Feb 15, 2022·edited Feb 15, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

As a Gore regular, retired 60 day/year skier & NYS taxpayer, my answer to your above question is: “maybe not the best way, but a good way, primarily because $30 mil into the N Creek economy is much needed and at the end of the day it’s only a rounding error in the $216 billion NYS budget.” (0.00014 to be precise)

Personally, I’ll miss the coziness of that half decade old lodge at the Village Slopes, and don’t welcome the increased attention there because it feels like “my own private hill“, but located within the Adirondack Pk Blue Line, it will never have a significant amount of ski in/ski out accommodations and the $ boost which that provides (although there is an ambitious development which has languished for a decade or so.)

So the $30mil project will help this community’s year round economic struggles and is an acceptable compromise.

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There has been a plan for ski in/out in the works for years


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Feb 6, 2022Liked by Stuart Winchester

Glad to see you writing about ORDA Stuart - as a NYC and Queensbury resident, Gore is my home mountain and I often let my mind wander about the uniqueness of state owned mountains and spend holidays talking to a NYS politician I am related to about it. A few thoughts:

First, if the mandate as you quote it is only about recreation it should be amended to make economic development for the regions priority #1 because that is what it is. All of of us in NYC get tons of infrastructure paid for by NYS (not to mention real estate developments subsidized for decades by tax breaks) so I have no problem with these upstate regions getting a little too.

To me, the big issue with Gore and WF financially has always been no real estate development. I don’t know the economics of ski resorts very well, but I have always assumed that at most modern mega mountains like the ones we all know in VT, the real estate subsidizes the skiing. As someone who sat in the back of a VW van driving two hours each way to Caberfae as a kid, ski in/ski out lodging has always seemed the ultimate luxury. I have only done it 5-6 times in my life and it always amazes me. I have to think without it Gore and WF are at a huge disadvantage. But that’s the way it has to (and I think should) stay, at least for Gore and WF. So they will forever be fighting that both for finances and getting pampered NYC skiers to come.

But I am intrigued by your comparison to Sunapee - I didn’t know it was leased from the state, and it doesn’t seem to have a real estate component, so I wonder if the economics make sense for Vail, or it just came in the bag with other NE mountains they bought. And I assume Cannon loses money on operations like ORDA but don’t know that for a fact.

Anyway, I for one will take the ORDA resorts for one reason: if I am only going to get 1-2 weekend days of skiing in, I don’t want 20 minute lift lines and even on the most crowded days Gore spreads people out if you know where to go when. That enough to keep me away from weekends in VT. This is probably ultimately selfish vis a vis the economic development argument, but I will take it as long as it takes ORDA, LP, and NC to figure out how to get more ski visits.

And I agree wholeheartedly with the feeder hills getting more tax breaks and snowmaking subsidy. I will keep working on the politician relative about that. But, the little guys should take note that thanks to Covid and all the skiiing I did at the end of my work-from-home days last year, I bought a West Mtn 6pak to go with my Gore season pass this year. So good skiing (and West is so much better than when I first got to this area 20 years ago) begets more good skiing. Maybe Hickory is next…

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I don't blame private ski area's competing with State owned ski area's. I think Platekills proposal seems very reasonable on the surface.

Question, are the New York owned ski area's pricing truly predatory? Are the state owned ski area's blowing snow when nobody else is? Obviously their lift infrastructure is more updated.

I love the theory if they are going to waste the money anyway let it be on skiing :) and i would expand that to more outdoor activities as well.

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Excellent read. I would suggest that Laslzo Vajtay's points on previous Bellayre expansions are good reads. In particular, see his 2013 proposal below.

Plattekill's Proposal:

• State backed interest-free loans for the private resorts that compete with Belleayre.

• A commitment by New York to refrain from predatory lift ticket pricing.

• True joint marketing between the ski areas to increase skier visits to the Catskills.

• Promotion of a regulatory environment that encourages equivalent terrain and infrastructure/sewer expansion at the private resorts.

Source letter: https://www.saminfo.com/headline-news/7794-12142-694-plattekill-responds-to-the-belleayre-expansion

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Good read Stuart, I agree with a lot of what your wrote but I think you miss a few things regarding ORDA and NY. Who is Gore really competing with? It's Vermont, it's Vail. It's not West and Oak Mountain. These mountains compliment Gore and Gore compliments them, they are not necessarily competitors. I agree NY State can and should do more to support the feeder hills. These hills are the life blood of the industry and should not be forgotten.

