LAKE PLACID – Shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, Greg Borzilleri propelled his stand-up paddleboard a tenth of a mile down Mirror Lake. On the Winter Solstice, with not a chunk of ice in sight, Borzilleri paddled from Mid’s Park to his Mirror Lake Boat Rental business in the 45-degree rain and unseasonably warm, lingering lakefront fog.
With precarious winter weather this December and a similarly warm forecast for the holidays this week and next, Borzilleri’s boat rental business also rented boats in November and December for the first time. Others are also preparing to entertain vacationers for a holiday season unlike any Lake Placid business personnel can recall.
It’s forced the business community to rally in response to commercial uncertainty.
“I grew up here, I’ve been here for 45 years, and I can’t remember ever having this kind of warm weather in December,” Borzilleri said.
Others remember the green Christmas of 1979, prompting worry in the lead-up to the 1980 Winter Olympics. This kind of weather is problematic for a winter tourism town, and merchants and officials are trying to deal with the unseasonable conditions.
From Whiteface Mountain – which has offered skiing since Thanksgiving on man-made snow – to the High Peaks Resort across the street from Borzilleri’s Mirror Lake Boat Rental, business owners and hoteliers acknowledge the heightened anxiety heading into the holiday week.
High Peaks Resort Director of Sales and Marketing Lori Fitzgerald serves as president of the Lake Placid Business Association, and Monday afternoon she said businesses anticipate a financial effect from the weather. She and others have seen some potential vacationers hesitating and waiting longer than usual to make plans. But businesses are also hopeful Lake Placid’s bevy of non-snow and ice-related activities will entice vacationers to “choose an adventure a bit different than they first perceived.
“We are not seeing that same level of demand right now,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the High Peaks Resort is in a similar situation to other hotels, hovering around 80 percent of historical reservation numbers for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
On Main Street Tuesday, there was an early presence of holiday season vacationers shopping in town. Some businesses reported commerce meeting and exceeding historical trends. Others, including Great Adirondack Brewing Company manager Kelsey Cassidy noted how the lack of snow is a scare.
“A lot of our clientele are people that come to the mountain,” Cassidy said. “And right now, only having a couple of trails open (at Whiteface) is not what we want to see.”
Lake Placid has responded. A town-wide creative collaboration has been hatched, spearheaded by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority Board, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, the LPBA and Adworkshop.
The town is bracing for a forecast of 33 degrees or higher all but one day between today and New Year’s Day – including highs of 61 degrees on Christmas Eve and 47 degrees on Christmas Day, according to Weather.com.
Between now and Jan. 2, with a lift ticket purchase, Whiteface is offering a non-holiday lift ticket voucher good for a day between Jan. 4 and the end of the season. On the lower sections of Whiteface, nighttime skiing and bonfires are planned.
Activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the backcountry will not be possible all-together however, and downtown, skating on The Olympic Speedskating Oval is in serious jeopardy this coming weekend, as no ice was present on The Oval as of Tuesday afternoon. ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin said temperatures in the upper 20s or 30s are typically needed to have ice on the Oval. Uncertainty surrounding outdoor skating is just one example of how Lake Placid is “at the mercy of the thermometer,” as Fitzgerald put it.
To make the most of what is controllable, back on Main Street is where the collaborative effort will be most evident. On top of an extended laundry list of typical outdoor and indoor activities in the area, Mid’s Park will host a week-long Holiday in the Park beginning the day after Christmas and running through Jan. 2. Festival activities are planned to be held at the Oval, ice or no ice, as well.
From 3 to 5 p.m. daily, family-centric events and activities will highlight the Mid’s Park schedule, such as a snowball slingshot, relays, sledding (snow will be transported from the ice arena), and an inaugural Last Race of the Year/First Race of the Year two-day 5K event.
James McKenna, president of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, said Tuesday afternoon he thinks over the course of this week businesses and hoteliers will reach 80 to 90 percent of typical holiday week expectations. McKenna added that as high as 25 percent of Lake Placid’s winter business historically occurs during the holiday period.
In response, within the past two weeks several local meetings were called to hatch the warm weather plan, including a week’s worth of budgeting and resourcing.
“To the extent that we’ve done it this time, and to the partners that we’ve brought to the table, I don’t recall one as specifically strong as this one,” McKenna said.
McKenna said funds for the extra holiday initiatives, which he anticipated totaled a little over $20,000, were predominately handled by ROOST and ORDA.
“We want to make sure we are recognized as one of the No. 1 places to do this in the east without snow,” he said.
Lundin said this 2015 holiday week will be a chance to prove to vacationers that the Whiteface-Lake?Placid area deserves its No. 1 ranking by SKI Magazine for off-hill activities in the East 26 years running. The plan is unlike anything he can remember, perhaps sharing some similarities with 2000 Goodwill Games efforts.
The week will likely test Lake Placid’s No. 1 ranking and provide a trial run for handling similar warm winter weather in the future.
“We can’t rely on the old ways of doing things.” Lundin said. “We can’t rely on just Lake Placid’s name and what we have to offer. There is a lot of cache to that, but people are watching the news, reading the newspaper and seeing what is happening here. As we move forward, we will all learn from this as to what we did well, what we didn’t do well. And should this happen again, how we should use this model to move forward and continue to promote Lake Placid, whether it is inclement weather or great weather.”