ORDA board OKs $26M for venue updates

Three gondolas go up the side of the ski jumps at the Olympic Jumping Complex on Dec. 22, 2021. The Olympic Regional Development Authority board on Friday approved a variety of upgrades at the OJC, including the design and procurement of a wind curtain system and separation of public and athlete areas. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — The state Olympic Regional Development Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved more than $26 million in venue improvements on Friday.

Most of the planned upgrades are to snowmaking infrastructure. Other venues will see new ski lift systems and upgraded infrastructure that ORDA officials hope will make Lake Placid’s venues competitive on an international stage — all considerations that have sprung from concerns about the longevity of international winter sports competitions in the face of climate change.

“One of our successful projects, from a (public relations) standpoint, was the 2026 (Olympic Winter Games sliding sports) bid, which is still out there pending,” ORDA CEO and President Ashley Walden said on Friday. “A lot of the work we have, these are things that need to get done and will be necessary for world championships, but we also know long-term, 2026 or beyond, are very necessary for the venue.”

ORDA put forth a bid to host the sliding events for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Olympic Winter Games last December after the International Olympic Committee expressed interest in foreign sliding venues for the games, concerned that the Eugenio Monti track in Cortina d’Ampezzo could not be rebuilt in time. The Italian organizing committee signed a contract to rebuild the track in February amid its standoff with the IOC, though ORDA has still not received an official rejection of its proposal.

Looking ahead, a 2022 study of climate change’s impact on Olympic cities led Daniel Scott, a climate scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, concluded that Lake Placid will be one of only four Olympic cities that still experiences a reliable winter by 2050.

The $26 million in improvements is about one-third of ORDA’s capital budget for the year.

Last December, the board voted to approve an $80 million capital budget for the new fiscal year. ORDA originally budgeted $100 million for capital contribution but was advised by the state Division of the Budget to lower that number to $80 million.

The state allocated $116.5 million to ORDA during the 2023-24 fiscal year, of which ORDA spent $92.5 million on capital projects, according to a December finance report and budget draft. The state recommended allocating less to ORDA for the 2024-25 fiscal year, proposing around $104 million in appropriations. The actual amount ORDA ultimately receives from the state may be different — the state government’s budget deadline was April 1 and has since been extended four times to today, April 15. ORDA’s 2024-25 budget will be considered final after the state’s budget is passed.

Olympic Jumping Complex

Improvements to the Olympic Jumping Complex are expected to come at a price tag of about $2 million and include the design and procurement of a wind curtain system and separation of public and athlete areas. ORDA also plans to improve doorways, stairs and handrails on the HS128 — that is, the 128-meter hill.

A wind curtain system protects ski jumpers from strong winds, making ski jump events more weatherproof, Walden said.

“There are certain regulations where we would either have to delay, postpone or cancel an event based on the speed and direction of the wind,” she said. “A wind curtain system, which is fairly common now on most new facilities that are built out, have them installed from the very beginning. This would allow us to have more training opportunities and also protect us during competitions.”

The separation of athlete and public areas is another modern standard that would make the ski jumping complex more attractive to competitions, Walden said.

Mount Van Hoevenberg

At Mount Van Hoevenberg, ORDA plans to install a fiber-optic system at the track to improve event timing, security and broadcasting capabilities. The fiber-optic line would run alongside the track. Currently, according to Walden, broadcasters have to run their own fiber-optic lines up to the tracks during competitions, which can become obtrusive.

Other improvements include fixing the sliding track’s profile, which has shifted since it was built in 2000, according to Walden. On the Nordic side of the facility, additional drainage will be added to the roller loop and the trail will also be widened. Walden said that these improvements will “provide better training environments for athletes.”

Altogether, the improvements are expected to cost around $4 million.

Whiteface Mountain

A slew of improvements are planned for Whiteface Mountain and its surrounding facilities, totaling an expected $12 million together.

Little Whiteface will see its lift replaced before the 2025-26 ski season. The lift was built in 1978, before the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, and most of the chairs are original, according to Walden. She said the chair manufacturer has since gone out of business, and it is not cost-effective for ORDA to keep repairing or replacing the chairs. The main cable on the lift is also original to 1978, though it’s been repaired over the years. The towers and footings from the mid-station to the summit were replaced in 2011, so this new upgrade would only replace towers and footings from the mid-station to the base of the mountain. Walden said the towers would be repositioned in a way that won’t interrupt ski racing — a problem with their current placement. The new lift will be a fixed-grip double lift.

