GeneralNewsLake Placid: Mount van Hoevenberg at the Crossroads

FasterSkier FasterSkierMay 3, 201232
The women's EISA field starts a race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in 2010. Leading are Ida Sargent (USST/Craftsbury) and Rosie Brennan (APU), then racing for Dartmouth College; Lake Placid is an important venue for developing racers.

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran on April 20th. The topic has generated significant on-going discussion that many readers may have missed. 

On June 21, 2011, the Lake Placid, NY’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) inaugurated its new convention center with an open house. The soaring stone and metal exterior contrasts with the aging utilitarian lodges at Mount van Hoevenberg, site of the cross-country and biathlon events in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Mount van Hoevenberg’s modest stadium saw the closest finish ever in a ski race. One one-hundredth of a second separated Juha Mieto from Thomas Wassberg and gold in the 1980 15 k men’s race.

Originally intended as a temporary structure, the cross-country lodge is still in use 31 years after the Games. The last of the Olympic-era snow cats has given up the ghost, and in the winter of 2010-2011 much grooming was done on snowmobiles.

The conference center was financed with $20 million set aside by governor George Pataki as his term ended. By contrast, the biggest expenditures at Mount van Hoevenberg (van Ho) for 2010 – 2011 were trail maintenance and purchase of a “low impact grooming implement.”

New convention center aside, van Ho is competing for scant funding with ORDA’s other facilities.  Gore Mountain needs to replace snow cats and snowmaking equipment.  Whiteface is looking to rehabilitate the upper portion of one of their ski lifts.

In addition to the skiing and sliding venues at Mount van Hoevenberg, ORDA also manages the Whiteface alpine ski area, the ski jumps, and the Olympic Training Center.  Although it’s owned by the town, ORDA operates the Olympic Center skating arenas in the middle of Lake Placid. In 1984, ORDA took over operation of the Gore Mountain alpine area.

While ORDA manages van Ho, the facility is owned by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), part of a complex tangle of relationships between ORDA and various state and municipal entities.

Part of ORDA’s agreement with the DEC is the Unit Management Plan (UMP), a blueprint for van Ho’s development.  Written in 1986 and updated periodically since then, the UMP calls for replacement of the cross-country lodge with a building double the size, aimed at elite and developing athletes. The current biathlon lodge would be replaced with a building geared towards recreational skiers. Other improvements in the UMP include new grooming equipment, a bridge at a critical intersection, widening of two tunnels, installation of snow fencing and improvement of the trails to current FIS standards.

Of the listed improvements, only the homologation process is underway.  In the winter of 2011-2012, ORDA moved a snow cat from Whiteface to van Ho.

FOR ELITE ATHLETES, TOUGH TO TRAIN AND RACE

Saint Lawrence University (SLU) hosts their Winter Carnival at van Ho on the third weekend in January. Years ago, their race loops used the challenging trails on the cross-country side of the property. When the third Monday in January became a holiday, SLU had to compete with tourists, and they raced on the rolling terrain of the biathlon section.

Ethan Townsend, SLU’s head nordic ski coach, agreed with a writer who suggested that elite ski racing isn’t a priority for ORDA.

“That seems to be the case,” he said, adding, “I think in the last few years it’s gotten better. I don’t know if that’s because of internal changes in ORDA or because Margaret Maher (New York Ski Education Foundation cross-country coach) has been there long enough to have a bit more clout.”

Maher did not reply to an email seeking comment.

“Running our events has gotten significantly better in the last 3 to 5 years that she [Maher] has been there. They relaxed on using the whole cross-country side a couple years ago so we were able to use the Ladies’ 5k [1980 women’s relay loop] for at least the Friday event.  They haven’t wanted to do that for Saturday.  They still cite wanting to keep it open for the general public and not have them feel like they can’t use it. There was some compromise there and that was good to see.”

Short video of women’s relay, 1980:

Around 200 trail passes are sold on an average mid-winter Saturday, according to ORDA public relations coordinator Jon Lundin.

Biathlete Sara Studebaker has lived and trained at Lake Placid’s Olympic Training Center for four years. While she spends most of her winter on the World Cup, she does get skiing as well as dryland training in at van Ho.

Studebaker appreciates the ski community and the training opportunities in Lake Placid, but she evinced frustration regarding the skiing. Van Ho’s grooming may appear adequate to citizen racers, she said, but it wasn’t always adequate for elite athletes.

“I know there’s been frustration” regarding grooming, Studebaker told FasterSkier.

“Some of the grooming makes training nearly impossible. There’s a lack of understanding of what our training is like and what we need from ORDA.” She said that skiing into the biathlon range is problematic because the trail must be packed down hard.

“I got the sense last year from Margaret that grooming was a bit better,” said Townsend. “She felt they were using the big Pisten Bully a bit more if they had one available to them, and not just grooming with snowmobiles. If you’re only going to use a Tidd Tech and a snowmobile, we’ve got more than that here at [the SLU training center].”

“When you put that big down pressure from a Pisten Bully on a course, you get better grooming and better skiing,” Townsend added.

Studebaker said, “The guys [grooming Mt van Ho] are doing the best they can with [the equipment] they have.”

A modest snowfall doesn’t pose any grooming challenges.  But a big storm or slushy conditions are challenging.

RETURN TO INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS?

