ORDA previews improvements, welcomes Walden
LAKE PLACID — The Olympic Regional Development Authority Board of Directors previewed facility improvements, released summer revenue numbers and welcomed new CEO and president Ashley Walden on Friday.
Walden, 41, was named as outgoing ORDA president and CEO Michael Pratt’s successor by the board on Aug. 21. She is a former Olympic luge athlete and the first woman to ever lead ORDA. Pratt, who started his career with ORDA as a Zamboni driver during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, will retire on Sept. 29 after leading ORDA since 2017.
“What a remarkable career,” ORDA Board Chair Joe Martens said of Pratt. “The last six years as CEO and president have clearly been extraordinary and under incredible duress. It couldn’t be more difficult conditions to deliver a $600 million capital construction program in the middle of a pandemic, keep all of the facilities open to the public at the same time.”
The total public spending during Pratt’s tenure has topped $620 million, Adirondack Life magazine reported last month. This figure is almost $70 million larger than the figure of “more than $550 million” in investment Governor Kathy Hochul cited before the 2023 FISU World University Games in January. In its most recent budget, the state earmarked $92.5 million for ORDA.
When Walden’s appointment was announced, the board had not yet established her starting salary. On Friday, the board voted to amend the resolution that named Walden president, changing her start date from Sept. 1 to Sept. 14 and to setting her starting salary at $195,000 per year. She has been working alongside Pratt since Sept. 14 and will transition fully into the president and CEO role when he retires this Friday.
Sustainability and improvements
Pratt outlined some of ORDA’s current sustainability goals and recent facility improvements. The sustainability goals include high-efficiency snowmaking and equipment, electric vehicle charging stations and reducing diesel use.
Since the 2017-18 season, ORDA has reduced its diesel fuel use from 400,000 gallons per year to 150,000 gallons per year.
In addition to fuel and power improvements, several ski facilities are seeing upgrades before winter. A new lift is currently being installed at Whiteface Mountain, with cable being strung this week. A conveyor lift is going to be reinstalled at Whiteface’s Bear Den, as well. At Belleayre Mountain, two lifts are going to be upgraded and one replaced. At Gore Mountain, a new beginner lift is being installed.
Whiteface, Belleayre and Gore will also see snowmaking improvements. ORDA upgraded snowmaking at Mount Van Hoevenberg and Whiteface Mountain in the past decade in an effort to extend the season as ski resorts around the world contend with the effects of climate change. In addition, ORDA is moving toward a goal of 100% of its snowmaking compressors operating on electricity, in accordance with its sustainability goals.
At Whiteface, a secondary water line has been run to the summit to replace an “unreliable” line. This line will work as a backup if there is a problem with the primary line. There are also new LED tower guns.
At Belleayre, the sole supply pump house for snowmaking has been improved. All water put on the mountain is processed through this pump house. Pumps and intakes have been rebuilt to ensure reliability, Pratt said. Pipes at Belleayre have also been replaced near the lower mountain to “take advantage of higher (water) pressures” and enable ORDA to install new snow guns.
At Gore, a water main has been installed at the Ski Bowl, which did not have a main supply line for making snow. A new transformer will also be installed soon — the Ski Bowl has never been electrified, Pratt said.
The board shared several revenue increases, reporting that Mount Van Hoevenberg admissions revenue had increased by 72% — from $78,705 in 2022 to $135,345 in 2023. The Olympic Museum saw “zero revenue and visitation last year” due to its closure for renovations, Pratt said. In order to calculate the revenue growth for the museum, ORDA compared figures from admissions to the old iteration of the museum in summer 2019 to summer 2023 admissions at the new museum. Attendance revenue increased 181% by these measures, from $129,728 in 2019 to $364,208 in 2023.
The majority of ORDA’s summer revenue was generated from attendance at Whiteface Mountain and Mount Van Hoevenberg. Belleayre and Gore Mountains generated the smallest shares of revenue, at 5% and 2% respectively. Belleayre still saw revenue growth from last year, however, increasing 27% from $188,102 to $156,762. ORDA did not provide corresponding figures for Gore during this presentation.
The Olympic Conference Center hosted events for SUNY Tech, the Department of Labor and the New York Conference of Mayors. The SKI NY-SKIPA Expo will be in the conference center this week.
The board also previewed upcoming autumn events at ORDA venues, including the 2023 World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships in the 1932 Jack Shea Arena, harvest festivals at Gore and Belleayre Mountains and Oktoberfest at Whiteface Mountain.