December 23, 2008, Canadian Press: New York ski areas expect more close-to-home traffic this season

Skiers head for the slopes after departing a ski gondola at Gore Mountain Ski Resort in North Creek, N.Y. Between the slow national economy and gas prices dropping, upstate New York ski areas could see more visitors this year, with more skiers staying closer to home. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Mike Groll

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New York ski areas expect more close-to-home traffic this season

NORTH CREEK, N.Y. — The green gondola cars streamed back up the Adirondack mountain while occasional skiers made loose parallel turns down the intermediate slope called Wild Air, stopped, removed their skis, then immediately stepped aboard the lift again.

"It's good," snowboarder Andrew Baker said. He headed into the glass-fronted lodge at Gore Mountain, midmorning in early December, the bare trees beyond lightly dusted with snow. "It's not icy. You can still find some chords out there."

Those chords, or lines of fresh powder, invite skiers and boarders to carve them up. Baker, from South Glens Falls, had also ridden the black diamond Topridge slope, one of two dozen expert trails at Gore.

Long lift lines are unusual here, except early in the day on major holidays, when you can wait 20 minutes. "It's one of the least crowded areas I've ever skied," said Ski Patrol supervisor Howie Carbone.

But between the slow national economy and gas prices dropping, upstate New York ski areas could see more visitors this year, with more skiers staying closer to home. "I think more people are going to be less inclined to go out west," said Scott Brandi, grabbing his skis.

Brandi, who is also president of Ski Areas Association of New York, said the state ranked fifth last year in visitation, with 4.1 million outings at all 47 alpine ski areas in the state. He said the four-month season pumped $1.1 billion into the economy, adding that New York could overtake Utah in skier visits this year.

Gore's business has already grown, with half of its visitors staying overnight in and around North Creek, a hamlet in the southern Adirondacks, and 50 per cent day visitors, marketing director Emily Stanton said. Its customer zip code study showed 23 per cent from the Albany area, 15 per cent from nearby Saratoga/Glens Falls, 14 per cent from New Jersey, 10 per cent New York City, nine per cent Long Island, and eight per cent central and western New York. North Creek is 116 kilometres north of Albany.

Gore has a reputation for long cruising runs, including beginner trails that continue down the lower Bear Mountain for more than a kilometre.

Gore's higher lifts and trails, including the double diamonds, as well as the new quad lift, trails and glades on adjacent Burnt Ridge Mountain, opened before Christmas this year. When all the lifts and trails are open, Baker said the mountain's challenges compare "just fine" with affiliated Whiteface Mountain, farther north in the High Peaks Region, which boasts the largest vertical drop in the East of 1,045 metres. This year, Whiteface plans to open new Lookout Mountain lift and run, northeast of the summit, reclaiming the old Cloudsplitter Trail that was part of Marble Mountain in the 1950s.

Gore and Whiteface, like Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills, are state-owned properties. State reports show all three operating near break-even. The Department of Environmental Conservation's Belleayre, for example, reported US$6.1 million revenue in its 2007-2008 fiscal year, with $6.3 million in expenses.

All have tower guns to pump snow over most of their slopes instead of waiting for it to fall from the sky.

Joe Martens, chairman of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs Gore and Whiteface, said both operated in the black last season, though capital improvements like Gore's Burnt Ridge expansion or new Northwoods Lodge are subsidized through grants or state funding. While the question has come up historically, Martens said he hasn't heard a word in the state's current government budget crisis about selling them.

Sales of season passes are already up this year at both Whiteface and Gore, Martens said. Last season, Gore counted 238,467 visits over 139 ski days, Stanton said.

Walt McConnell, a retired physician who lives in Bolton Landing on nearby Lake George, said he'll spend six weeks this winter at Utah's Snowbird. Otherwise he usually skis at Gore (at age 77, he qualifies for free skiing for those 70 and over), but says he also likes the skiing, the vistas and the people.

"Obviously it's subject to Eastern weather. It'll snow. It'll freeze. It'll snow. It'll freeze," McConnell said. "But when it's good, it's good."

He spent his career in New Jersey, but visited Lake George in 1964, falling in love with it and the Adirondacks, he said. "One look and I said I'm going to retire here."

If You Go . . .

New York, state-owned ski areas: All three offer various discounts, specials and packages, so check online before you go.

Belleayre Mountain, in Highmount, in the Catskills, or 845-254-5600. Offers 427 vertical metres; 96 per cent snowmaking coverage; up to 39 trails, five glades, rail park, terrain Park, halfpipe; longest run 3.7 kilometres; eight lifts; 69 skiable hectares. Daily adult tickets, US$45 midweek, $54 weekend or holiday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Gore Mountain, in North Creek in the southern Adirondacks, or 518-251-2411. Offers 700 vertical metres; 95 per cent snowmaking coverage; up to 82 alpine trails, including 15 glades; longest run six kilometres; 12 lifts; 161 skiable hectares. Daily adult tickets, $62 midweek, $71 weekends and holidays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, in the north-central Adirondacks, or 518-946-2223. Offers 1,045 vertical metres; 98 per cent snowmaking coverage; up to 80 trails; terrain park, halfpipe; longest run 5.6 kilometres; 114 skiable hectares; 11 lifts. Daily adult tickets, $74 weekdays, $79 weekends and holidays; 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

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