| Five ski areas in the Catskills have agreed to join forces to help woo Metro New York and New Jersey skiers away from Vermont.
The resorts have chipped in for billboards that skiers will see on their way to Vermont, including one on Route 787 that says something like "If you skied the Catskills, you'd be on the slopes by now."
But while Ulster County officials are calling the deal a "historic agreement," officials at several private ski areas wouldn't go that far.
They say that, despite the campaign, they still think state-owned Belleayre Mountain is undermining their business with cheap tickets at taxpayer expense.
"Our friends at Belleayre are very hard to trust," said Laszlo Vajtay, owner and general manager at Plattekill Mountain Resort in Delaware County. "I would use the word 'agreement' lightly."
Under the new deal, visitors in March can present a lift ticket from an out-of-state mountain for a 25 percent discount at Belleayre, Plattekill, Hunter, Windham or Holiday Mountain, a small resort outside Monticello.
The idea is to encourage skiers to visit the Catskills instead.
"Our skiing is just as good as Vermont," Vajtay said.
But Vajtay says Belleayre is undercutting even the new discount, by offering tickets at Potter Brothers, a local ski store, for $23.95 (a salesman for Potter said the tickets are now only available for Sunday). Belleayre's tickets are normally $54.
Other mountains also sell discounted tickets at Potter, but the discounts are much less. Plattekill, for instance, gives $10 off a $50 ticket.
"He's not playing fair," said Vajtay, referring to Belleayre's superintendent, Tony Lanza. "He's putting me out of business."
Belleayre has also announced it's staying open into April after saying it was going to close at the end of March. State officials said snow conditions were better than expected.
Lanza said he didn't think Belleayre was unfairly costing taxpayers.
"We're just doing exactly what the rest of the ski industry is doing," he said. "We have to be competitive, and we don't believe we're undercutting anyone."
Lanza said it was a good sign that local ski areas were working together.
"Instead of going after each other's core markets, we're looking for new business," he said.
Tim Woods, general manager at Windham, agreed that the recent marketing agreement did not address complaints against Belleayre.
"There are still issues" between the ski resorts, he said. "But those issues aside, this cooperative marketing effort is good for the region."
Meanwhile, he did hear some good news from the state Wednesday: Gov. David Paterson announced he would abandon plans for new taxes in the state on such amenities as soda, haircuts, cable TV, bowling — and ski resort lift tickets.
Alan Wechsler can be reached at 454-5469 or by email at email@example.com.