This lodge has been in the master plan for years if not longer, there is a massive ski in/out resort development proposed and partially started that has been waiting on ORDA and the state to complete their end of the bargain.

I see this lodge as a "if you build it they will come" moment. There is also a plan for a connection from the Ski Bowl to Burnt Ridge and then to the base area via lift service of some sort. I would like to see that connection done before this lodge personally. ORDA beat it's previous record for season pass sales by many multiples this year, better ability to spread people away from the Gondola and onto Burnt Ridge and to the Ski Bowl would be a very welcomed development in my book.

Keep up the great reporting and writing!

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I found out the hard way, several years ago, that where Smuggs falls down hard is if you're a solo parent with a kid in ski school. Between the long slow lifts and the long skate from Morse to the Madonna/Sterling base, I got only three runs before I had to skate back to Morse to pick up the kid. And that was on a day with zero lift lines. Looked like some amazing terrain, wish I'd had a chance to ski more of it.

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Your view on ORDA is one sided and flawed at best. Is it New York’s fault that small ski areas did not keep up with state of the art snow making & lifts? Why is New York’s financial commitment any different than say Pennsylvania’s commitment to hunting-one of the largest in the USA. Here non-hunters support hunting just as non-skiers support ORDA via taxes levied and of course user fees. As someone who grew up on Long Island and couldn’t wait to get away from the insane taxes, I call The Commonwealth home(here were allowed to actually observe the second amendment but the skiing is lousy and the few larger “resorts” are or have been purchased by Vail (Powder, etc etc).

Does Platekill view BELLEAYRE (ORDA) as the enemy ? Or is it Hunter? The reality , I don’t think they fear either, they have a great family owned operation but they’re smart too renting the mountain for revenue on weekdays . Small areas can thrive - look at Mad River or Magic(although Magic is now on Indy). See while you slam ORDA for wanting to upgrade and improve gore mountain the real issue and threat to the small areas whether you agree or not is the proliferation of the three big ski companies and their multi use multi resort cards. As someone who skis over 30 days a year I have no choice but to buy either an epic or icon I chose icon I also do a season of Belaire and don’t waste my time energy or breath and skiing in Pennsylvania. Sure wish we had an Olympic committee resort in Pennsylvania but we don’t really have mountains here and you choose to slam the organization that is kept wife is gore and Belair alive and thriving so what happened did you like have a lousy experience in one of these or maybe take a Fall there??

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Outstanding edition. A few reactions:

- You now have me studying the Smuggs map and spinning the 3D Google Earth views when I should be working!

- I was also out those two cold negative 18 degree mornings - at Waterville Valley and Cannon. But with the deep blue sky, sunshine, and lack of wind - it really wasn't a factor at all! It's the cold blustery days that take the fight from you. I hate the wind. Cold isn't so bad.

- You would probably attach the Free Market Bro label on me. No problem. But when you support a free market, key elements include (1) a fair, even playing field and (2) a market where externalities (or costs) are not offloaded onto other parties. Anyway, the deep investments (and ongoing losses) by the state of NY is really unfair. I totally agree that if the goal is to support the industry, then spread it around.

- Admittedly, I do really like Gore. And most highway rest stops have a more inviting ambience than the current building over there at North Creek. So at some point, every Free Market Bro is forced to stop screaming "stop wasting money" and move on to "well if you are going to waste the money, maybe this project isn't so bad . . . "

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And there it is…welcome to the smuggs “family”

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The hanging gardens of Adirondack Tourism is Lake George, 30 miles from Gore Mt. The State of NY continues to spend millions on boondoggle campgrounds, $20m rest areas, and the ORDA venues. Lake George "survives" the winter with ice bars, and now ice castles, and a February weekends Winter Carnival. What they really need is ANY winter activity, ice skating, sledding, XC-Skiing, and small hill Alpine skiing (bring back Fred Pabst's original ski area on Prospect Mt.).

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Smuggler's Notch is a family's dream. They have enough going on that even the family members that don't ski can be happy!

