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Podcast #94: Gore Mountain General Manager Bone Bayse

Going deep at New York's largest ski area.

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Stuart Winchester
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Who

Bone Bayse, General Manager of Gore Mountain, New York

Bayse. Photo courtesy of Gore Mountain.

Recorded on

June 27, 2022

About Gore Mountain

Click here for a mountain stats overview

Owned by: New York State – managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA)

Pass affiliations: NY Ski 3 with Whiteface and Belleayre; former member of the now-defunct M.A.X. Pass

Located in: North Creek, New York

Closest neighboring ski areas: Dynamite Hill (25 minutes), Hickory (30 minutes –closed since 2015 but intends to re-open), Newcomb (40 minutes), Oak Mountain (42 minutes), West Mountain (45 minutes)

Base elevation: 998 feet (at North Creek Ski Bowl)

Summit elevation: 3,600 (at Gore Mountain)

Vertical drop: 2,537 feet (lift-served – lifts do not reach the top of Gore Mountain)

Skiable Acres: 448

Average annual snowfall: 125 inches

Trail count: 108 (11% easy, 48% intermediate, 41% advanced)

Lift count: 14 (1 gondola, 2 high-speed quads, 4 fixed-grip quads, 3 triples, 1 J-bar, 1 Poma, 2 carpets - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Gore’s lift fleet)

View historic Gore Mountain trailmaps on skimap.org.

Why I interviewed him

If you told me I could only ski one New York ski area for the rest of my life, I would pick Gore, and I wouldn’t have to even consider it. If you told me I could only ski one ski area in the Northeast outside of Northern Vermont for the rest of my life, then I would still pick Gore. And if you told me I could only ski one Northeast ski area for the rest of my life and you threw in a magic snowcloud that delivered Green Mountain Spine-level snowfalls to eastern New York… well, I’d probably have to go with Jay Peak or Smuggs or Stowe or Sugarbush, but if my commute still had to start in Brooklyn, then Gore would be a strong contender.

This is a damn fine chunk of real estate, is my point here. The skiing is just terrific. There’s a reason that New York Ski Blog founder Harvey Road makes Gore, along with Plattekill, his home base. It’s a big, interesting ski area, a state-owned property that somehow feels anti-establishment, a sort of outpost for the gritty, toughguy skier who has little use for the Rockies or, for that matter, Vermont. It’s the sort of place where people rack up 100-day seasons even if it only snows 45 inches (as happened over the 2015-16 ski season, according to Snowpak).  

But Gore really needs snow to be Gore. And that’s because the best part about the skiing is the mountain’s massive glade network, which threads its way around, over, and through the ski area’s many peaks. The woods are well-considered and well-maintained, marked and secret, rambling and approachable. None of them, outside a half dozen turns on Chatiemac and a few others, are particularly steep. At low-snow Gore, this is a plus – it doesn’t take a lot of snow to fill in the trees, and the snow tends to hold once it falls.

Gore upgraded its High Peaks lift to a carpet-loaded fixed-grip quad in 2020. Photo by Stuart Winchester.

Talk to anyone who has toured the New York ski scene, and you’ll hear familiar – if sometimes unfair – complaints. Hunter is too crowded, Windham too expensive, Whiteface too icy. No one ever has anything bad to say about Gore, even though it can sometimes be some version of all of those things. The one consistent nit about the place is its sprawling setup, but that breadth is precisely what keeps liftlines short to nonexistent, outside of the gondola, nearly every day of the ski season. And locals know how to work around the traverses that drive day-skiers nutso. It’s an elegant machine once you learn how to drive it.

I get a lot of requests for podcasts. Gore is one of the most frequent. If it ran for president of New York skiing, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t need a recount. I’ve been after this one for a long time, and I’m happy we were finally able to deliver it.

Gore’s old High Peaks lift, which dated to 1966, in 2019. The lift had become unreliable and often sat idle. Photo by Stuart Winchester.

