Lake Placid’s cross country, biathlon and ski jumping venues face the possibility of closure if the state does not appropriate money later this month.
The Lake Placid Daily News reported in March that New York’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), was at risk of losing all of its state funding for the coming fiscal year. The aid, approximately $6.6 million last year, comprises some 20 percent of ORDA’s budget.
A member of ORDA’s board of directors is on record in the Daily News story as saying that the authority would have to close without the state’s appropriation.
ORDA is the body that manages the legacy venues of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, including the cross-country, biathlon and sliding facilities at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg, just outside town. The Olympic ski jumps, Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, and Olympic Training Center in are also managed by ORDA.
While the closing of these areas would be a big loss to recreational skiers, it would be an even bigger blow to the elite and developing athletes that train at these venues. The combination of ski trails, biathlon range and jumps in close proximity to one another make this a valuable resource for local athletes.
The New York Ski Education Foundation runs extensive youth programs that make use of the Olympic Sports Complex. It’s also a training center for American biathletes and Nordic combined skiers. The U.S. Ski Team holds an annual fall training camp in Lake Placid.
“It would be a tragedy for biathlon if Mount Van Hoevenberg were to be shuttered,” said Max Cobb, U.S. Biathlon’s executive director.
Cobb said he thought that juniors and developing athletes would be impacted more than elite athletes. Juniors ski and compete in the area all year round, while elite athletes like Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke train in Lake Placid only during the dryland season, prior to traveling for World Cup events.
While people might be willing to drive a long distance to try a new activity for the first time, Cobb said that to ensure consistent training and world class progression, athletes should live within a one hour drive of a venue.
As well as the cross-country trails and biathlon range, Lake Placid is also home to the ORDA-managed ski jumps. In addition to the iconic 90- and 120-meter Olympic hills, the jumping complex has three smaller hills for developing athletes. Athletes can train on three of the five jumps during the summer, sliding on a combination of plastic shingles and porcelain marble halves.
While there are ski jumping hills throughout New England, ranging from 10 to 90 meters, few of them have summer jumping facilities. And Ken Barker, president of the Salisbury Winter Sports Association in Salisbury, CT, said that summer jumping is essential to training from J5 through Olympic athletes.
Barker’s club will put plastic shingles on their 20-meter hill for the first time this summer. (They’re also rebuilding their large hill for the 2011 Junior Olympics.) And Barker cited the Lebanon Outing Club, in New Hampshire, as another facility that offered summer jumping. But few jumps in the region have the same level of programming as Lake Placid.
Finally, there’s ORDA’s Sports Development Program, which offers year-round educational opportunities to youth groups, including sports clinics in biathlon, luge, bobsled and curling. They even partner with the New York City Parks Department’s Winter Jam, offering residents the opportunity to try out cross-country skiing in Central Park.
Brad Clark, ORDA’s sports development manager, organizes outreach programs—activities like school field trips and interactive clinics at the various venues. If a child shows potential in a particular sport, Clark helps them find appropriate coaching. Without ORDA, Clark said, these outreach programs would not exist.
The tight budget situation is underscored by the news last week that ORDA had declined an opportunity to host a biathlon World Cup race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in February, 2011.
Jon Lundin, ORDA’s communications director, said that the organization “would have needed to upgrade the facilities to comply with IBU [International Biathlon Union] requirements for a major World Cup event.”
“We certainly are looking into [making the upgrades]; we just couldn’t do it this year,” Lundin said. He added that passing on the biathlon race was a “one-time blip,” noting that ORDA planned to host international events in the sliding sports, and possibly a World Cup freestyle event, in the coming year.
In an interview with FasterSkier, Lundin said that he didn’t know how ORDA’s operation might be changed if the state does remove funding. However, he added that state law stipulates that Mt. Van Hoevenberg cannot be privately owned or leased to a business-person in the private sector.
Travis Proulx, the state senate’s deputy press secretary, told FasterSkier that there is “still no finality to the status of ORDA’s funding.” He said that the senate didn’t want to cut ORDA’s appropriation in the first place, but that alternative funding is needed.
With one to two weeks until a budget is finalized, Proulx said that the Senate is “looking for ways to keep the state’s role in ORDA alive,” citing alternative budget cuts brought to the table by the Democratic caucus and alternative revenue options submitted by the Governor David Paterson—including one proposal to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores. Regardless of the final decision, both houses of the New York legislature, as well as the governor, are required by law to be in agreement on the state budget.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.