Ski jump plans take off

A skier in the New York Ski Educational Foundation goes off the jumps at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

LAKE PLACID — Permit? Check. Design? Still coming for the planned upgrades at the Olympic Jumping Complex on state Route 73.

The changes will help with athlete development and international standards for competition, according to state Olympic Regional Development Authority officials. State Adirondack Park Agency commissioners unanimously approved ORDA’s proposal at the Olympic Jumping Complex on Thursday, June 7.

“For us, the permitting is the first part, to get everything approved,” said ORDA’s Rebecca Dayton, assistant manager of the Olympic Jumping Complex as well as the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg. “And now we move into the design phase where we figure out exactly how things are going to happen.”

Since the design is not complete, it’s hard to guess what the cost will be for these sweeping changes, according to ORDA Director of Communications Jon Lundin.

In addition to the base lodge and a few other buildings, the complex is currently home to the 90- and 120-meter ski jump towers, built for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games; 18- and 48-meter training ski jumps for athletes in development; a chairlift built in the 1980s after ORDA was established to manage the Olympic venues; a freestyle aerials hill for winter competition; aerials jumps and a pool for summer training; and a biathlon training facility.

“It’s a roller ski trail network with a bank of four training targets that the U.S. national team and the local development programs use for their training,” Dayton said of the biathlon trails, which are used year-round. “That system is scheduled for some snowmaking upgrades as well. And then to add two points to the range to improve the training site here for the athletes. It’s been really effective for the U.S. team.”

The ski jump upgrades and expansion — with a target date of completion before the 2023 World University Games — will include installing refrigerated frost rail systems on the inruns of the 90- and 120-meter jumps, building a new 70-meter jump and replacing the 18- and 48-meter jumps with new 18- and 40-meter jumps. Improvements will be made to the landing hills, the elevator will be upgraded, and the 90- and 120-meter jumps will be brought up to International Ski Federation standards.

In addition, the chairlift will be replaced and moved, a tubing park and zip-line complex will be built, and snowmaking upgrades and lighting will be added to the freestyle winter jumping site.

“If you’ve ever been here for a [freestyle] World Cup, you’ve seen the big light trucks we bring in for the event,” Dayton said. “We’re hoping to go from at least two light trucks to one in the short term.”

At the end of the upgrades, ORDA will have a more thorough complex of ski jumps that allows for athlete development from the youngest all the way to the elites.

“It will allow us to have high-quality development sites for our local and regional athletes that train here on a daily basis,” Dayton said. “It will upgrade our sites for competitions, allow us to hold higher competitions more consistently. It will hopefully work toward weatherproofing us, with the frost rail inrun system we’re putting in. And it will make us more efficient operationally.”

Currently, ORDA staff spends a lot of time preparing the ski jumps for training and competition. But when the weather doesn’t cooperate, they have to start all over again when warm air strikes.

“The inrun, because we are a tower jump, everything sits way up in the air, so any warm air gets underneath it, it melts really quickly, and it’s all done by hand,” Dayton said. “So we either have to make snow or bring snow up on those towers, pack it all in, cut the track, ice the track, get it ready for the kids to jump. That’s a two- or three-day process usually if we’re making snow up there. And then if it melts down again, it all can be gone in 24 hours.”

Yet with a refrigerated system on the inrun — which is now an international standard for World Cup competition — that will change. Dayton calls the frost rails a “game changer.”

The winter of 2015-16 was exceptionally warm. It was the worst season on record for one of ORDA’s other venues, Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, and it was bad at the Olympic Jumping Complex, too.

“We made the 90-meter ski jump, which is the primary training jump that the higher-end development athletes use, eight times,” Dayton said. “And they jumped five days that entire winter because every time we put the snow on, it would melt, and we would be back at square one. The new frost rail system, which is the first piece of this puzzle, is a frozen refrigerated inrun track. You will wake up in the morning, flip the switch and be able to jump in an hour.”

ORDA is making a lot of investments to keep its winter venues operational despite the warmer winters and “January thaws.” The authority continues to add more snowmaking at the alpine ski centers and has installed a snowmaking machine at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross Country Ski Center. What it’s striving for is consistency.

“The more consistent the training facilities can be, the better the quality of training for the athletes,” Dayton said. “The more athletes that want to come here and use it, the more likely places are to book events because they know they can count on the event actually happening.”

All these improvements have been on ORDA’s wish list for years. They are designed to keep the village of Lake Placid — home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics — in the Olympic movement. Even if these venues do not host another Winter Olympics in the future, they are viable for international competitions such as World Cups, the World University Games and other winter sports events. And they are essential if Lake Placid is going to continue developing world-class athletes. The Adirondack Park has sent at least one athlete to every Winter Olympics since the first one in 1924, and the plan is to continue that streak.

“We start with the very youngest future Olympians,” Dayton said. “They start here on the 20-meter jump when they’re 6 and 7 years old. And those same kids we see in the Olympics are the ones that start out here. So we’re involved in that Olympic movement from the very first step.”

The challenge for Lake Placid is to keep athletes training here. Right now, ski jumpers can only do so much before having to move west to Park City, Utah, or Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

“Ideally, we’d like to keep them here longer and have better, higher-level development programs, and have U.S. training programs back here on a regular basis,” Dayton said.

ORDA officials are also eager to host more international competitions.

“That only strengthens our position in the Olympic movement,” Dayton said. “You can’t really understand the value of home-field advantage until you see how successful it’s been for some of the sports that do get to compete here regularly, like luge, bobsled and skeleton.” Those sliding sports’ U.S. governing bodies are based in Lake Placid.