Ski prospects bright at Belleayre; fresh powder in place for opener

By Jay Braman Jr.
Belleayre Ski Center Superintendent Tony Lanza is in awe of the luck the Catskills’s ski industry is having.
“We’ve got 14 inches of new snow at the top already,” he said Tuesday morning during a snowstorm. “We’re so excited because we’ve got feet and feet and feet of snow up here.”
Like his counterparts at nearby Hunter and Windham, Lanza feels genuine excitement among skiers this year despite the gloomy economy.
“There’s such a frenzy about skiing right now, and with gas prices down we’re gonna be in great shape.”
Due to budget cuts, Belleayre will not open this year until November 26, the day after Thanksgiving, despite major snowmaking already underway.
“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,” said Belleayre spokesman Yancey Roy in a prepared statement. “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.
Roy estimates these cuts will save the state about $800,000.
“Last ski season, spending was about $6.5 million. If everything was kept the same this year, projections were the total would have gone to $7.2 million, largely because of increased fuel costs,” he said.” Instead, it’s going to be just under $6.4 million.”
Despite the economic uncertainties of the day, Joan Oldknow, communications manager for Windham Mountain, said Friday that she expects Windham will weather the storm unscathed.
“As far as challenges in the current economic climate, Windham Mountain is faring pretty well,” she said during a telephone interview. “Many of our guests have significant investments such as second homes, and they plan their winters around skiing or snowboarding in Windham. Snow sports enthusiasts make lifestyle choices, and it appears that many still try to find a way to stay in the game. Skier visits correspond more with the timing and amount of snowfall than the economy, so our season pass sales look good this year.”
Over at Hunter Mountain, President Russ Coloton agrees.
“All of our pre-season sales are up,” he said.
Coloton added that industry researchers recently checked back almost 50 years and found that economic downswings, even the gas crisis in the 1970s, had little effect on skiing.
“If the weather’s good people come out,” he said.
Celebrating the opening of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center last weekend, Catskill Heritage Alliance Chairman Richard Schaedle, on behalf of his organization, issued the following statement:
“The Belleayre Mountain Ski Center is a public asset and a public treasure: family-friendly, affordable, and open to all. It has always offered a very special spirit and fostered a very special atmosphere. The members of the CHA fervently support the use of taxpayer money to support Belleayre Mountain Ski Center operations and the expansion of the ski center mandated in our state constitution.