Lake Placid lands university games

From left, North Elba town Councilman Jay Rand, state Olympic Regional Development Authority Executive Vice President Jeffery Byrne, Athlete Minder CEO Mara Smith, Crowne Plaza Resort President and Adirondack Park Agency Commissioner Art Lussi, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna and North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi pose in January 2017 in Lake Placid shortly before making an exploratory trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan, to learn more about the World University Games and if Lake Placid could host the international winter sports event. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

LAKE PLACID — Nobody else could’ve won it, literally.

The International University Sports Federation (FISU) has declared Lake Placid the host site for the 2023 Winter Universiade, otherwise known as the Winter World University Games. The 11-day event is expected to attract more than 2,500 college athletes from 52 countries in sports such as hockey, figure skating, snowboarding, skiing and curling.

Granted, there were no other bidders.

The group that made the bid for the games, the Adirondack North Country Global Sports Committee, recently traveled to FISU headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and submitted its final presentation on why Lake Placid should be the host city.

“Lake Placid is the perfect location to host this event, which will showcase the very best of New York and the North Country to an international audience,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release announcing the news. “We are proud and fortunate to have both the natural and man-made resources required for the Winter World University Games in our own backyard and we look forward to welcoming athletes from across the globe to experience all the Adirondacks has to offer.”

Though Lake Placid was awarded the title of host city, the plan is to have events throughout the North Country. Hockey would mainly be held at nearby colleges such as SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Plattsburgh and St. Lawrence University in Canton. The skiing and snowboarding events would be at the state-run Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski centers in Wilmington and North Creek, respectively. The bid for the games also proposed building a new curling facility in Saranac Lake; however, details on the exact cost and location are not yet worked out.

Next steps

The governor’s press release said the local committee and FISU have until June 15 to finalize a formal agreement. At that point, the two groups will start devising an official organizing committee and a master plan for the games.

In February, FISU delegates visited Lake Placid and evaluated ORDA venues and other sporting facilities. At a following press conference, the consensus was that everything looks good, but could benefit from some upgrades and renovations. FISU Winter Games Director Milan Augustin said the Mount Van Hoevenburg cross-country skiing and biathlon center is the only venue that would need a major overhaul.

Local officials stand beneath a rainbow at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid during a reception in June 2017 attended by members of the International University Sport Federation, and members of the Lake Placid/Adirondack Global Sport Committee. Those in the photo include two-time Olympic alpine ski medalist Andrew Weibrecht, North Elba Town Councilman Jay Rand, Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston, current and past ROOST board members including Ed Finnerty, Mike Beglin and Jill Cardinale, Nature Conservancy Director of Communications and Community Engagement Connie Prickett, ROOST CEO Jim McKenna, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, Lake Placid Deputy Mayor Art Devlin, Clarkson University Vice President of External Relations Kelly Ogden-Chezum, ORDA Executive Vice President Jeffery Byrne and Athlete Minder CEO Mara Smith, among others. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

“Sports like cross country and biathlon are the first which has to be basically built from scratch,” Augustin said.

In Cuomo’s state budget for next fiscal year, he proposed investing $62.5 million to update ORDA venues. If approved by the state Legislature, that could be a real leg up for these games. The Legislature is supposed to pass a state budget by April 1.

Jim McKenna of Lake Placid, a committee member and CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, said the games are five years away, so there will be more than enough time to refurbish venues, many of which were built for the 1980 Winter Olympics.

“It’s not that the venues can’t handle the event,” he said. “They are 40 years old and just have to be refreshed.”

Darcy Norfolk, the bid dossier director for the Adirondack North Country Global Sports Committee, holds a cap showcasing the logo from the 1972 Winter World University Games — the last time the event took place in the U.S. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

Infrastructure impact

A major aspect of the Winter Universiade is not the games itself but the lasting impact on the region and its resources. In previous public forums on the games, many committee members have acknowledged how hosting the games can improve infrastructure in the Adirondacks.

“It will attract new tourists to our region and fuel a critical engine of the North Country’s economy,” state Sen. Betty Little, a Republican from Queensbury and a committee member for this bid, said in the press release. “I look forward to witnessing its positive effect on our communities for years to come.”

McKenna said sports venues, Plattsburgh International Airport and affordable housing are the first things to consider when updating Adirondack infrastructure.

“It’s not only for the event,” he said. “It has a long-term effect similar to the ’80 Olympics.”