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Crowds expected this MLK weekend

Racers compete at the Olympic Speedskating oval during the Empire State Winter Games in Feb. 2017 in Lake Placid. (Enterprise photo - Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — The Adirondack Mountain winter playground is gearing up for a busy Martin Luther King Day weekend and beyond, especially if the weather cooperates to provide ideal conditions for outdoor activities.

On Tuesday, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism joined together for a web presentation on what could be expected regarding recreation opportunities in the Lake Placid area over the upcoming days.

During a normal winter, “the more, the merrier” would be the predominant theme when it comes to having large number of visitors flock to the area, bringing an economic boost. But the coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult while creating a challenge for ORDA when it comes to figuring out what is safe in terms of the number of people who can use winter sports venues at the same time.

“This is all new stuff,” said Scott Christiansen, ORDA’s vice president of marketing. “We have never had to worry about capacity before. We have never had to worry about telling people not to come.”

Christiansen said opening ORDA’s biggest venue, Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, was a huge concern. The key was figuring out many skiers could be allowed for safe operations. He said a record number of season passes, roughly 5,000, was purchased before the season began.

This weekend, he said, the mountain is already sold out for skiing Saturday and Sunday, and was nearing that status for Monday as of Tuesday afternoon. On a normal Saturday or Sunday over the Martin Luther King weekend, 6,000 skiers could be on Whiteface’s trails. ORDA is expecting about 2,500 this time around, with the permitted capacity.

Christiansen, however, did say, “We have assured the season pass holders their access is unfettered.”

A caller during the presentation named Patty identified herself as a local and a season pass holder at Whiteface, and complimented ORDA with how it’s handling things this winter amid the pandemic.

“I really appreciate the challenges you have faced,” she said. “I’ve been comfortable skiing, the crowds have been minimized, and I’ve enjoyed the (Olympic Speedskating) Oval twice.”

Availability of lift tickets for the mountain on given days can be found on ORDA’s website.

ORDA’s cross-country ski venue at Mount Van Hoevenberg is also expecting to be busy, especially after it reached capacity over the Christmas weekend.

One major message that came out of the presentation is the value of using ORDA’s website. “Know Before You Go” is one tool that people interested in visiting the venues can use, and there is also a real-time calendar available for updates on events and schedules.

The Oval has hosted a large number of recreational skaters so far this winter. ORDA has reduced prices and expanded some skating sessions from an hour to an hour-and-a-half. The capacity at the Oval, following virus protocols, is 150 skaters.

Indoor skating will also be available at the Lake Placid Olympic Center with the exception of this Sunday, due to construction.

Activities and schedules at attractions including the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex and the mountain coaster at Mount Van Hoevenberg were also discussed. Recreational bobsled rides have not been happening, due to the pandemic.

Butch Martin, who heads up the North Elba Park District, also provided updates regarding winter recreation on Mirror Lake in the heart of Lake Placid. On Tuesday he said the ice was 4 to 6 inches thick, and the town is in the process of getting as much ice open for skating as possible in conjunction with weather conditions. He said opening the toboggan chutes will hopefully happen in about two weeks, adding that a minimum of about a foot of ice cover on the lake in that area is ideal.

In addition to Lake Placid, recreational opportunities in other areas around the region were also on the agenda. Some of those sites discussed included ski centers at Dewey Mountain (cross-country) and Mount Pisgah (downhill) in Saranac Lake, the cross-country ski trails at the Paul Smith’s College VIC, the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, AuSable Chasm and more than 200 miles of recreational trails in the Champlain Valley region.

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