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Big winter for a little ski hill

Saranac Lake village-owned Mount Pisgah did well despite COVID, late start

Houston Shortell twists on his snowboard while getting big air on Mount Pisgah in January 2020. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — In spite of COVID-19 and a rough start to the winter season, the Mount Pisgah Ski Area, like other ski mountains in the Adirondacks, did well and was surprisingly full of skiers and snowboarders this year.

“It kind of exceeded expectations,” said Andy Testo, who completed his first winter as the ski center’s manager. “It felt nice to have the place busy and that it could be a safe activity for people to have a good time.”

The mountain, owned by the village of Saranac Lake and run with the help of the Friends of Mount Pisgah group, sold 432 season passes and 1,931 day passes this season.

The snow tubing hill was closed, but Testo said there were enough skiers coming to made up the difference in ticket sales. The mountain opened later than usual on Jan. 6, missing the busy Christmas week, but he said it had a good winter after that.

Pisgah was open six days a week until closing on the weekend of March 21.

Testo said many of the usual activities were still going on. Kids from the New York Ski Educational Foundation were there a couple of nights a week, there was a master’s adult racing group occasionally, and students from the St. Lawrence and Clarkson University ski teams practiced there a few times.

The pandemic meant the lodge and its concession stand were closed, but Testo said people were willing to gather outside.

“People really made do,” he said. “They would tailgate. They were cooking out with hot dogs and hamburgers. You’d see a lot of camaraderie in the parking lot. It was great.”

Masks were required except when going down the mountain. This was easy to enforce, Testo said. People were respectful and just glad to be out.

The state required all ski areas to reduce outdoor capacity by 25%, another easy regulation for Mount Pisgah.

“You can do a solid head count right from the base of the mountain,” Testo said. Pisgah has two main trails down the middle, plus some side runs.

The occupancy was limited to just under 500, but Testo said he never had to turn anyone away. The closest it got to full was on the weekends of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President’s Day, when it had over 400 visitors per day.

Pisgah is the area’s smallest and least expensive ski area with snowmaking.

Testo said the mountain did well financially, too, again exceeding expectations. The village always plans for the ski area to spend more money than it brings in, and because of a $29,000 grant from the Preserve Our Winter Resources Fund, organized by village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, the ski area was able to keep its budget stable this year.

The fund was donated to by anonymous donors and facilitated by the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation.

Testo said its things like this that make a community feel close.

First “Everest”

After the mountain’s T-bar lift was closed, Lake Placidian Alex Goff “Everested” the mountain on March 30, a first at Mount Pisgah. That meant skiing the hill up and down 93 times to gain the 29,032 feet in elevation equal to that of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.

Testo was doing work on the mountain the morning Goff started and saw him skinning up and skiing down. This is common, and after seeing Goff take a few laps Testo thought he would be done.

But when Testo left and came back, Goff was still there. Later in the day, Testo asked Goff what was doing, and Goff just said he’d be there for a while. When Testo returned the next morning, he was surprised to see Goff still on the mountain. That’s when he learned Goff was “Everesting” the 315-foot-tall Mount Pisgah.

“It was fun to watch him do it,” Testo said. “Can’t say I would have done it on Pisgah, but that’s not me. So many transitions.”

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