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ORDA eyes post-Thanksgiving Whiteface opening

The Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington turned on the snow guns Tuesday. Crews have begun snowmaking at Mid-Station on Upper Valley, Lower Valley and Fox trails. Plans are to continue snowmaking as temperatures allow. (Provided photo — Olympic Regional Development Authority)

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority is eyeing a Whiteface Ski Center opening the day after Thanksgiving.

ORDA CEO Michael Pratt briefed members of the authority’s Board of Directors on Friday about when the Wilmington slopes are expected to open and how the authority plans to control the number of people skiing at any one time, in accordance with state public health guidelines.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Oct. 18 that not only would ski resorts have to reduce indoor capacity by 50%, but they would also have to reduce outdoor capacity by 25% on peak days or when multiple ski trails are closed.

This year, the state-run Whiteface will have a small capacity on opening weekend, because some trails are usually still closed, according to Pratt. Last year, the mountain opened with four trails.

“We’re also starting with a conservative number so we have a good comfort level and we know we can be successful,” he said.

Pratt explained the ways the authority plans to control capacity.

“We’re doing that by limiting our day tickets,” he said. “We’re selling all tickets online through our e-commerce sites. That will also help us with contact tracing.”

Selling day tickets only in advance and online will also give the authority an idea of how many people plan to arrive each day, Pratt said.

Anyone who visits the ski center will be required to do a health screening through an app, according to Pratt. Up-to-date information for visitors will be constantly added to the authority’s website, and new signage will be posted, including electronic signage.

Masks will be required at all times except when eating, drinking or skiing, according to the governor’s office. Social distancing is also required. Only members of the same party will be allowed to ride the gondola or the lifts together. Ski lessons will be limited to 10 people, and all shared equipment will be sanitized between each use.

The authority will utilize RFID technology that was installed at the ski center last year, which can scan tickets while the tickets are still in skiers’ pockets. This technology is common at ski resorts across the world but hadn’t been implemented at ORDA’s facilities until recently.

“We’re so happy we invested in it last year; it worked out great,” Pratt said.

The price of a full SKI3 pass, which allows skiers to visit any of ORDA’s three Alpine ski centers — Whiteface, Gore in North Creek and Belleayre in the Catskills — all season regardless of what day it is, is $919 this year for those over 30 years old. That’s about $20 more than last year. The price of this pass varies, though — it’s $639 for adults between the ages of 20 and 29. The price declines further for teens and kids. ORDA is also offering a “limited” SKI3 pass, which is similar to the normal SKI3 pass but with blackout days, for $739 for adults over 30 years old. A Whiteface-only pass, which carries some blackout periods, costs $669. All of these prices will increase after Dec. 9. Even in a non-pandemic year, passes and lift ticket prices usually fluctuate throughout the season.

The newly rebuilt Mid-Station Lodge at Whiteface will be open to the public this season. The old Mid-Station Lodge burned down in a late-night fire last year, and Cuomo announced $14 million in state funding to rebuild it back in January.

“The Mid-Station Lodge is turning out really nicely,” Pratt said.

Both floors of the lodge will be open to the public. It will offer public bathrooms plus some grab-and-go food options. The only part of the lodge that isn’t complete yet is the kitchen, which will be built out in the next phase of construction, Pratt said.

A new lift by the beginners’ Bear Den Lodge, with a higher elevation than the old one, has been installed and is expected to go through the certification process after Thanksgiving, according to Pratt.

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