Skier says little has changed at Belleayre Mountain

By Jay Braman Jr.
The old saying goes, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.”
So far, that saying holds true at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, where new management took over at the beginning of the 2012-’13 ski season.

Located atop Highmount in the Town of Shandaken in the far western portion of Ulster County, Belleayre was built in the late 1940s by the State of New York in the center of the Catskill Park. Until last November it had been owned and managed by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, which is in charge of the sprawling tracts of Catskills property owned by the state and protected as forever wild.

DEC out of the loop
But that department, according to critics, is better suited to taking care of wilderness than running a ski business, and after careful study, Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed and handed the facility over the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which already runs two other ski centers, Whiteface and Gore, for the state in the Adirondacks.

Many wondered what was in store for Belleayre under a new decision-making team after 60 plus years of being in the same hands, but so far this ski season the new Belleayre looks pretty much like the old Belleayre.

“I’ve been skiing here for 18 years,” said Jack Schoenthaler, a resident of the nearby Town of Andes. “This season is no different than any other and that is just fine with me.”

Standing on his skis outside the lower base lodge on a recent and frigid mid-week morning, Schoenthaler thought for a moment, then made the following adjustment to his opinion.
“Well, they do this ticket scanning thing now on the lift lines, that may make the wait a little longer, but I’m not sure.”

Customer experience
When it comes to ski centers, the biggest variable for customer satisfaction is, of course, snow. As luck would have it, plenty of the natural stuff arrived just in time for the all important holiday period and the recent long stretch of cold days has allowed ORDA to keep producing the man-made version, which was being shot from large jet engine like snow guns as Schoenthaler and others were headed to the chair lift for another run.

Along the way, other skiers made positive remarks about Belleayre.
One woman, a snowboarder, said it was her first time at the facility, having heard good things about it from friends. Also, a trio of snowboarders, who were huddled together for a coffee break just off to the side of the slopes, said it was there first time as well and were pleased with what they had experienced so far.

However they also remarked that the slopes had that “New York iciness” that they said is typical of all ski centers in the state.

Belleayre’s acting general manager, Tom Tar, has been working at Belleayre for over 30 years. Tar agrees with Perkins that things are pretty much the same.

All about the skiing
“From a skier perspective, little has changed,” he said. “We are known for good skiing and that continues.”

As for the ticket scanning, Tar noted that it is a trend in the industry to scan tickets, not only for security purposes, but also for research and development.

“There’s an abundance of data that scanning collects,” he said. “ We find out all sorts of things, like which lifts are used and how often skiers use them.”
Tar is not sure how that data will be used by Belleayre, he added, but is certain it will be looked at the end of the season.

Some staffers were asked to discuss what it has been like these past couple of months under the new management, but they said that they are not allowed to talk to media.
ORDA officials could not be reached for comment, but in the fall the organizations president, Ted Blazer, said he plans to let things ride for this season before making any changes.

“Will there be differences in how ORDA plans to operate Belleayre and how it operated in the past?,” Blazer said in prepared statement. “Yes. Will there be similarities in programming and operations that have previously existed at Belleayre moving forward? Yes there will be.

“The governor’s commission asked ORDA to take over management of Belleayre for many reasons, but the primary motivation behind the change is that we are in the business of running ski areas and there are efficiencies that can be realized through this merger. With a focus on recreation and passion for the ski industry, we are looking to bring Belleayre and the surrounding communities even more success in the future. For this to happen, we will need your support and are listening to your feedback.

“We are looking forward to working with Belleayre’s knowledgeable staff and coordinating with other ski areas to build recognition for all of the fabulous offerings in the Catskill Region,” Blazer concluded