Whiteface Mountain ski area in Wilmington.
With two downstate board members slated to join the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) Board to look after the interests of the Belleayre Mountain ski center, the business community in North Creek wants to add one more ORDA board member to look after the interests of the Gore Mountain ski center.
New York’s 2012-13 budget includes the transfer of Belleayre Mountain in the Catskill Park from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to ORDA this year. About a month after the budget was ratified, that transfer has not yet happened.
“We are working on developing an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with ORDA and hope to execute it soon,” DEC press officer Lisa King said on April 19.
Before the budget was adopted, the ORDA board was made of 10 members: commissioners of the DEC, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation and Empire State Development, plus seven members appointed by the governor. Of those appointed by the governor, three must be residents from the town of North Elba in Essex County, and one must be a resident of Warren County. Plus, there are three other members who can reside anywhere in the state. The governor appoints a chairman and vice chairman from the membership.
In addition to the three commissioners, the current board members are: Patrick Barrett, chairman, of Syracuse; Serge Lussi, vice chairman, of North Elba; Warren County representative Robert Flacke; North Elba representatives Jerry Strack and Edwin Weibrecht; and Cliff Donaldson, of Saranac Lake (Franklin County).
That makes nine members currently on the board. Joe Martens was chairman of the ORDA Board until he was appointed DEC commissioner in 2011. His ORDA seat has not yet been filled, according to ORDA Director of Communications Jon Lundin, but he remains on the board as a representative of the DEC.
ORDA operates the 1932 and 1980 Olympic venues in Lake Placid — the Olympic Center, Olympic Speed Skating Oval, Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, Olympic Ski Jumping Complex — plus the Whiteface Mountain ski center in Wilmington and the Gore Mountain ski center in North Creek.
When ratifying the state budget, legislators approved key requirements outlined by Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), of the 42nd Senate District representing the Belleayre Mountain region. One of those requirements was to add two members to the ORDA Board, one from Ulster County and one from Delaware County.
Sen. Bonacic’s requirements go even further to bolster Belleayre’s representation at ORDA. They include:
•a requirement that one of two ORDA vice chairs be a resident of Ulster or Delaware counties (the person would be chosen by the recommendation of the Middletown and Shandaken town boards);
•a requirement for a local ORDA office at Belleayre;
•and an increase in ORDA’s Community Advisory Board from 15 to 19. Two additional members would be appointed by the Delaware County Board of Supervisors and two by the Ulster County Legislature.
It is important to note that the second vice chair from either Ulster or Delaware counties does not mean that Belleayre will have three seats on the ORDA Board. It means that, if there are two Belleayre members, one of them will be the second vice chair.
ORDA’s Lundin said the final makeup of the ORDA Board will be decided during the Belleayre transition, which is still being negotiated with the DEC. All ORDA Board members are appointed by the governor.
“I am pleased that we were able to work with the governor to better ensure a strong future for Belleayre,”Bonacic said in March. “Belleayre has always been a tourism priority and a job creator for the Catskills.”
Likewise, the ORDA-operated Gore Mountain ski center is a tourism priority and a job creator for the Adirondacks. And business owners want to make sure it stays that way.
Business community concerns
When business leaders in North Creek heard that ORDA was taking over Belleayre, they realized the authority’s operating funds would now have to include one more facility. And they were concerned.
“We don’t want anything to affect Gore’s ability to continue moving forward,” said Mike Bowers, co-chair of the North Creek Business Alliance.
With the addition of Belleayre, North Creek business leaders were also concerned about the equity of representation on the ORDA Board, even though they have full confidence in Robert Flacke and rain praises on his efforts to represent Gore and Warren County.
“I’d like to see some more representation there because I’d like to see someone come in there while Bob is still active so that we can continue to follow suit with what we’ve been doing,” Bowers said. “I still want quality. I don’t want to have somebody appointed that has no idea what we’re actually doing here.”
What they’re doing in North Creek is offering state-of-the-art skiing in a challenging environment, in terms of the economy and the weather.
The addition of more than 100 snow guns in 2011 proved that investment in Gore’s facilities makes a big difference in the local economy. With less-than-average snowfall this past winter, Gore relied heavily on its snowmaking capabilites, and while much of the North Country did not have snow, Gore had excellent coverage on its trails for most of the 2011-12 ski season.
While many ski centers in the East saw up to a 30 percent drop in business, Gore was only 15 percent off its average season.
“This year we were fortunate to have installed 160 new tower guns before opening the ‘11-12 winter season, and if there’s one year that could have been better timed, I can’t imagine what it is,” Gore Marketing Manager Emily Stanton said on March 22, the last ski day of the season. “So I know we were able to overcome a lot of challenges with that snowmaking improvement.”
Tony Jordan gets involved
Assemblyman Tony Jordan (R-Jackson), representing the 112th Assembly District, is a North Creek native and the town of Johnsburg attorney. While his district doesn’t include North Creek, he’s interested in making sure that Gore Mountain is adequately represented during and after the Belleayre transition.
“I remember as a kid skiing the big three (Gore, Belleayre and Whiteface), and we’re now reuniting them and want to make sure that it improves the value of the experience at all the facilities, that not one of the facilities is short-changed,” Jordan said.
Jordan is looking at the big picture. He doesn’t just see North Creek, Wilmington, Lake Placid or Pine Hill. He doesn’t just see the Adirondack or the Catskill parks. He sees an economic engine for the Empire State.
