November 2016 - ALPINE SKIING & SNOWBOARDING
What’s New on the Slopes!
By Jeff Farbaniec
After last year’s dud of a winter, things can only get better for snow lovers this winter. The official start of the ski season is still a few weeks away, but snow has already fallen in the mountains and die-hards have been earning turns on the Whiteface auto road since as early as October 22. Here’s a look at what’s new at ski areas across the region.
For the Olympic Region Development Authority, which operates Gore Mountain and Whiteface in the Adirondacks and Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills, energy and environmental initiatives are at the forefront. All three ski mountains have committed to using solar and other renewable energy sources to power their snowmaking and ski lift operations.
At Gore, a newly completed 20-acre solar facility will offset 85% of the ski area’s annual electricity consumption. At Whiteface, 100% of last winter’s operations were powered by renewable energy, and a new solar facility currently under construction will further their commitment to renewable energy.
Skiers may not notice the switch to renewable energy, but they’re sure to notice the impact of snowmaking upgrades this season. Gore has added 66 new high-efficiency snow guns to their fleet, and Whiteface has added 55 new high-efficiency guns. The new guns produce more snow at a fraction of the energy consumption of the guns they replace. Between Gore and Whiteface nearly 500 of the high-efficiency guns have been purchased over the past five years.
Gore’s environmental efforts were recognized this past summer with a prestigious Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence. The award recognizes not only Gore’s new solar power purchasing plans and snowmaking efficiency upgrades, but also more service of locally-sourced foods, environmental education efforts around the mountain, and various recycling and other energy reduction efforts.
Nordic skiers have plenty to get excited about at Gore too. A new 4.3K network of six looped trails has been constructed at the Ski Bowl, Gore’s “second hub” at the foot of Little Gore Mountain. Four of the Nordic trails will be equipped with lights and snowmaking. Access to the trail system is included with all day tickets and season passes.
Just outside the Adirondack Park, West Mountain in Queensbury has seen more than its fair share of improvements under new ownership that has been in place since 2013. Last year saw the debut of the new West Express triple chairlift and the Gnar Wall, a black diamond trail that follows the lift line of the West Express. Plans are in place for replacement of the Northwest triple chair, but that project will have to wait until at least 2017-18 for completion. Crews have renovated the long dormant lodge at the Northwest base area for this winter, and the plan is to offer limited food and beverage service there. West’s rental shop has purchased a new $350,000 fleet of rental skis as well as a new automatic tuning machine.
Willard Mountain, located just outside Greenwich, is well-known for their popular learning programs. Willard’s six-week Little Colonel program for ages four to seven often fills by early December, so call soon to enroll.
Maple Ski Ridge, located in Rotterdam, is also well-known for their popular learning programs. Maple Ridge’s weekend and after-school learning programs a fill early so act fast. Enroll before November 30 to take advantage of pre-season discounts. Maple Ski Ridge is now going to offer Nordic skiing on Monday nights.
McCauley Mountain in Old Forge is targeting December 10 for their first day of operations this winter, earlier if Mother Nature cooperates. Located in the snowbelt of the western Adirondacks, McCauley offers a variety of skiing on more than 600 feet of vertical.
Royal Mountain, in Caroga Lake, is a local favorite among Capital District skiers. Two new fan guns have been added to the snowmaking plant this year, bring their five-year total investment in snowmaking improvements to more than a half-million dollars.
Oak Mountain, in Speculator, has widened the Kunjamuk trail, run timing cables and made other improvements so that Kunjamuk is now a USSA-sanctioned racing slope. Snowmaking improvements continue with a new fan gun to be used around the base area and bunny hill.
Mother Nature was not kind to Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg and Big Tupper in Tupper Lake last winter. Both ski areas rely 100% on natural snow, and were unable to open. As of this writing, Big Tupper’s plans for this winter are on hold, but Hickory is planning to operate on weekends and holidays if conditions allow, offering skiers and riders some of the most challenging natural snow terrain in the east as well as groomed slopes for beginners and intermediates.
Titus Mountain, located near Malone, continues to make snowmaking upgrades. A park groomer was purchased near the end of last season and should pay big dividends in terms of snow conditions in Titus’ terrain parks this winter. Titus is shooting to open as early as Thanksgiving weekend if conditions allow.
Snow Ridge, located in the Tug Hill region, is another snowbelt favorite among skiers. Boasting some of the highest annual snowfall totals east of the Rockies, Snow Ridge’s new owners are looking forward to even more powder days this winter.
Another popular learning area is Woods Valley, about two hours west of Albany, near Rome. Woods Valley has upgraded their snowmaking plant with 20 new guns and 4,000 feet of new snowmaking pipe for this winter. There’s also a new tubing park with its own snowmaking, magic carpet lift, and dedicated tubing lanes.
Down in the Catskills, things are hopping at Windham Mountain. There’s a new demo center, a renovated rental shop and an enhanced learn to ski program. Snowmaking improvements continue as well, along with a new groomer.
Hunter Mountain saw big upgrades last year, with over $1.2 million invested in snowmaking improvements. The snowmaking upgrades continue this year as well. Also new is Hunter Mountain’s ownership. Now part of Peak Resorts, Peak Pass holders enjoy access to Hunter, Mount Snow and five other resorts.
Crews have been busy at Plattekill Mountain, located just outside Roxbury, as well. Snowmaking has been added to the Buckle Up and Crossover trails, and Crossover has been widened. Back at the lodge there’s a new deck. Also new this year is their participation in the Freedom Pass, where season passholders receive three complimentary lift tickets at 12 partner mountains from Maine to Alaska, including Vermont’s Magic Mountain and Bolton Valley.
At Belleayre Mountain, crews have expanded the beginner terrain surrounding Discovery Lodge, nearly doubling it in size. Crews have also been expanding Belleayre’s glades, including the new Dreamcatcher Glade. Belleayre is often the first Catskill ski resort to open, so check for upcoming opening day announcements.
Whether you ski in the Adirondacks, Capital Region or Catskills, it’s time to get your gear together, make sure you’ve got snow tires on your car, clear your weekend schedule, and get ready to hit the slopes. The best time of year is right around the corner!
Jeff Farbaniec of Saratoga Springs 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.