November 2017 - ALPINE SKIING
Ski Season Is Here! THINK SNOW!
By Jeff Farbaniec
If you’re a skier, fall’s a busy time of year. You get your skis tuned, pick up your season pass or frequent skier card, gather your helmet and goggles, fleece layers and gloves, and most important of all, clear your calendar for the ski days that lay ahead. It’s a busy time of year for the ski areas too, as they finish up improvements and get ready to fire the snowmaking guns and spin the lifts. Here’s a quick look at what’s new for this winter around the region.
West Mountain is on a roll. After coming under new ownership four years ago, there’s been a steady stream of upgrades. One of the most exciting announcements for this winter is the refurbishment of The Cure, the steep double-black diamond trail that you’ve surely noticed if you’ve ever ridden the West Express triple chair – or its predecessor, the summit double. The trail’s been there for longer than I’ve been skiing at West (30+ years), but it’s rarely open due to its steep pitch and lack of snowmaking. Now, thanks to widening, grading, lights and – most importantly – the installation of snowmaking pipes and guns, The Cure promises to become one of West’s signature trails.
There’s a major lodge announcement for West as well. The Northwest Lodge is being renovated and refurbished for this winter. Like The Cure, the Northwest Lodge had been out of service for years, but will open this year with new bathrooms, seating and snack and beverage service. Lift tickets will be sold out of the Northwest Lodge, and there’s already plenty of parking, so skiers will be able to base themselves out of Northwest for the entire day – and avoid the crowds back at the main base.
At Gore Mountain, crews are working hard to finish up several lodge renovation projects. The biggest of these projects is a jaw-dropping top-to-bottom renovation of the Saddle Lodge. Other than a few architectural elements that were preserved from the original Saddle Lodge, it’s a complete rebuild. There are new bathrooms, a new kitchen and an entirely new second floor that more than doubles the lodge’s seating capacity to 250.
At Gore’s summit, a new Straightbrook Lodge utilizing the 1967 “old red gondola” terminal building will be available to skiers this winter. The lodge retains the original structure and gondola machinery and will include restrooms with composting toilets, vending machines, and tables and benches. Say goodbye to those long detours from the summit to the Saddle Lodge and back just to use the restrooms!
Last on the list of the lodge renovation projects at Gore is an addition to the Northwoods lodge. The addition will provide more space for the Mountain Adventure learning programs and the equipment rental shop.
Gore’s been upgrading and improving their snowmaking plant year after year, and this year is no exception. More than 100 new guns have been added to the arsenal, along with pumping efficiency upgrades. And building on the success of last year’s cross country ski terrain expansion at the North Creek Ski Bowl, additional improvements are underway for this year including trail widening and grading.
At Whiteface, lodge improvements are front and center as well. In the main lodge, the Cloudspin Bar and Grill is being remodeled inside and out, the main stairwell has been renovated and enlarged to facilitate improved traffic flow, new restrooms have been added and a new elevator has been installed.
Bear Den Lodge is getting an addition that will nearly double its size. Bear Den has its own parking, chairlift and trails, and previously was home to Whiteface’s children’s ski programs. The lodge addition will now allow Whiteface to consolidate all of its learning programs in one location.
High up on Lookout Mountain, Whiteface’s newest terrain pod, skiers will be able to enjoy a new warming hut. Porcupine Lodge was originally constructed in 1949 for the old Marble Mountain ski area. After sitting dormant for decades, crews renovated the lodge over the past two summers. There are no plans to offer food service, but skiers can use the lodge to warm up, rest and enjoy their own snacks or lunch.
Like Gore, Whiteface invests in snowmaking improvements every year. This year’s behind-the-scenes upgrades in the electrical system infrastructure, pumping capacity and air and water distribution systems may not be immediately visible to skiers and riders, but you’re sure to feel the difference in the snow beneath your skis.
And don’t forget about the Adirondacks’ mid-sized ski areas. McCauley Mountain, in Old Forge, offers skiing and riding on 21 trails and 600+ feet of vertical. Located in the snowbelt region of the western Adirondacks, McCauley frequently racks up the highest annual snowfall of all Adirondack ski centers. Up north Titus Mountain, located in Malone, boasts more than 30 trails and 1,200 vertical feet. Down south, Oak Mountain, in Speculator, has a new magic carpet lift and snowmaking upgrades for this winter. Oak has 14 trails and a vertical drop of 650 feet.
In the Capital-Saratoga Region, Willard Mountain and Maple Ski Ridge offer some of the best instructional programs in the region. Willard’s six-week Little Colonel program for kids 4 to 6 years old, and Maple Ridge’s seven-week Arctic Circle and Mountainside programs are extremely popular. Programs fill quickly at both ski areas, so be sure to call soon to enroll for this winter.
Down in the Catskills, the big news for this winter at Belleayre is the debut their gondola. Dubbed “Catskill Thunder,” the new gondi is expected to come online mid-December. Hunter Mountain stirred up some excitement earlier this fall with their announcement of plans for an entirely new trail pod. While the new trails won’t be completed until the 2018-19 season, they will increase Hunter’s total skiable acreage by 25 to 30 percent. The new terrain is expected to be a mix of mostly intermediate and advanced trails. Rounding out the announcements in the Catskills are a new PistenBully groomer and snowmaking upgrades at Windham Mountain, and snowmaking and electrical infrastructure improvements at Plattekill Mountain.
As the temperature drops, the snow is flying with whitened peaks and snowmaking is underway. With ski season set to begin, the only thing left to do is THINK SNOW!!
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.