“These are major assets for the state of New York,” Jordan said. “Gore, Whiteface and now Belleayre — now within ORDA — they sit within the largest catchment area of potential skiers in the country, and that means tremendous revenues to the state through tourism dollars. It’s in the spirit of making sure we maximize that. ”
Asked if he’d like to see one other ORDA Board member represent Warren County, Jordan said, “I don’t think that’s the only right answer, and I think it’s too early to tell even if any change is necessary at all ... There might be better, more efficient, more flexible ways and more fluid ways of doing it, and that’s what we’re looking at right now.”
The only way to require that two ORDA Board members live in Warren County is through legislation, according to Jordan.
“When you’re a legislator, very often your initial reaction is legislation, and that’s not always the right answer,” Jordan said.
However, if the best way to help Gore is to pass legislation to add a Warren County representative to the ORDA Board, Jordan said he would work with Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) to make that happen.
While Little has spoken to Jordan about his ORDA Board idea, she has not yet seen a specific proposal, according to Little spokesman Dan MacEntee.
“It is something she is interested in working with him on,” MacEntee said.
Yet the governor can simply fill the ORDA seat formerly occupied by Joe Martens, before he became DEC commissioner, with a person who lives in Warren County. Or he can fill that seat with anyone who lives in New York. It’s up to the governor.
In the 2012-13 state budget, $4 million has been allocated to ORDA to “perform lift maintenance, building maintenance, and repair critical infrastructure.” It is uncertain where that money will be used, according to ORDA’s Lundin.
Business leaders in North Creek would like to see at least some of that $4 million help the Gore Mountain ski center.
Gore Mountain General Manager Mike Pratt was invited to be a guest speaker at the April 19 Business Alliance meeting, where he reassured members that, no matter where the $4 million is spent, ORDA remains dedicated to improving Gore.
“Gore is ORDA, and ORDA is Gore,” Pratt said after the meeting.
Pratt told Alliance members that improvements have already been slated for Gore Mountain this year. For example, the Tannery Pub kitchen and bar will undergo remodeling, and a new deck will be built.
“We’re basically continuing our modernization efforts in that facility so we can offer more formal dinners,” Pratt said.
Pratt said he’s been happy with Robert Flacke’s “tremendous representation” for Warren County on the ORDA Board, and he’s been “very supportive” in regard to expansion projects such as the interconnect with the Ski Bowl.
“It’s only occurred because of the support from ORDA,” Pratt said, adding that there have been dramatic improvements to Gore since ORDA began operating the ski center in 1984.
Pratt said he doesn’t see where ORDA’s operation of Belleayre will hurt Gore.
“We can only look at this as a positive,” Pratt said.
Right now Gore is one of ORDA’s top two facilities when it comes to generating revenue. Likewise, it receives the second-highest amount of funding among the ORDA venues.
In the 2012-13 ORDA budget, Whiteface revenues are expected to be $10.898 million while Gore revenues are expected to be $8.579 million. Third on the list is the Olympic Arena, where revenues are expected to be $3.15 million.
ORDA’s top three venues when it comes to expenses are: Whiteface, $7.821 million; Gore, $7.446 million; and the Olympic Arena, $4.168 million.
Reunited: Gore, Belleayre & Whiteface
The history of a state-operated ski center at Gore Mountain in North Creek can be traced to 1947, when New York voters approved Amendment 6 to the state constitution, giving permission to place ski centers on Forest Preserve at Belleayre Mountain in Ulster and Delaware counties and on the slopes of Gore, South and Pete Gay mountains in Warren County.
In 1941, voters approved a constitutional amendment to place a ski center on Forest Preserve at Whiteface Mountain in Essex County.
Yet it was a long wait for Gore Mountain to see enough state funding to build its current facility, which opened on Jan. 25, 1964.
The state initially funded construction of the first incarnation of the Whiteface ski center on Marble Mountain, opening for the 1948-49 ski season, and the Belleayre ski center, opening for the 1949-1950 ski season. The second incarnation of the Whiteface ski center, at its current location, was funded $2.5 million, constructed in 1957 and opened to the public on Jan. 25, 1958.
All three ski centers were originally operated by the New York State Conservation Department. In 1957, the Conservation Commissioner’s Advisory Committee on Skiing recommended that improvements be made to Belleayre Mountain, a new ski center be built on Little Whiteface Mountain, and a new ski center be constructed at Gore Mountain, according to the April 5, 1957 issue of the Lake Placid News.
“Commissioner (Sharon) Mauhs expressed confidence that development work at Whiteface and expansion of facilities at Belleayre could proceed this year with funds appropriated by the Legislature in accordance with Governor Harriman’s re- quest,” the article stated. “He expressed regret that the Legislature had declined to vote funds requested by Governor Harriman for planning operations at Gore Mountain.”
All three ski centers have one person in common: Arthur Draper, Serge Lussi’s father-in-law. Lussi’s son — Arthur, who is currently a commissioner on the Adirondack Park Agency Board — was named after his grandfather.
A former New York Times reporter, Draper fell in love with the Adirondack Mountains after covering the 100th anniversary of the first hike up Mount Marcy. That was in August 1937. He soon became a forest ranger, stationed in North Creek from 1938 to 1942 and again in 1945 and 1946 after serving in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. He was an early proponent of the Gore Mountain and Belleayre ski centers during the 1947 vote.
Draper left his forest ranger position on May 1, 1946 to help plan the first Whiteface Mountain ski center. He soon left Wilmington to become the first superintendent at the Belleayre Mountain ski center. In 1957, he returned to the Adirondacks to become general manager at the Whiteface Mountain ski center. In October 1960, at the age of 51, Draper died unexpectedly at a ski conference in Old Forge. In 2007, he was named to the Belleayre Mountain Hall of Fame. A ski run — Draper’s Drop — was named for him at Whiteface Mountain.