“There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t have a world class venue [at Mt van Hoevenberg],” said local skier Pat Gallagher.

Noah Hoffman (USST) racing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in a 2011 SuperTour race.

In 1980, Gallagher was a course steward at the Winter Olympics. Now, his daughter skis in NYSEF’s junior program. He believes that the facilities at van Ho have deteriorated to a point where ORDA has to spend money.

Gallagher began attending ORDA board meetings in 2009, “trying to get a sense of what meetings were like.” In 2010, he asked to talk at a meeting. Speaking before the board, and later meeting with ORDA CEO Ted Blazer, Gallagher asked for three things:  purchase of a new snow cat, homologation of ski trails to FIS standards, and the formation of a citizens’ group.

Advocating for van Ho, Gallagher said he focused on things politicians like to hear, such as increased tax revenue and job creation.  He told FasterSkier, “People-powered sports play right into what’s happening right now with ‘The Last Child in the Woods’ phenomenon and the obesity epidemic.  It’s not ORDA’s mandate to run conventions.”

BUDGET CHALLENGES

In addition to van Ho’s aging physical plant, ORDA faces other challenges.  ORDA is dependent on state funding for approximately 20% of its budget. New York’s $9 billion budget deficit has meant reduced funding in the last few years.

At their June 21 board meeting, ORDA reported that their fiscal year ended with a $13.7 million loss, despite increased revenues and aggressive cost-cutting. (The loss is less than the previous year’s $18 million loss.) In addition to reduced state aid, ORDA’s bank has reduced its line of credit, leaving it less flexibility.

Because of the reduced line of credit, Blazer said, ORDA deferred maintenance at all their facilities. For example, a Gore employee explained that two of their snow machines had been used to twice their normal life expectancy.

In his board presentation, Blazer said ORDA’s mission is to “bring more business to the region.  That’s what we’re about.”

A PowerPoint presentation recapping the year’s marketing efforts primarily featured Whiteface Mountain, with some slides of tourists ice skating and bobsledding.

Last year, ORDA declined an opportunity to host world cup biathlon races at Mount van Hoevenberg in 2011 due to budget uncertainty. Blazer cited the reduced line of credit as the reason that they declined hosting the races.

Blazer explained, “We had to put in too much money up front to host that event. We couldn’t float the money on a line of credit with the risk if we lost one event, during that completion, we would have lost $120,000 in television revenue.”

“They want to call this a world class facility, but then they declined having the biathlon World Cup,” Studebaker said.

“The trails aren’t licensable in their current state,” said USBA president Max Cobb in June.  While he felt that the course profiles were acceptable, “In many areas, they’re not wide enough.”

Greg Stratford, assistant manager of the Olympic Sports Complex (van Ho and the nearby sliding track) and the jumping complex, said that the trails in question for the IBU races have been widened and are “ready to go for world cup caliber competition.” For him, a bigger challenge with the biathlon world cup “was the amount of infrastructure change that was proposed under the financial constraints that we had.”

The IBU sought improvements to the timing building and wax cabins with adequate ventilation.

“We were looking at spending around $180,000 in modifications,” Blazer explained.  “I think the [IBU] television package was over $400,000, but you don’t see that until the events are over. You have to stage the event to get the money. We’ve had world cup biathlon before where we lost an event because we had too much snow. We lost $90,000 [snaps fingers] just like that.

“It was a risk I just couldn’t take because we lost $2.2 million off our state appropriation. We wanted to do it, but we couldn’t risk it.”

“ORDA was aware of the revenue possibilities and concluded it wasn’t viable for them,” said Cobb.

Asked how elite ski racing fits into ORDA’s plan for van Ho, Blazer replied, “We’re doing the homologation process right now. I can only tell you we’re addressing it so we can hold events in the future. If we wanted to hold an international event, we have to complete the process.”

Asked by e-mail if national championship and world cup ski races fit into ORDA’s plans, public relations coordinator Jon Lundin wrote “We’re always considering these type of events. But it’s dependent on the year and the event.”

ORDA has submitted eight different loops between three and eight k long for homologation. FIS homologation inspector Al Serrano visited van Ho over the summer and is reviewing their application.

According to Stratford, van Ho is “quite a ways” along in the homologation process and didn’t anticipate any hurdles. An ORDA spokesman wrote that “ORDA is now moving forward with [Serrano] on a formal homologation next summer.”

Serrano did not respond to an email requesting comment.

NEW LODGE A CHALLENGE

Linking homologated trails with a modern lodge, however, would be challenging. While the UMP calls for new lodges for both biathlon and cross-country, Stratford envisions a single new lodge.

“One of the problems is that if we build a new stadium, it would need to be suitable for both cross-country and biathlon,” said Stratford. “Each of the different sports that use our facilities has their own specifications and requests and wants and needs. We need to get everybody together to determine what would be the best scenario for Mt van Hoevenberg.”

“If you were to take both buildings and have them at one venue [spot] you’d be in a much better situation,” said Townsend.  “The cross-country lodge is just not adequate for a big event.” The current cross-country lodge inadequate waxing facilities, bathrooms and power sources, but has a large general space.  The biathlon lodge has plenty of wax rooms but no place for athletes to congregate.