One note about the Vail cell phone lift line signs. Based on what I read here and other sites, it sounds like Vail is banning phones completely in the lift lines. At Mt. Snow and Okemo that doesn't appear to be the case. It's only after the final merge prior to loading the lift. And while I haven't seen a chair lift go unloaded because someone's focus was on the cell phone, it does get in the way of "filling the white in front of you". Does it seem like Vail might have other things to pay attention to? Perhaps. But does hit hurt to remind folks to pay attention while approaching and loading the lifts? No. Seems like we have other things to pay attention to.

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Good stuff Stuart. Your continued pokes at environmental protection are sure to rattle the enviro-bro skiers among us. We should let all ski areas build whatever and wherever they want, just like utility companies and mining ops. Rules shmules

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Feb 1, 2022·edited Feb 1, 2022

Stuart's take, from what I can tell, is more nuanced than "build whatever and wherever they want." Environmental protections need to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic development. I simultaneously believe that climate change is one of our biggest threats, but at the same time local environmental protections are often overreaching and therefore unduly hamper ski area development and new housing development.

Also, comparing ski areas to mining operations is ludicrous. An open-pit mine is permanent scar on the landscape. You only need to spend a little bit of time on the NELSAP website to know that even though ski areas involve clearing trails and building infrastructure, when they are not maintained nature quickly reclaims them. Ski areas are also working hard to become more sustainable, and many have done a good job in finding renewable power sources and upgrading their infrastructure such as snowmaking to be more efficient.

The case for more ski area development (both expansions and new ski areas) is strongest out west, where population growth has lead to unsustainable numbers of skiers trying to access the same ski areas in places like Utah, Washington, and Colorado. If you look at the acreage of ski areas out west compared to the mountain ranges that they inhabit, you will find that the vast, vast majority of mountainous terrain is devoid of any skiing infrastructure. In no way would I advocate turning the US into Switzerland or other places in Europe with towns, roads, trams, and trains winding their way up and down seemingly endless peaks, but on balance the US ought to be able to build more skiing infrastructure to meet demand in areas with population growth that are experiencing crowding. The alternative is what we are seeing today: higher prices and more crowds.

My dream would be to let the major ski areas continue to expand so that they can accommodate more skiers, while simultaneously creating a regulatory environment that allows for more local mom-and-pop ski areas to be built. Especially out west where snowmaking is less necessary, having many small ski areas with one or two chairlifts, or a chairlift plus a T-bar, would be a great way to spread people out, keeping the cost of skiing reasonable, and create small local businesses. Hurricane Ridge, Beartooth Basin, Anthony Lakes, or Hoodoo are examples of the kinds of ski areas that I would love to see more of. Building a new ski area, even a modest one, is always going to be expensive, but when it is expensive on top of having a regulatory environment that is going to result in projects taking years and years to be considered only to have their permits rejected is when you get into a situation like the one we are in where new ski areas simply to not get off the ground.

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Thanks, I appreciate your nuanced thoughts to my sarcasm. I simply like to chuckle at the pokes Stuart gives to environmental regs. Not sure any of of us have all the solutions to all of the various ski industry current issues (but pretty sure the solution is not selling more Epic Passes). I'm a big fan of Beartooth Basin and mom & pops in general. They do need help, far more than the behemoths (one of which employees me p/t). I think the last thing I-70 in CO or the Cottonwood canyons need is another ski area to draw more traffic onto those roads. Same with the road to Crystal, WA. But if new ski areas could be built in other locations that don't need those roads and could help other communities/counties, I think it'd be a good thing. I live in PA, where the state owns one ski area (soon to be operated by Vail), another that they are trying to find a concessionaire to run, and they have a State Park adjacent to a barely-alive Indy area (with terrain & vibe similar to Platty). I wish our state had "ORDA like" investment, though all of my relatives (non-skiers) would bitch about paying for that of course. Our state owned ski areas are not at all well funded and have fallen way behind all others in lifts, snowmaking, lodges, and terrain. Again, thx for your thoughts, cheers.

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I'm amused by the notion that building "new" ski areas is a solution that is so frequently bandied about by people who feel that their local mountain (whatever the size) is overcrowded or that EPIC has "ruined skiing". Never mind that Vail, Alterra, and Powdr Co. own 80% of all ski resorts across the country.