What we talked about

The longest ski season in Gore Mountain history; how the mountain reached May and whether they’ll try to do so again in the future; ORDA’s commitment to the long season; snowmaking; the singular experience of life in the southern Adirondacks; Gore in the 1980s; the story behind the Burnt Ridge and Snow Bowl expansions; the new trail coming to Burnt Ridge for  next winter; don’t worry Barkeater will be OK!; why the new summer attractions have to be built at North Creek; Ski Bowl history; riding trucks up the mountain; the death of the ski train; how much of the historic North Creek ski area Gore was able to incorporate into its expansion; Nordic skiing at Gore; the huge new lift-lodge-zipline project planned for North Creek; the anticipated alignment of the new Hudson chair; a potential timeline for the whole project; how Gore could evolve if it had two fully developed base areas; whether more trails could be inbound for North Creek (or anywhere else at Gore); Gore’s expansive and ever-expanding glades; a wishlist for lift upgrades; which lift could get an extension; details on the new lift type and alignment for Bear Cub; possible replacements for Straight Brook and Topridge; in defense of fixed-grip lifts; whether we could ever see the gondola return to the Gore Mountain summit; why the North Quad terminates below the gondola; the potential for slopeside lodging at Gore; the Ski3 Pass; why Belleayre still has a standalone pass but Gore does not; why ORDA dropped the every-sixth-day-free from the Ski3 frequency card and whether that could return; why Gore didn’t migrate from the M.A.X. Pass to the Ikon Pass; whether Gore could ever join the Ikon or Indy Passes; staffing up in spite of the challenges; how ORDA determines wages; and the World University Games.        

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

Anytime would be a good time for a Gore interview. There is always something new. In 2020, Gore was one of a handful of ski areas in North America that went ahead with planned lift projects, upgrading High Peaks and Sunway, a pair of unreliable antiques, with new fixed-grip quads. The ski area’s rapid expansion over the past 15 years – with the additions of Burnt Ridge, North Creek Ski Bowl, and countless glades, both mapped and not – is nearly unequaled in the United States. Gore is, and has been for a very long time, a place where big things are happening.

Part of the reason for that rapid growth is the 2018 announcement that New York will host the 2023 World University Games. Gore will host a set of freestyle events, and the state seems intent on avoiding a repeat of the 1980 Olympic embarrassment, when a snowless early winter threatened to move several events north to Canada. New York has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its three ski areas and its Olympic facilities over the past decade, and much of that has gone to Gore.

But I do not, as regular readers know, focus much – or, really, any – attention on ski competitions of any kind. Bone and I discuss the games a bit toward the end of the interview, but mostly we talk about the mountain. And it is a hell of a mountain. It’s a personal favorite, and one I’ve been trying to lock a podcast conversation around since Storm Launch Day back in 2019.

Gore offers massive tracts of off-piste skiing when conditions are right. Photo courtesy of Gore Mountain.

Questions I wish I’d asked

Many of you may be left wondering why my extensive past complaints about ORDA largess did not penetrate my line of questioning for this interview. Gore is about to spend nearly $9 million to replace a 12-year-old triple chair with a high-speed quad. There is no other ski area on the continent that is able to do anything remotely similar. How could I spend an hour talking to the person directing this whole operation without broaching this very obvious subject?

Because this is not really a Gore problem. It’s not even an ORDA problem. This is a New York State problem. The state legislature is the one directing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to three ski areas while the majority of New York’s family-owned mountains pray for snow. I am not opposed to government support of winter sports. I am opposed to using tax dollars from independent ski areas that have to operate at a profit in order to subsidize the operations of government-owned ski areas that do not. There are ways to distribute the wealth more evenly, as I’ve outlined before.

But this is not Bayse’s fight. He’s the general manager of a public ski area. What is he supposed to do? Send the $9 million back to the legislature and tell them to give it to Holiday Mountain? His job is to help prioritize projects and then make sure they get done. And he’s really good at that job. So that – and not bureaucratic decisions that he has no control over – was where I took this conversation.

Why you should ski Gore

The New York glory goes to Whiteface, Olympic skyscraper, its 3,430-foot vertical drop towering over everything in the Northeast, and big parts of the West too, over Aspen and Breck and Beaver Creek and Mammoth and Palisades Tahoe and Snowbird and Snowbasin. The New York attention goes to the Catskills, seated between Gore and The City – New York City – like a drain trap. Almost all of the northbound skiers that don’t know enough to detour to Belleayre or Plattekill stop at Windham and Hunter and for most that’s as far north as they ever bother to go. Whiteface sits adjacent to Lake Placid, one of North America’s great ski towns. Hunter has slopeside lodging and a woo-hoo sensibility that vibes with metro-area hedonism.

Gore sits between these twin outposts. It’s less than four hours north of Manhattan, 30 minutes off the interstate on good roads. It’s overlooked anyway. Skiers headed that far north are more likely to end up at Stratton or Mount Snow or Okemo or Killington, with their big-pass affiliations and on-mountain beds and similar-to-Gore vertical drops and trail networks. Anyone who wants to ski Gore has to wake up and drive every day, even if they’re on vacation.

All of that adds up to this: the best ski area in New York is often one of its least crowded. And Gore is the best ski area in New York. The glade network alone grants it that distinction. The place is sprawling, quirky, interesting. It skis like a half dozen mini ski areas stuffed into a sampler pack: get small-town vibes at Ski Bowl, cruise off Bear, go Midwest off gentle and forgotten North Quad, feel high alpine on the summit, or just bounce around all day in the glades.