Stratford pointed out that any new lodge has to be situated to take advantage of the updated trails.  “Currently, our biathlon stadium is in a place where cross-country really can’t utilize it because the first A climb coming out of the stadium is too far away. The B climbs are OK, but the A climbs are too far away.”

While Blazer acknowledged plans to replace or improve the two lodges, he could not give a time when that might occur.

“It’s no simple nut to crack to pick up and move the biathlon stadium,” added Stratford.

AFTERWORD

In December 2011, Mount van Ho acquired a new Pisten Bully. Well, not exactly new. A hand-me-down from Whiteface, it’s unknown whether it saw any use during this low-snow winter.  Greg Stratford did not respond to an e-mail request for comment on the snow cat and the status of trail homologation.

While juggling the needs of its existing facilities, ORDA is also poised to add another facility to its rosters.

Under next year’s proposed NY state budget, ORDA would take over management of Belleayre, a DEC-run alpine ski area in southern New York.  Although it’s far from ORDA’s Lake Placid base, the move is proposed as a cost savings by the state. While Blazer said that ORDA’s goal would be to run Belleayre profitably, it lost $1 million in 2010.

Although the state’s appropriation to ORDA is about 15% higher than last year, those funds may go entirely to running Belleayre.  The senate version of the budget bill stipulates that Belleayre operate “with a level of capital investment [so] that Belleayre can be operated, maintained, and improved in a similar manner to Whiteface and Gore.”

In addition to operating funds, the state also plans to appropriate $5 million to ORDA for capital improvements.  New York budget division spokesman Morris Peters said that of that money, $1 million was earmarked for improvements at Belleayre.

“It’s premature to talk about” whether any funds were earmarked for improvements at Mount van Hoevenberg, Peters said.

If ORDA assumes management of Belleayre, one more facility will compete with Mount van Hoevenberg for scarce budget dollars.

— Topher Sabot contributed reporting.

 

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32 comments

  • Avatar
    corrinemalcolm

    April 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I spent much of my winter in Lake Placid this year. True the groomers do the best they can with the equipment they have… and of course we didn’t have a great snow year either… but looking around it’s easy to see that VanHo is in rough shape. The poor condition of the trails were often not conducive to training… there were many morning where the trails weren’t groom at all until after we had finished the am training session. I believe ORDA needs to make a serious effort in order to save this venue.

    It was a bad snow year for much of the country, and the venues that invested in snow making were rewarded for their efforts. How many of the eastern races were held at Craftsbury this past season? The same can be said for Mt. Itasca and some of the parks in and around the twin cities.

    I know snow making is only a small part of this conversation, and a hefty investment for any organization to undertake. …but if you are involved in winter recreation it seems like a logical next step.

    I might be going out on a limb when I say this (as I don’t know all the finical history of ORDA and the DEC) but it’s hard not to feel that these organizations do not have their athlete’s or their venue’s best interest in mind. VanHo has the bones to be a great venue for both biathlon and cross country, heck, it could be a nordic destination in New England… but they have a long road ahead of themselves, if it’s something they want to achieve.

  • Avatar
    D. Diehl

    April 21, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I have lived in the Adirondacks most of my life and have skied Gore Mt., Whiteface Mt., and Van Ho as we say in these parts. I think you describe ORDA perfectly as a “complex tangle of relationships”. Way to much bureacracy and government being involved in businesses. Why? Alpine skiing has always been a priorty over Nordic within ORDA and it is ashame. Van Ho is an amazing place with the potential to draw skiers from all over the Northeast and to be used for IBU level events. I have skate skied at the ORDA run Gore Mt. Alpine ski area mentioned in this article early in the season for many years. A chance to get on early manmade snow around the base lodge in November. I should say they don’t appreciate this. What I have seen is a fleet of really new Pisten Bully snow cats and a fleet of shiny new Ski Doo Skandic utility snowmobiles. Equipment the hard working crew at Van Ho would drool over. Moreover recently Gore Mt. has been linked to the original North Creek Ski Bowl. A destination for Alpine Skiers coming from Metro areas via train many years ago. Besides trails being put in, a lift, and tubing park was built. As the Town Supervisor of the region declared this facelift would make Gore Mt. a premier Alpine ski destination in the East. However it didn’t happen. The ski bowl and tubbing park are vacant on many winter weekends. Of course these are my own observations as I drive by these facilities to Nordic ski at privately own and operated Garnet Hill Lodge just up the road. I would think we will never see ORDA out of the ski business and dumping State tax dollars into the Alpine Venues. They are to “tangled” and entrenched within the bounds of the DEC and governmental control. If you ski at the neglected Mt. Van Hovenberg Nordic Center on a perfectly sublime winter day you see the potential for the venue. From the biathlon side adjacent to what is described as a biathlon lodge you can look down the valley leading to Cascade Lake. There are mountains in every direction. With the Village of Lake Placid being only a few miles down the road this an ideal resource for a true recreation destination or for athlete competition. How is it small communites in Northern Maine can pull off two IBU races last season, or when Craftsbury can make snow to hold spring races we’ve recently seen. Perhaps someday we will see Mt. Van Hoevenberg reach it’s full potential as a destination for both a recreational skiers and elite athletic competitions

  • Avatar
    nordicwalker

    April 21, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Not having a piston bully at a “World Class” facility and grooming with snowmobiles would be similar to people using a rope tow at Whiteface Mtn.