This idea that Vail is swooping in ala corporate takeover and swallowing up every ski area that goes up for sale is ludicrous. Ski areas don't go on the auction block because they're making profits hand over fist. They go up for sale because the current owners aren't making ends meet. The fact is, ski areas like the one I spent my entire youth at, Afton Alps, in MN, hadn't made a single upgrade to their facilities for a hundred years prior to Vail's acquisition of the property. The same can be said of my current local mountain, Stevens Pass.

Let’s set aside the grumbling for a moment and talk about “building new resorts” as a solution to the overcrowding problem … There are hundreds of ski resorts and areas across the country that have been abandoned. At one time, Colorado hosted around 150 ski resorts. Today, only 30 remain operational. Why did these resorts close in the first place? Nearly all were defunct long before “climate change” became a common phrase. Yet, many were already built in locations with marginal to unreliable snow pack. Which begs the question: if a new resort was built, short of opening up national parks to development, is there any viable terrain left that could support a ski resort? It’s a legit question. Presumably, the speculators who purchased the land all of the abandoned ski areas across the country currently reside on purchased the best land available for a ski hill?

There are only a few new ski areas being constructed in North America right now, Mayflower in Utah, Valemount Glacier Resort in Alberta, and Jumbo in BC. The developers of Mayflower are gambling on land adjacent to Deer Valley Resort, land that has always suffered from marginal snowpack. Jumbo, on the other hand, was a project of a Japanese company and was finally shut down after thirty years, largely and rightly, due to environmental concerns of BC’s first nation peoples. Valemount is being constructed on the doorstep of a UNESCO World heritage site, Jasper National Park in Alberta, to little opposition.

Under 4% of the US population participates in skiing or snowboarding. Under 4%. That’s a very very small pool of people to draw from to keep any resort open—It’s the primary reason why there are 100’s of abandoned ski areas across the country. The fact that Vail sold 2.1 million Epic passes for the 2021-22 season means exactly nothing … The only stat that matters is skier visits. The fact that Vail is getting more people into skiing is a good thing for the sport and industry as a whole. It means that the odds more people will visit their local mom and pop hills is greater.

The average number of days people ski per season hasn’t gone up in decades—That stat rests at 7 days per winter. The cost of skiing isn’t markedly offset by the relatively inexpensive cost of an Epic Pass, Ikon Pass, Mountain Collective, or Indy Pass. There’s still equipment, lodging, and transportation costs to consider. So are ski resorts really overcrowded?

I just spent five weeks traveling to six resorts, three Vail-owned, two Mountain-Collective/Ikon, and one independent … I haven’t seen a lift line longer than two minutes at any of them, even on weekends. What about Stevens Pass, you blurt!? Stevens has always been a shitshow on weekends … In fact, every single WA resort is a shitshow on weekends because none have adequate uphill capacity, parking, on-mountain facilities, on-mountain lodging, or an infrastructure to accommodate the crush of people trying to get out of the city for a day.

Let’s say you’re all 100% correct, ski resorts are overcrowded, multi-resort passes are destroying skiing, and there is a need to construct new resorts …

Why aren’t companies rehabilitating defunct ski areas? The roads have already been constructed, land has already been cleared for facilities, mechanical infrastructure already exists, and snowpack isn’t an issue?

Is overcrowding really the issue? Or is the fact that such a small percentage of the US population skis the issue? Or are frequent skiers just upset that Vail found a way to entice the people who only ski a few days per year to book a ski vacation? Because the sport isn’t getting any cheaper.

Truth: Avoid the holidays and weekends … and, generally speaking, you will avoid crowds.

Because new ski resorts aren’t going to get built on undiscovered mountains with the perfect combination of terrain and snowpack, abandoned resorts aren’t going to be raised from the dead, and existing ski areas aren’t going to become any cheaper to operate in a warming climate. And a population that is not a winter sports population isn’t suddenly going to run out to their local ski shop and buy thousands of dollars worth of gear for a week on the snow.

Those 2.1 million Epic passes … were purchased by people who already called themselves skiers. Vail, Alterra, Mountain Collective, Indy Pass, etc. just made it more financially palatable for the people who have equipment gathering dust to get out and enjoy a day on the mountain.