Getting after it in Barkeater glade. Photo by New York Ski Blog.

When Gore has snow, it’s glorious, a backwoods vibe with a modern lift fleet – other than an antique J-bar, the oldest lift on the mountain is from 1995. But snow is Gore’s biggest drawback. One hundred twenty-five inches per year is OK, but if only we could hack the whole operation out of the earth and chopper it west into one of New York’s two great snowbelts, off Lakes Ontario or Eerie, where Snow Ridge racks up 230 inches of annual snowfall and Peek’N Peak claims 200. ORDA has invested massively in snowmaking – Gore has at least 829 snowguns. But they don’t make snow in the trees, and without that sprawling glade network in play, Gore is a far less interesting place.

It can also be hard to navigate. Anyone who doesn’t luck into the Pipeline Traverse connecting North Quad to Burnt Ridge and Ski Bowl (Little Gore), is looking at an atrocious commute from the main lodge to the Burnt Ridge Quad, an irritating pole on skis, infuriating on a snowboard. That’s just one example – Gore, for the uninitiated, can be an exhaustive tangle of such routes, of lifts that don’t quite go where you thought they would, of deceptive distances squished together for the convenience of a pocket-fold trailmap.

Gore’s main base - the Sunway lift is on the left, the gondola is in the middle, and the Adirondack Express II quad is on the right. This is the most congested part of the ski area, but it represents just a fraction of the sprawling trail network. Photo courtesy of Gore Mountain.

Still, Gore is everything that is great about New York skiing: affordable, convenient, unpretentious, unassuming. It is, under the right conditions, a top 10 Northeast mountain. It’s a true skier’s mountain, opening early, closing as late as May 1. This one’s not on any of your megapasses. Go there anyway. It’s worth it.

Podcast notes

Bayse and I discussed the new intermediate trail going in on Burnt Ridge this summer. Gore’s website describes the new trail in this way:

This 60’ wide intermediate-rated trail with grooming and snowmaking capabilities will enter near the top of the Burnt Ridge Quad and run alongside the Barkeater Glades, ending just uphill of the Roaring Brook Bridge at the bottom of The Pipeline, making your adventure to Little Gore Mountain and the Ski Bowl more direct and easily accessible!

Here’s where it will sit on the trailmap:

Image courtesy of Gore Mountain.

New York Ski Blog’s Harvey Road visited Gore in June and walked the new trail with Bayse:

Explore Gore's new trail.

We also discussed the possibility of eventually bringing the gondola back to the top of Gore Mountain, where the ski area’s original gondola landed, as you can see in this 1994 trailmap:

Gore’s 1994 trailmap. Source: skimap.org.

That won’t be happening. When Gore strung the new gondy up in 1999, they dropped the terminal onto Bear Mountain, which opened up a whole new pod of skiing:

Gore’s 2000-01 trailmap. Source: skimap.org.

That, as it turned out, was just the start of Gore’s rabid expansion over the next two decades. In 2008, the ski area developed Burnt Ridge:

Gore’s 2008-09 Trailmap. Source: skimap.org.

Two years later, Gore connected Burnt Ridge to Little Gore Mountain, which was the lost North Creek Ski Bowl ski area:

Gore’s 2010-11 Trailmap. Source: skimap.org.

We also discussed additional trails that could be developed skier’s left of the current Little Gore summit. Here’s what those looked like in a 2008 rendering:

Source: Skimap.org.

If you really want to get into Gore’s potential and long-term plans, there are zillions of conceptual maps in the ski area’s 541-page Unit Management Plan update from 2018:

View Gore's Unit Management Plan

Finally, Bayse and I discussed the M.A.X. Pass, which was the immediate antecedent of the Ikon Pass. Gore was a part of this eclectic coalition, which included all of the mountains below – imagine if all of these had joined the Ikon Pass:

Source: On The Snow.

Scanning that roster is a bit like playing Fantasy Ski Pass, but it’s also an acknowledgement that there’s nothing preordained about the current Ikon-Indy-Epic-Mountain Collective alignments that we are all so familiar with. That was M.A.X. Pass’ lineup five years ago. Now, those ski areas are split amongst the four big passes, and some of them have opted for complete independence. Gore, sadly for the multi-mountain pass fans among us, is one of them (though it is part of the SKI3 Pass with sister resorts Belleayre and Whiteface). That trio would make a Northeast crown jewel for Indy Pass, and would be a worthy addition for Ikon. If ORDA were worried about cannibalizing SKI3 sales with an Ikon partnership, they could simply combine the three ski areas into a single “destination” and offer five or seven combined days, much as Ikon has long offered at the four Aspen mountains or Killington-Pico.

