. When the 25-year power purchase agreement with Borrego Solar goes online in March 2016, Belleayre will convert 100% of its power usage to solar, while Gore and Whiteface will convert 85% and 40%, respectively. The initiative will reduce the three ski resorts’ carbon footprint, equivalent to removing over 46,000 cars from the road over the life of the agreement. Borrego projects savings of as much as $14 million over the 25 year period for the three ski resorts.
Titus Mountain, located just north of the Blue Line in Malone, has been busy improving its snowmaking system over the summer with new pipelines, upgraded electric and new valve houses. All this behind-the-scenes work will allow crews to make more snow, more frequently, particularly on the upper mountain. With those snowmaking upgrades in place, Titus will be opening the upper mountain every day of the week. Historically the upper mountain has only been open Thursday through Sunday, but this year Titus’s best skiing will be available daily. There’s also a new double black diamond glade on the Upper Mountain that advanced skiers and riders will want to check out. (titusmountain.com)
Snow Ridge located on the Tug Hill Plateau in Turin, may not be a familiar name to Capital Region skiers, but its 230-inch annual snowfall – the most in New York – is legendary among diehard snow enthusiasts. Thanks to lake-effect wind that blows off Lake Ontario, the white stuff piles up deep. Snow Ridge is under new ownership this year. Mother and son team Cyndy Sisto and Nick Mir plan to expand the mountain’s operating hours and enhance its race programs. They also plan to add summer activities including mountain biking and concerts. (snowridge.com)
West Mountain in Queensbury, is entering its second year under new ownership. The new team has implemented a slew of improvements since taking over. This winter will see the opening of the new West Express triple chair lift, running from the lodge area to the summit of the mountain. Say goodbye to the old center-pole double chair! A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new lift is planned for November 12. But wait, there’s more! The Gnar Wall is a new black diamond trail that will follow the lift line of the West Express. Snowmaking upgrades will allow for snowmaking on Holy Mackerel, the new Gnar Wall trail, and The Cure, a steep black diamond that has only been open in the past when natural snow conditions allowed. And finally, lighting is being added to Holy Mackerel and Gnar Wall to allow night skiing. Over the next year LED fixtures will replace all lights on the entire mountain. (westmtn.net).
Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake, has invested over $400,000 in snowmaking upgrades over the past four years. Crews have added one more tower fan gun this year, for a total of 16 new tower fan guns in the last four years and 24 guns total. That effort seems to be paying dividends, with skiers and riders enjoying Royal’s longest season ever last year, opening the Saturday before Thanksgiving and closing in mid-April. Snowmaking now covers over 95% of Royal’s terrain. Crews have also been hard at work improving Royal’s glades and adding a seasonal locker room. (royalmountain.com).
For a low-key, throwback experience consider skiing or riding this year at Big Tupper (skibigtupper.org) in Tupper Lake, or Hickory Ski Center (hickoryskicenter.com) in Warrensburg. Despite both areas’ reliance on natural snow and volunteers who run the lifts, groom the trails and sell lift tickets, both ski areas offer big mountain skiing with over 1,100 feet of vertical and 24 trails at Big Tupper and 1,200 feet of vertical and 19 trails at Hickory.
Jim LaValley, chairman of ARISE, the volunteer group that operates Big Tupper, reports that they will follow a weekends and holidays schedule similar to last year. Cunningham’s Ski Barn will operate Big Tupper’s rental center, and lessons are available for skiers of all ages. At Hickory, crews have been busy cutting brush all fall to get the trails and glades ready for this winter. Hickory will also operate on a weekends and holidays schedule this winter. Hickory’s legendary steeps and trees are considered some of the best in New York, and the gentler lower mountain slopes are quite friendly for beginners and families.
Close to the Capital Region, Maple Ridge Ski Center (mapleskiridge.com) in Rotterdam and Willard Mountain (willardmountain.com) in Easton will again offer skiers and riders a convenient and flexible close-to-home option for hitting the slopes. Both mountains are widely known for their excellent instructional programs for adults and kids alike. Willard offers 14 trails and a vertical drop of 500 feet. Popular learning programs like their six-week Little Colonel program fill up early, so don’t wait for the snow to fly to sign up! Maple Ridge offers eight trails and a vertical drop of about 300 feet. Skiers and riders can get a lift ticket good from 3-9pm mid-week for just $26.
Lastly, for a real Adirondack ski experience, check out Oak Mountain in Speculator (oakmountainski.com) and McCauley Mountain (mccauleyny.com) in Old Forge. Both are mid-sized mountains, with Oak offering 14 trails and a 650-foot vertical drop, and McCauley has 21 trails and 600 feet of vertical. McCauley lies in the snowbelt of the western Adirondacks and is home to one of the best deals in the North Country: $12 lift tickets every Friday all season long, excluding holidays. At Oak, crews are wrapping up their latest snowmaking expansion: 5,200 feet of piping to cover the Kunjamuck trail. The owners plan to expand their seasonal race programs and ski school, and the mountain’s Acorn Pub continues to grow with executive chef Lou Petrozza, finalist from Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen.
So tune your skis and clear your calendar for a full season of skiing and riding. The region’s best season is just around the corner!
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and Adirondack 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker (saratogaskier.blogspot.com), a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.