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I appreciate this thoughtful response. Like many, I would love to avoid weekends and holidays, but work dictates when I ski. I try to take a ski vacation every year where I can ski weekdays, but that's all I am able to do.

One key thing to keep in mind with regard to skier visits is local population growth. Overall skier numbers might be flat, but skier visits are way up in places like the Salt Lake City, Denver, and Seattle metro areas. With many ski areas shutting down over time, the number of skiers per ski area is likely increasing (to be fair, a proper analysis here would factor in terrain expansions to also consider skiers per acre).

Dead ski areas are actively being revived. Magic and Saddleback are two of the most inspiring stories of this happening. Given the regulatory environment, it's one of the few ways to create a "new" ski area. In many cases however, I have a hard time seeing there being much public support for reviving these kinds of areas, even as ski areas get more crowded. Places like Berthoud Pass and Yodelin are now popular backcountry skiing spots. Mt. Pilchuck in Washington could probably be viable as a Dec-Mar ski area, but part of the reason it closed in the first place were permit disputes between the state of Washington and the USFS. Ascutney used to be a ski area, and while there is now a rope tow on a lower slope, the majority of the mountain is now conservation land so it can never again become a full ski area. I would venture that many closed ski areas are not in the lands of speculators waiting to turn them into ski areas again, but like Ascutney many are now conservation land, making future development impossible.

A quick comment on viable terrain: at least out west, there is plenty of viable terrain outside of the national parks, but much of the best places for ski areas would be in federally designated wilderness areas where development cannot take place. That said, there are still plenty of viable terrain for new ski area development, mostly located on USFS land.

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I work Monday-Friday as most working people seem to work. How do I avoid the weekdays? When i retire by all means I will go midweek, but between now and then I would like to ski, so that means i will be skiing on the weekends.

My biggest fear when the slopes are overcrowded is getting hit by another skier. Yes the lines are annoying, but in my normal skiing area, we seem to have lots of people on the slopes that bomb down unable or unwilling to make turns.

This isn't a Vail only thing as Snowshoe WV on the frontside of the mountain is literally frightening on weekends :s

I also think Vail is on to something with the "feeder" ski area's. Hopefully they can develop more new skiers, instead of recycling the same rough number of skiers. I also have high hopes for the indoor skiing such as Big Snow, and the one near DC whose name escapes me. Sadly the proposed DC indoor skiing is out in the suburbs. Big Snow should be instant diversity bases on the general area's population's hopefully that is the case, and they can move the new skiers out to Mountain Creek, Platty and beyond.

Selfishly I want fresh terrain and new resorts to visit.

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[head shakes in complete agreement]

New resorts and new terrain? Travel. That's what I do when $$$$ allows ... Nevertheless, my bucket list is relatively devoid of checkmarks. I do the best I can on a limited budget and a ton of optimism.

"My biggest fear when the slopes are overcrowded is getting hit by another skier. Yes the lines are annoying, but in my normal skiing area, we seem to have lots of people on the slopes that bomb down unable or unwilling to make turns."

This comment hit very close to home ... Just over two weeks ago, I was involved in a violent collision at Keystone with a kid who hit me from behind WHILE I was skiing. He had to have been doing 50mph just to catch up to me. He was straight-lining a run with his buddies and blew past a sign that said, "watch for skiers below". I was below. I was lucky I didn't end up in the hospital or worse. Had he hit anyone else, you'd be reading about it in the paper. He walked away without injury. I eventually skied away in tremendous pain with a bruised rib, puncture wound on my forehead, a deep scrape on my forearm, massive soft tissue damage to the same arm (that turned into a black and purple bruise stretching from mid bicep to my wrist), and a shoulder that may require surgery and months of PT. I also broke a pole, ruined my goggles, and had to replace an RX insert that shattered inside my goggles on impact. I was very very lucky this collision didn't end my season ... or my life.

But this issue isn't due to overcrowding either, it's due to a ski movie culture that glamorizes the notion that speed is cool and turning is for pussies ... Thereby creating a generation of wannabe ski pros among kids who have neither the skill nor talent to learn how to properly carve a ski. And it's a problem everywhere.

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