    The event that Mr. Blazer refers to when ORDA “lost” 90K was in 2004 the last time ORDA hosted a IBU World Cup. Lake Placid received over a foot and a half of snow the night before the race, but the snow stopped and the sky had cleared by morning…maybe with a piston bully or two the race could have gone off on schedule.

    ORDA’s decision to “pass” on hosting the recent IBU world cup was unconscionable. The $l80K in infrastructure improvements could have finally addressed some of the defered maintenance issues and would have benefited all the users. In addition, ORDA would have netted over $200K. Instead the Main Winter Sports Center hosted both World Cup weekends and were rewarded both in monetary terms and in the exposure and prestige associated with such events.

    thanks for including the footage from the l980 Olympics. Anyone who has skied at Van Hoe will immediately recognize the familiar red fencing that is still in use in the stadium. Maybe the ski shop should consider carrying a line of knickers to go with the “retro” look of the lodge and the facility in general.

  • Avatar
    Peter Minde

    April 22, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Personally, I kind of like the old red fences. But a modern snowmaking system would be a key element to bring van Ho up to modern standards.

    About 15 years ago, van Ho hosted the national biathlon championships on a bombproof, approx. 4 k loop of manmade snow that was at least an 18″ base. During Christmas vacation week no less.

  • Avatar
    abarrett

    April 22, 2012 at 7:47 am

    These were serious issues that we were contending with back in the mid to late 90’s when I was helping coach the NYSEF skiers. One of the ways we maintained consistent training was to avoid skiing at Van Ho, which seems crazy, but it worked. I positioned myself as groomer for the trails at the Whiteface Club Golf Course to ensure that we always had freshly groomed trails, we would ski at Dewey Mountain on Tuesday night (because that’s just plain fun), we’d have the younger kids ski at the jumps for the nice big ski games field space and we would ski at Van Ho whenever we were sure it would be groomed. When it was groomed, it was often not groomed with care or pride as it seemed as though the people working had no real vested interest in doing a good job. Also, they were not skiers and so did not really know what a nice trail is supposed to look like. I’m not that worried about offending them as they likely don’t reference this web site. It seemed like a huge treat when the Porter mountain Loops were groomed instead of depending on having them available for training consistently.

    Also, having walked most of the trails in the spring while I was treating streams for black flies, I noticed that a huge proportion of the trails are majorly rutted and overgrown so that early season or low snow condition skiing is nearly impossible. I can only assume there is not enough staff or money for summer work. Or, the people there simply haven’t thought about it.

    I didn’t have a lot of faith in improvements when I was coaching when the state budget was in decent shape. In our present lean situation where not even our public school systems are a priority, I’m not convinced we’ll see any big changes. With the financial constraints Van Ho faces and its current state of disrepair, the odds of it changing seem insurmountable. I wonder if the outcome would be different if it were privately owned…by skiers…with LOTS of money…

  • Avatar
    abarrett

    April 22, 2012 at 10:58 am

    If I remember correctly, USBA had to hold ORDA’s feet to the fire to get them to do that set of nationals as they were trying to get another venue to take over. I’m not sure how much money ORDA lost on that one…

  • Avatar
    OEB2ODB

    April 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    The 2011 report values the place at $36M with ~$2M in gross revenues. are we really saying that more people would buy a ticket or the site would host more events if the grooming was better? Face it, ORDA can get way more money from lift tickets at Whiteface and Gore, and VanHo is for a very specific, very small group of people – a trapped audience that is not growing significantly year/year.

    Tell me a story about what kind of investment would bring in additional paying XC skiers or events? A hotel on site? Snowmaking equipment? Better waxing facilities to host carnivals, etc? how many carnivals need to happen to pay that cost off? ORDA’s decision to leave the place on minimum maintenance makes total sense to the accountants at NYS.

    I would love VanHo to be like Holmenkollen, but it ain’t gonna happen until more people XC ski. so the best thing we can do is recruit more new skiers, and pray for snow.

  • Avatar
    teamepokeedsbyn

    April 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    VanHo has some of the best/most difficult trails in the east, but you need to find new/more paying skiers over time to fund it.

    The responsibility of the NGB – USSA – is recruitment of new skiers and growing the sport’s amateur ranks. USSA has failed miserably, instead placing nordic funds into funding a ski team and a (very) few dollars into a few races /national. Instead, any recruitment had been shouldered by regional organiztions, mostly through BKL’s, which mostly results in kids who have family members already involved, resulting in a stagnation.

    To get areas like VanHo and MWSC viable on their own, you have to have new/more skiers in relation to population growth. To do that, the organization responsible for our sport’s growth (currently USSA) needs to focus on finding new and creative ways to get kids to try the sport who do not live in resort towns or have parents who already participate i.e. real recruitment, NOT spend money funding a team – let the free market take care of the “pro” team.

  • Avatar
    abarrett

    April 23, 2012 at 6:22 am

    The way forward for any ski area that wants to go big is not to cater to tourists for trail fees or to get more race entries. Private investors/sponsors can fund what needs to happen. How much money did LL Bean just commit to the MWSC? No one is going to put their name on that place in the condition it’s in now, though. That place needs creative leadership and some aggressive marketing and lots of money. I don’t see it happening.