Snowmaking pipelines are set to be replaced and new pipelines installed. Along with these improvements, the snowmaking valve houses and electrical infrastructure is set to be upgraded to support efficient snowmaking.

Pumphouse One at Whiteface will see a major upgrade in partnership with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The pumphouse draws water from the AuSable River and has been experiencing a host of complications, Walden said.

“If the river remains frozen, it’s not an issue. But, with the continuing changes in the weather patterns, what we’re seeing is more and more times where we have this frazil ice coming down the river,” she said.

Frazil ice is a type of slushy ice that infamously blocks water intakes. The Whiteface pumphouse has a stop gate that should keep frazil ice and other debris, like logs, from getting in. This stop gate is inadequate, though, necessitating improvements. Walden said that upgrades to the pumphouse are not a permanent solution but rather a stop-gap measure that’ll give ORDA some more time to figure out how to make the pumphouse more resilient to changing winters.

The lodges at Whiteface Mountain are slated for improvements. At the Base Lodge, improvements to the building envelope and energy systems will make the building more energy-efficient. At the mid-point Legacy Lodge, formerly called the Mid-Station Lodge, the snow melt infrastructure will be expanded to reduce the need for salt use in the winter. Exterior improvements are also planned. At Bear Den, the infrastructure and layout of the lodge will be changed to accommodate increased traffic from the Notch Lift, which was new this winter.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of traffic and guests that are now utilizing Bear Den,” Walden said. “What we’re going to do is take a look holistically at the entire lodge and help improve the flow and optimize our space for our guest services and snow sports school.”

Along Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway, masonry work will be completed at the castle atop Whiteface — a project that was started last summer. Walden said that there is a very short window for such work to be completed during the year due to the summit’s weather conditions. The castle’s wastewater system will also continue to be improved. The Toll House will see its wastewater system replaced, and the Round House will see improvements to its electrical and mechanical systems, specifically those that support its elevator.

Gore Mountain

Snowmaking improvements are planned for Gore Mountain, including the replacement of water and air pipelines, as well as the installation of new pipelines. Electrical improvements on the mountain will serve a more efficient snowmaking system. Little Gore Mountain is also slated for some terrain enhancements. Altogether, these projects will cost around $2.1 million.

The Gore Mountain gondola will be replaced over the summer. ORDA’s Board of Directors previously approved a more than $3 million gondola cabin purchase at their February meeting. On Friday, they approved an additional more than $1.1 million gondola grip purchase, which will complete the new gondola system.

Belleayre Mountain

The board approved more than $4.8 million in capital projects at Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills, including snowmaking improvements, an expanded learning area, electrical upgrades and a carpet conveyor system.

“As we work to expand our efficient snowmaking systems, some of the pipelines that run up the mountains that support the snow guns — snowmaking infrastructure — we need to upgrade those so that they support the high-efficiency guns,” Walden said.

Electrical improvements are expected to happen on a three-year timeline; currently, a single electrical area outage “negatively impacts” the whole mountain, Walden said.

The expanded learning area will include a carpet conveyor system to get skiers up the hill. Walden said that there is currently more demand for lessons at Belleayre than the mountain is able to provide. The carpet conveyor system is an enclosed system capable of moving up to 1,200 people in an hour. It’s also possible to relocate carpet conveyor systems, unlike lifts, which Walden said will help as the new learning area takes shape.

ORDA board member and Belleayre representative Diane Munro said she was initially skeptical of the carpet conveyor system, but ultimately voted to approve it.

“It’s a crowded area all the way around and we have limited personnel, and getting kids up and down, getting groups up and down … there’s a lot to be done,” Munro said.

“I think (Walden) and (Belleayre Mountain General Manager Bruce Transue) recognize the complexity of it, and sometimes you’ve just got to do something. It is very crowded down there, so I’m not a big fan (of the carpet), and yet, I trust,” she added.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect timeline for ORDA’s Little Whiteface ski lift replacement. The lift is set to be replaced before the 2025-26 ski season, not the 2024-25 ski season. The Enterprise regrets the error.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today