This winter was worst on record for Whiteface

LAKE PLACID – The winter that wasn’t wreaked havoc on the state Olympic Regional Development Authority’s revenues. Even a great summer last year wasn’t enough to lift Whiteface Mountain Ski Center’s yearly financials.

After last summer was its greatest to date, Whiteface Mountain’s winter season was the worst on record, according to ORDA’s annual report.

At ORDA’s board meeting Tuesday at the Conference Center at Lake Placid, Director of Finance Padraig Power went over the authority’s finances for the fiscal year spanning April 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016.

Power said ORDA’s operating revenues dropped 25 percent from last year, to $8.8 million.

“(This was a) direct result of the bad weather across the Northeast, the industry reporting average decreases in visitation of about 28 percent.”

Whiteface’s total skier days for the year dropped to 167,501 from 216,219 in 2014-15. The number was the lowest for Whiteface since 2011-12 and the second lowest in the past seven years.

In its annual report, ORDA said the summer of 2015 was the greatest summer to date for Whiteface revenue, with the reconstructed highway up the mountain logging its most visitors since 1999 and generating record revenue. Whiteface’s overall summer revenue was up almost 10 percent to $673,380.

But the winter was Whiteface’s worst on record, with total yearly revenues dropping to $7,698,359 from $9,549,752 in 2014-15.

The report said the struggles this winter were due to the warm winter weather, with Whiteface receiving 58 inches of natural snow and more than 17 inches of rain compared to a typical average of more than 100 inches of snow.

“These weather conditions, combined with a weak Canadian dollar resulted in a decline of skier days and revenue of just over 20 percent,” the report reads.

ORDA also reported $700,000 less in Christmas week revenue and $50,000 less Presidents Week revenue compared to 2014-15 at Whiteface.

ORDA reported that online sales for Whiteface finished the year down 32 percent from the year before, with total online sales of $1.7 million after sales started in September 2015 and ended the third week of April.

“The plan for next year is to start summer online sales earlier, be more involved with the pricing structure of E-tickets around the holiday periods and determine the strategic plan for the Canadian market as the Canadian exchange rate this winter was poor and revenue was lost,” the report reads. “Expanding sales into Florida this upcoming season is also under consideration so as to put Whiteface in the forefront as a world-class destination for Florida skiers.”

Olympic Center revenues, which do not include the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, were down 23.4 percent from the previous year, to $3,019,744.

The report also states that “2015-16 saw one of the worst operating seasons in memory” at ORDA’s cross-country and biathlon center. The center was open 37 days, closing on Feb. 15, hosting 12,500 skiers, down 64.3 percent from 2014-15. The cross-country and biathlon center’s total revenue also took a massive hit, down to below $200,000 from more than $500,000 in 2014-15. However, the 2014-15 season was a high point for the facility.

At the Olympic Jumping Complex, more than 5,000 visitors were lost due to the cancellation of the New Year’s Ski Jump and the World Cup Freestyle events. The complex hosted 57,500 visitors total.

The Lake Placid Olympic Museum saw 36,000 visitors in 2015-16, up more than 6,400 and $37,000 in revenue from the previous year.

Belleayre in the Catskills and Gore Mountain in North Creek, the other two apline ski centers ORDA runs, also saw sharp declines in 2015-16.

Gore Mountain’s revenue was down 37.2 percent in 2015-16 from the previous year, bringing in $6,308,622 compared to $10,039,903 in 2014-15. This was its lowest revenue total since a 2012-13 figure of $8,910,472.

The report said Gore’s 20-year average for natural snowfall is 133 inches and that the ski center received 37 inches of natural snow fall this year. Gore maintained daily operation from Thanksgiving through Easter, and the report said this was possible due to investments and modernization in Gore’s snowmaking system.

The report adds that 52 percent of Gore’s revenue was provided by “core customers” – guests who commit to several days at Gore well in advance of the season. That number was up from 36 and 37 percent the two prior years.

Belleayre’s revenue dropped 28 percent year-over-year to $3,656,890 from $5,083,710. Belleayre saw 75,250 visitors in 2015-16 after 133,911 went there in 2014-15. It was the lowest number for the ski center since 2012-13 (115,919). The ski center’s ownership and operation was transferred from the Department of Environmental Conservation to ORDA in November 2012.

The report says Bellaeyre typically averages 130 ski days with 130 inches of natural snow. This year, ORDA said the ski center had 91 ski days with 38 inches of natural snow. ORDA also reported that summer and fall at Bellaeyre accounted for 25,000 visitors and $150,000 in the ski center’s revenue.

ORDA Vice Chairman Joseph Kelly ran the meeting because the authority’s chairman, J. Patrick Barrett, was absent due to sickness.

“We all know it was a very challenging year, and I think the venues worked hard on making the experience of the people that did ski this year, to make them want to come back next year,” Kelly said Tuesday. “And I think that’s one accomplishment (of) all of our venues.”