  • Avatar
    oldschool

    April 23, 2012 at 9:35 am

    take a look at orda’s venue mission/ mandate. it is pretty self-explanatory as far as what their job is.

  • Avatar
    T.Eastman

    April 23, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Van Ho is currently a state ski area. It has not received is fair or mandated share of funding from ORDA for since ORDA’s creation. While huge improvements have been made to Whiteface Mountain, the arena complex, and the sliding center (bob and luge runs) Van Ho has been starved of the minimal amount money and attention to keep the facilities and machinery from falling behind the industry standards.

    The culture within ORDA seems to have no interest or respect for nordic skiing or biathlon. There is little nordic representation on ORDA’s board of directors and the funding reflects this.

    ORDA has not implemented the SMP requiring a systematic series of improvements to facilities at the nordic center and biathlon, while pursuing major improvements to the sliding center. How many NYS residents and visitors are active bob sledders and lugers compared to the number of active nordic skiers and biathletes?

    Before diving into the business of looking at private funding, a clear accounting of ORDA’s past and likely current funding of Mt. Van Ho need to be brought to daylight.

    There are many folks in the Lake Placid area aware of the need to make sure the dual missions of providing great skiing to the public and safe race infrastructure at Van Ho.

    ORDA is directed through its charter to provide quality experiences for visitors through its operation of world class facilities … Now get cracking!

    Peter, good reporting.

    Other posters, good points.

  • Avatar
    caldxski

    April 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    There’s a lesson here.

    If I am not mistaken, when SLC bid for the Olympic Games a few years back, some nordic people ( with Howard Peterson leading the charge) insisted on a future commitment to keep the cross-country venue viable and operating. Sure enough, since the SLC Games there have been many, many big races held at Soldier Hollow and it is still a world class area.

    Compare this with the cross-country area where the 1960 Olympics were held at Mckinney Creek (Squaw Valley). There are too many houses now to be able to find the old ski trails. Is Mt Ho is headed in the same direction?

    The next time the US bids for the Winter Games, let’s hope we take up the legacy commitment, as they did in Salt Lake.

  • Avatar
    oldschool

    April 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    established by the NYS legislature, july3, 1981, orda was given the mandate to manage and promote the sports facilities used to host the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
    orda’s legislative mandate is to institute a comprehensive, coordinated program of activities utilizing the Olympic facilities..in order to insure optimum year round use…
    ..develop, implement and supervise a comprehensive, coordinated program for the management, promotion and scheduling of a wide range of national and international athletic training and competitive opportunities that maximize the utilization of the Olympic facilities.
    over the years ORDA has received over $70 million for venue upgrades. how much of that has been used to upgrade MVH?

  • Avatar
    loggerhead

    April 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Skiers get excited about heading to Mt Van Ho for a race at the 1980 Olympic venue…. too bad when we get here we think we might be in some old Soviet foster-state, out of funds and out of gas, no PistenBully and shunned to the back forty…. are the tracks on the otherside radioactive?

  • Avatar
    kickandglide

    April 26, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I am in agreement with most of the comments on this article.
    I volunteered for the 2004 World Cup, and, if my memory is correct, the problem was not getting the course race ready. The problem was that few volunteers and paid race staff would have been able to get to MVH to put the race on.

  • Avatar
    Peter Minde

    April 26, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    When Wendall Broomhall first went to Squaw Valley, the site he’d originally selected for the cross country trails was already being developed. McKinney Creek was his second choice. Broomhall had to chase down property owners to secure permission to build the stadium in what was a planned subdivision. Some of the 1960 ski trails have been rehabilitated.

    We probably don’t have to worry about development encroaching on Mt van Hoevenberg; it’s state land.