Gore on New York Ski Blog

No ski writer in America has written more about Gore than Harvey Road, who, as mentioned above, is the founder, editor, and soul behind the fabulous New York Ski Blog, which is one of the longest-running and most consistent online regional ski websites in the country.

Harv is a good friend of mine, and I’ve contributed a half dozen posts (on Burke, Stowe, Maple Ski Ridge, Willard, Mount Snow, and Killington) to his site over the years. New York Ski Blog has 222 stories tagged with Gore, which date back to 2006. I asked Harvey to choose his four favorite:

1)    I Never Made It To The Top – Feb. 18, 2019

There are many reasons to like the North Creek Ski Bowl. The parking, the yurt, the people who ski there, the vibe. Another bonus feature is proximity to Burnt Ridge via the Eagle’s Nest traverse.

Burnt Ridge has become the part of Gore that I think about when I’m daydreaming at my desk. It’s unique among the eastern areas I have skied. A beautiful chair lift that serves an epic groomer and four mile-long glades. For the most part they are gently pitched, and I often find I am in my zone.

2)    Gore Mountain: Love The One You’re With – March 25, 2019

NYSkiBlog was originally designed to be a skier’s decision engine. The Weather Center was created to help road warriors — those who have to travel far and plan ahead — make the best possible decisions to get good snow.

It’s certainly not a fool-proof tool. Weather data requires persistent monitoring and educated interpretation to pay dividends. And even with all that, things can go wrong.

My idea at the beginning of the week was to ski Plattekill in the warm sunshine that was forecast for Saturday, and then move north to ski Gore on Sunday. But as the week wore on, a spring storm crept into the forecast and affected my plan.

Photo by New York Ski Blog.

3)    That Next Big Step – Feb. 19, 2020

Over the last few seasons, our daughter has been generally fearless in the trees, and only intimidated by the steepest steeps at Gore. Two years ago, when 46er opened, we skied right up to the headwall, paused, re-considered, and sidestepped back uphill to ski the Hudson Trail.

This past Sunday, we were first at the Yurt and first in line for the Hudson Chair. Don was working the lift, and he always gives me a good tip: “46er was groomed overnight.” The lift started to spin early, and we were on our way up the hill at 8:15.

Photo by New York Ski Blog.

I’ve learned, always listen to Don. Without pushing too hard, I hope, I raised the idea of grabbing it while the cord was perfect. Two points for us, we were on a slow fixed-grip lift, with no one ahead of us, so we had some time to talk it out. By the time we arrived at the top of Little Gore, we were going for it.

The cord was firm but grippy and she nailed it. On the next ride up, she asked me “Dad, how does that compare to Lies?” I told her “46er is steeper than Lies, but it’s shorter. And Lies won’t be cord, by the time we get to it.”

Apparently some kids at school had been talking about Lies, making it out to be the full-on shizzle. She’d gained confidence on 46er and was looking for some bragging rights to go with it. “To the top Dad, to the top!”

4)    Gore Mountain: Good Friday – April 18, 2022

When Gore is one of NY’s last men standing — and you have a season pass, and a beautiful day off, and you’re a wannabe ski writer — you’re going to ski it and write about it. That’s how it goes. More Gore.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Northeast’s version of thin-cover spring skiing, this photo is a good primer. Photo by New York Ski Blog.

This is also the post in which Harvey describes a confrontation with some moron who “didn’t appreciate the attention [NY Ski Blog has] brought to Gore.” This is an idiotic take, as though a hobby blog, and not the millions of dollars in upgrades and marketing invested by the state, were the reason for Gore’s growing reputation and skier visits. This sort of don’t-talk-about-my-mountain homerism is counterproductive, a sort of domestic xenophobia that’s frustrating and disheartening. It’s also bizarre. An Instagram follower recently hit me with a shoosh emoji after I posted a picture of a super-top-secret ski area called Alta, as though a post to my fewer-than 3,000 followers was going to suddenly transform one of America’s most iconic ski areas into a mosh pit. I hate to blow this secret wide open, but these are public businesses, that anyone is allowed to visit. I visit dozens of ski areas every season – one of them is usually Gore. Other than Mountain Creek – my home mountain – I’m a tourist at every single one of them. Translating the energy of those places into content that helps fuel the ski zeitgeist is part of the point of The Storm, and it’s the whole point of New York Ski Blog. Follow along with Harv’s adventures by subscribing to his free email newsletter:

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The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 71/100 in 2022, and number 317 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019. Want to send feedback? Reply to this email and I will answer (unless you sound insane). You can also email skiing@substack.com.

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