Belleayre Releases Masterplan Update: Lift 7 Line Confirmed, Will Eliminate Upper Cathedral Brook Trail
The New York State-owned ski area also shuffles trails on planned expansions
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A ski area modernization nears completion
Let’s set aside, for a moment, Belleayre’s controversial state funding mechanism, its weird layer-cake topography, the access road that cuts the mountain in half. It’s a very strange ski area. But it used to be much stranger. Two ski areas, basically, in one. The bottom 480 vertical feet: a cranky old lodge, scattered surface lifts, a double-double that moved slower than fossilization. The top thousand-ish feet: a dozen identical parallel trails rippling a half mile across a ridge, steep for a dozen turns, moderating to blues on the runout to more slow lifts. Since 1999, a quad has connected the two halves, but it’s awkwardly placed, hard to access, tucked in a corner behind a winding clutch of greens. Here was Belleayre less than a decade ago:
In 2016, management of the New York State-owned ski area shifted from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), the longtime managers of Gore Mountain, Whiteface, and the state’s legacy Olympic sites. What followed in 2017 was perhaps the most transformational lift in recent New York ski history: the Catskill Thunder Gondola, which, paired with an extension of the Deer Run trail over the mid-mountain access road, fused Belleayre into a true top-to-bottom ski area for the first time since it had opened 68 years earlier:
Over the next six years, ORDA’s cash cannon financed a baselodge modernization, a consolidated and safely isolated beginner area, and a replacement of the antique double-doubles with a modern fixed-grip quad. Less celebrated but perhaps more important: massive snowmaking investments transformed Belleayre into one of the Northeast’s most reliable ski areas, powering a season that often runs from mid-November to mid-April. A skier Rip Van Winkled from 2015 wouldn’t recognize the joint. But the word is out: this past season, Belleayre’s skier visits hit 237,825, nearly doubling the mountain’s final season pre-gondola: 124,345 visits for the 2016-17 season (2015-16 was just 72,250).
And the ski area is nowhere near finished. ORDA recently released an amendment to Belleayre’s 2015 Unit Management Plan (UMP) that includes details on this summer’s Lift 7 upgrade, elimination of the vaunted Upper Cathedral Brook trail, several modifications to previously approved trail additions, and a new upper-mountain beginner area.
Lift 7, a new Doppelmayr fixed-grip quad that is already under construction, will now cross the access road and land adjacent to Lightning Quad. A new skier bridge – similar to the Deer Run bridge – will carry skiers seamlessly across the road. The previously approved revitalization of the abandoned Highmount ski area remain part of the plan, as does the West Belleayre lift, but with tweaks to the trail network around it. Here’s an overview:
The plan, if fully executed, would complete Belleayre’s long modernization, finalizing its evolution into a peer mountain to neighboring Hunter and Windham. Whether the taxpayer funding that will largely enable that transformation is justified, and what impact the state cash firehose has on competing, taxpaying independent ski areas, is a subject I’ll save for a future newsletter. For now, here’s a look at how Belleayre’s 2023 UMP amendment would impact the mountain’s ski experience:
Below the paid subscriber jump: more details on Belleayre’s masterplan updates, plus Burke gets a purchase offer, a lost South Dakota ski area is poised for a comeback, and much more.