  • Avatar
    highpeaksnordic

    April 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    We ski at Mt. Van Hoevenberg (MVH) every day; meeting season pass holders, elite racers, recreational skiers, tourists, senior citizens and many children. We’d like to offer what might be a unique view of this venue, particularly the grooming and growth issues raised in the article and the resultant comments.
    We work daily with the grooming staff and have the highest admiration for their talent, abilities and dedication. The skiing public sees the end result; we see all the effort that goes into it. We see a group who take great pride in their work; we see them out skiing every day, testing their product. We respond when they say “I just finished the Ladies 5, go ski it and tell me what you think.” Mr. Minde details budgetary issues in his article; we see the grooming staff rise above those limitations every day. Over the past three seasons, the grooming staff has worked daily on trail maintenance and homologation – widening trails to bring them into line with FIS standards, chipping and spreading thousands of tons of downed wood providing smoother and more level surfaces, excavating rocks and regrading trails, drainage improvements, rebuilding bridges over watercourses, etc. The 2012 off-season program includes more excavation, grading and bridge rebuilding.
    We have 50 K of trails and a wide variety of users and after those first few snowfalls, everyone wants to get out and ski. Much of this off season work is aimed at making this happen on several specific trails. This is also where the use of the lightweight grooming sleds is so important. The staff is able to effectively roll and groom just a few inches of snow, not only giving us a surface to ski on but also providing our base layer.
    Mr. Minde and several commenters’ mention the Pisten Bully (PB). Point in fact, there has been a working PB at MVH for two seasons now. What many people do not realize is that having a PB is simply having another grooming “gun” in your arsenal. There are many days where there simply is not enough snow (or snow density) to support the weight of this machine. We’ve also learned the hard way that using it with deep, wet, and heavy snow leaves us with an icy, unforgiving surface. ORDA purchased new 4-cycle sleds last year and for much of the season, they are the correct tool to choose for grooming. They cover all 50 K in a couple of hours and are agile enough to roll, re-groom and set track throughout the day.
    Everyone here rejoices during those long, heavy snowfalls; most everyone grabs their classic skis, gets out and enjoys the new snow. Unfortunately for skate skiers, these snowfalls have to be rolled, packed and allowed to “set up”. The concrete like snow (which seems to be favored on the WC circuit) takes time, equipment and overnight low temperature cycles. No matter how much equipment is available, it is unreasonable to expect pristine conditions the same day. Every year there are going to be days when all 50K are not open but we can still have a good day of skiing. During those days skiers need to change their expectations and consider working on technique, balance and efficiency.
    As Mr. Minde points out, there are complex relationships at some ORDA venues. At MVH, there is an equally complex and diverse group of users – we cannot cater to one group alone. While we may average 220 passes per weekend day, there are also 300 plus season ticket holders, retirees, adaptive skiers, groups of visiting high school and college skiers on the trails. One of our fastest emerging groups is recreational skiers, people who are choosing active sports that burn fat instead of gas. Retirees make up a large portion of this group, people who have the time and disposable income to vigorously pursue these activities.
    Lake Placid reinforces its position as a “human powered” sports capital with Ironman Lake Placid in the summer and the Empire State Winter Games in the winter. With mountain biking and biathlon in the summer and Nordic sports in the winter, Mount Van Hoevenberg is front and center. ORDA does have decisions to make about the future of Van Ho. The UMP provides a blueprint for how upgrades and improvements should occur. Hopefully this article (and resultant comments) will provoke frank and positive discussion and interaction between the Nordic community and the people responsible for improving MVH as a venue for both elite and recreational skiers.
    (Joe Kahn and Bob Maswick collaborated on this comment.)

  • Avatar
    highpeaksnordic

    April 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Mr. Minde and several commenters’ also make reference to the lodge, trails and snowmaking at MVH. Mr. Minde also makes reference to the complex relationships between ORDA, NYSDEC, The Town and Village, etc. As silly as this sounds, a key point that cannot be lost in this discussion is where MVH is located – inside the Adirondack Park. The State Land Use Plan that governs virtually any growth, improvements or modifications cannot be ignored.
    The Unit Management Plan and its 1998 amendments enumerate many tasks and “Management Actions” that can occur immediately after the UMP was adopted. The UMP also makes clear that new trail construction, snowmaking and construction of a new lodge can only occur AFTER amendments are made to Article XIV of the NYS Constitution.
    The snowmaking referred to here is an all inclusive 7.3 km loop that was conceptualized in the aforementioned UMP. The Grooming staff at MVH will gladly recount the problems with the small snowmaking operation that was run for a short time on the Biathlon side; this is not what the UMP refers to.

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    T.Eastman

    April 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Joe and Bob,

    The “concrete” trail conditions you mention are, in fact, the norm for the ski center business.

    Political willpower exercised by ORDA in consultation with the stakeholders and other agencies would see improvements to Van Ho through the Forever Wild clause’s (Art. XIV) limitations. Such willpower has been found at Whiteface but not at Van Ho.

    There is much within the UMP that can be done and has not while money and staff time gets dedicated to other venues.

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    oldschool

    April 28, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    please see comment 13, look up definition of legislative mandate.
    and speaking of Unit Management Plans, from that 1999 Updated UMP “the following specific objectives have been identified..2. orda will seek to improve the quality of facilities at the Complex in order to continue to attract competitive and recreational athletes…4. ORDA Management will seek to establish annual budgets and schedules in support of the proposed capital improvments plan and other management objectives.6.ORDA will seek to establish the Olympic Sports Complex as an international caliber facility for competitive events in bobsled,luge,Biathlon and Cross-Country Skiing.The improvements identified in the UMP are proposed to be accomplished in five phases over the next five years.(now 26 yrs. later) Maintain cross-country and biathlon trails to FIS and IBU Standards. Rehabilitate the biathlon lodge as a recreational lodge(includes outside deck,berms and landscaping) and expand and renovate the cross-country lodge as a training facility.purchase additional grooming equipment. The UMP will encourage and strengthen more consistent year-round attendance at the Olympic Sports Complex,with attendant consistent year-round use of existing regional lodging,eating and retail establishments.( economic impact). The State Land Master Plan supports the UMP. including a recommendation that the Olympic Sports Complex should be maintained as a year round sports facility meeting international standards for such sports as bobsled,luge,Biathlon and Cross-Country skiing on improved cross-country ski trails under developed,competitive conditions.
    part B. Project Purpose. “The proposal to provide snowmaking on 7.3km. of ski trails is a NECESSITY in order to maintain the Olympic Sports Complex as a high caliber, state-of-the-art facility which can continue to attract recreational skiers and international and national level competitive athletes. Snowmaking will create consistent conditions and allow more consistent use for training and conditioning which is desired by both professional and amateur athletes alike”.
    My Fellow Nordic Skiers, we don’t need to argue amongst ourselves about grooming, or equipment, or tourists or racers. (OR the incredibly hard-working, dedicated, excellent grooming crews we have had at MVH).Everything that has been brought up here is addressed in the UMP mentioned above. The Olympic Regional Development Authority has received 10’s of millions of dollars to implement this plan since it was first approved in 1986. The Questions are… Why hasn’t MVH been upgraded? Where has all the money gone?
    and as long as we are on the subject of money…why didn’t the sports commission step up to the plate with the upfront money for the Biathlon World Cup that was gifted to Maine? they have only spent $315,000 of the $5 million that Governor Pataki secured to “attract world class events to Lake Placid”

