Belleayre season plans announced by state DEC

By Jay Braman Jr.
Belleayre Mountain will be open for riding and skiing seven days a week for the 2008-2009 season, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced Monday. Weather and conditions permitting, Belleayre will open the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 28, and run through March, operating six lifts and 41 trails and glades.
Belleayre will offer terrain for all levels of riders and skiers from beginner to expert. All programming will be available, including the popular “Kidscamp,” racing programs, and, new this year, the adaptive ski program. Trained instructors from Belleayre and Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital will provide coaching for the adaptive community.
In response to the state’s fiscal situation, Belleayre is taking a number of steps this season to operate more efficiently while continuing to deliver a world-class regional skiing experience. Two lifts that are adjacent to other, more highly used lifts will be closed, a change that will have only a marginal impact on lift capacity. While snowmaking and grooming on most of the mountain will be unchanged, several of the less frequently used trails will be open on a natural cover basis. Use of the “Half Pipe” terrain also will be weather dependent. In addition, advertising will be reduced, and other operational and administrative efficiencies achieved. These changes will not impact skier safety or any essential operations or maintenance of the ski area.
Most season ticket prices will remain the same as last year. Daily lift tickets will increase slightly to account for higher fuel costs and increases in other operational costs.
Season passes, frequent skiers cards and “Belleayre Bucks” are now on sale. The Belleayre Fall Festival, scheduled for October 11-12, will be held at the Delaware and Ulster Railroad depot on Route 28 in Arkville, just five miles from the ski area.

Coalition wants more
While this news has allowed some in the tourism industry to breath a sigh of relief, the Coalition to Save Belleayre still wants the state to fully fund the ski center so it can operate just as it did last year.
But last ski season it cost about $6.5 million to run Belleayre. If everything was kept the same this year, DEC officials say, projections were the total would have gone to $7.2 million, largely due to increased fuel costs. Under the current plan it’s going to cost just under $6.4 million for the 2008-2009 ski season.
Coalition Chairman Joe Kelly reacted with cautious optimism this week when the DEC announced Belleayre would re-open in November with most programs and facilities in tact.
Kelly also noted, however, damage caused to the economic vitality of the area.
“Belleayre is not a cost to the state. It is an income producer and an economic engine that fuels the economies of both Ulster and Delaware counties,” Kelly added. “The later opening and earlier closing will come as a cost. No one should forget that the rural towns and villages of these counties contain huge public holdings of forest preserve and watershed lands that present an economic challenge to reasonable growth. We applaud the reasons for these properties but also remind the state of the obligations that their land holdings entail.”
But like State Senator John Bonacic, who was less than pleased with DEC’s plan, Kelly sees last week’s decision as a step in the right direction but one that needs to be continued.
“We have to agree with Senator John Bonacic, one of Belleayre’s biggest boosters for many years now, who pointed out that Belleayre was still ‘short of the cash needed to operate in the manner it should be.’ Like our senator, we must urge Governor Paterson and DEC Commissioner Grannis to rethink the decision to impair this highly successful state-run enterprise in any way that limits its potential to energize the economy in our economically challenged rural area,” Kelly said. “As grateful as we are, we will continue to advocate for a bigger, better Belleayre, fully funded and fully functioning for the benefit of all of us.”