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    T. Goodwin

    April 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I read the article and comments with great interest since I served as the Venue Manager for this venue in 1980 (thanks for the historic video links) and later managed the area for first DEC and then ORDA from 1981 to 1985. While the DEC built a facility that was “world class” as of 1980, they had no idea what the sport really entailed going forward. My first year with the DEC still in control, I had to use various ploys to be able to regularly set track on the Porter Mountain Loops. The DEC said only for races would track be set.
    I therefore had high hopes for ORDA, but the original ORDA management had very little interest in cross-country – especially when the first year of ORDA management was such a poor snow winter that they saw nothing but financial losses. Current management is much better than that, but still it appears that the necessary resources are committed only reluctantly. The conflict between races and recreational use of the area was a major issue when I was there, and I’m not surprised that it still is a problem. Recreational skiers do pay to ski, and those passes are the major source of income for the venue. Many, many times I would field phone calls asking about conditions. but ending with a question about any races that weekend. If I said “yes, there were races”, the caller usually hung up before I could say that most trails would be open before noon and all would be open after that. Conversations with Lapland Lake and other X-C centers have confirmed that the average recreation skier doesn’t want a race to interfere – even if the rest of us would consider it a bonus to be able to watch a race all for the price of a trail pass.
    This has resulted in many races on the Biathlon side so that the paying customers didn’t have to deal with racers in the crowded lodge and trails that were limited by the races.
    The Unit Management Plan that has been written for the area is definitely “aspirational” and not “operational”. It says what could be done, but doesn’t say any of it must happen. The idea of a recreational lodge at the current Biathlon Stadium has been considered, starting with my tenure; but I never liked the idea since the wide open spaces there can be brutal if it is at all cold and the wind is blowing. That area could be closed in with some major tree planting if all of the competition sites were to be moved to the current cross-country stadium; but that’s just not in any current funding scheme.
    So, having noted the long-term history and structural problems, I feel the only likely course of action would be to continue with the homologation, push for the snowmaking, and cheer on the (new and improved) Van Ho crew of this past season that did much with little snow and see what they can do in a better winter. Perhaps with a major success with a televised event the whole attitude will change, but first steps first.

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    T.Eastman

    April 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Tony, with all due respect for your years in the ski business, I suggest as have others that 32 years after the 1980 OWGs, the first steps have yet to be taken towards properly maintaining and upgrading MVH. A look into the culture and policies of the organization that has refused to place any significant effort into the venue is in order. This may in fact be even more crucial if, as you suggest the UMP is aspirational rather than operational; for if that is the case, outside or political pressure is even more important. Rock the boat!

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    oldschool

    April 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    I’m not sure how sharp I need to make this pencil… but I don’t see any “orda ‘could” in the planning document. I see ..orda ‘will’, the UMP ‘will’, the proposal to provide snowmaking is a NECESSITY. that terminology, plus the legislative mandate(see comment 13) and the fact that taxpayers money is being used to fund this effort, presumably for orda management to follow that mandate and UMP and SLMP leads one to wonder who’s been watching the farm, here. The inequality of the investment in the orda venues is painfully obvious. and the litany of excuses/reasons for this inequality is ridiculous. It’s way past time, the Authority should make the commitment and invest in the future of Nordic Sports in the Olympic Region. use some of this $4 million gift from the Governor and work to rebuild MVH.

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    T. Goodwin

    April 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    One shouldn’t confuse UMP language like “will” with any actual chance that it “will” happen. The High Peaks UMP says South Meadow Road “will” be closed, but ten years after its adoption the road remains open with no current effort to close it. I stand by my earlier post that, unless someone out there has a whole lot of high=level political clout, we will have to push one step at a time. Money is indeed the issue, and that other Nordic sport, jumping has a huge wish list of improvements needed at Intervale.
    The complete package of changes/improvements at Van Ho would be establishing a biathlon range near the cross-country area, converting (or better yet rebuilding) the current cross-country lodge for racing events, and then building a separate lodge for recreational skiers somewhere just north of the cross-country parking lot. Anyone who thinks there is money for that is dreaming unless you can build a money pipeline from Maine.

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    oldschool

    April 30, 2012 at 8:41 am

    So, there you have it, from a man who has spent time in the ‘belly of the beast’ so to speak. money is indeed the issue. 30 years, over $70 million, State and Federal, for Venue upgrades, plus the $18m+ for the bob/luge/skeleton, $20m for the new convention center, the borrowed $9m + for assorted Whiteface-Gore Projects back in ‘o8, the $5.5m that went for that Gore-North Creek Ski Bowl connection, and then there is MVH ??
    It seems that there is money out there somewhere, it looks like where it gets to is the issue..
    So let’s make MVH that ‘Nordic Destination’, let’s move it toward it’s ‘full potential’,get that ‘creative leadership and aggressive marketing’ get the ‘grooming arsenal’ where it needs to be, put together a Nordic Development Team and work on drawing in some of those million dollar donations, we are not the third world up here, the tracks are not radioactive, our Nordic Legacy is second to none, it deserves to be celebrated. We have the avenue to do that. it is ORDA.
    we are all familiar with the Arab Spring? maybe we should all be looking at an MVH Winter?

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    abarrett

    May 3, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I hate to be a neigh-sayer here but I am taking an exception to the comment above that there couldn’t be found enough volunteers. I have put on enough events to know that that’s a poor way of deflecting blame for poor organization. There are plenty of people in that community who would volunteer happily. This comes under the category of creative leadership and planning. You should see how the people of Rumford, ME come out of the woodwork to volunteer. It’s inspiring. VanHo could learn an AWEFUL lot from them.

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    abarrett

    May 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    PS
    I love how this article has resurfaced. It gives me hope.

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    Tim Kelley

    May 3, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    A big picture lesson that the world could learn here is that no new winter Olympics venues need to be created. The story of Lake Placid is similar to that of other winter Olympic venues. Amidst the hype and excitement of Olympic bids – funding, and the willingness to go into debt, is easier to obtain for a billion dollar or more three week party. And with this hype and money facilities are built. But once the party is over legacy funding seems to always fall short. And the facilities often are under-used, under-maintained and slowly decay into obsolescence.

    The most affordable and sustainable option would be to have one venue, say Lillehammer, Norway, for all future winter Olympics. And each participating country would pay a share to keep this site’s facilities at state of the art levels. This would make better economic sense and less time and money would be wasted on Olympic venues that rot away over time. You’d think that the world as a society would by now question the wisdom of spending billions on a big three week party. But the good-ole boy network of the IOC works hard to ensure this unsustainable mode of Olympic venue creation continues. The IOC loves to get people to spend more money than they should.

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    kickandglide

    May 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    abarrett, I have put on a bunch of races as well, and, if your post 26 is in reference to my post 15, there was more than adequate staffing on that day. The problem was that so much snow fell overnight that it was either impossible for volunteers and paid staff to get to the venue, and, if in the rare instance it was possible, the trip to to MVH would have been too hazardous to ask anyone to drive.

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    abarrett

    May 4, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Kick and Glide, I may have misunderstood your post. Sorry for that. But, my point is that volunteering is often an issue and there IS a clear difference in the level of pride and commitment between the work done at Van Ho and the work done at other venues. Grooming is a big deal to racers and it needs to be done impeccably. It needs to be done by skiers that understand what good tracks are like. Those trails at Van Ho, with the ruts and over growth underneath, have to have a significant amount of snow to be groomed to a world class level. A Tidd Tech and a roller aren’t going to cut it for skiers who travel at those speeds. Margaret Maher has done a better job than I ever did at building and organizing high level racing at Van Ho but the trail conditions were never on par with the race experience she tries to provide.

    Piston bullies are designed to handle most snow conditions but you have to have experience and know how and a willingness to groom all night if necessary. I remember a race at Van Ho, (maybe a LP Loppet) where there was nearly 2 feet of snow to work with but whoever was driving the PistonBully didn’t know how to turn corners without locking up the inside track. It dragged dirt up and created this huge undulation at every sharpish turn. Then, instead of taking the time to get out of the cab to fix it by hand, he just drove on to the next corner leaving a disgraceful mess. People remember stuff like that for a long time. And, if they have a choice for a weekend race, they take their business elsewhere.

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    oldschool

    May 9, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Tim brings up a good point. cost. so suppose the IOC picks 5 or 6 Olympic Winter Venues that are relatively certain to have snow in the next 30 years. 4 years prior to a venue staging the Games, some type of ‘local’ sales tax is implemented. the funds generated go to the member Venues as a legacy fund. member venues have agreed to adhere to ongoing international standards and become ‘Olympic Winter Sports Development Centers’. a system like this will provide an ongoing, regular funding source, a local economic impact, and the International competition sites for the Games to continue on a sustainable path. at least until we have to hold them on an ice cap floating around the North Pole.
    as far as the grooming issues, it all comes back to leadership, policy and funding. it seems Mr. Barrett had a couple poor seasons. as comments have stated, there has been and is now a hard working, competent and dedicated grooming crew at the venue for years. they need to be supported by management. an ongoing homologation program and investment in grooming equipment would go a long way toward making the venue the 3 season revenue generating destination resort that commenters have talked about.
    perhaps it is time to visit orda.org and make your feelings known(in a polite, reasonable, proactive manner of course) to the management and board that MVH could and should be the ‘NYS Crown Jewel of Skiing’. a dec. 21, 2010 article by Mr. Minde shows how that worked for Canmore,Alberta. the article also shows that we are not the only venue that struggles with these issues and that there is a way forward. The State of NY, through the Olympic Authority, can make this happen.. let’s all advocate for and support that effort.

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    JimGalanes

    May 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    While the legacy issue has national implications, the solution lies in the local, hopefully vocal, xc community to create and maintain a facility that meets their objectives. The local enthusiast have to get with ORDA, their political representatives, and community leaders to reach a consensus on the future of MVH.

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