By Maureen Werther
Workers at West Mountain are busy replacing a chairlift dating back to 1968 with a new “quad” chair that will service the face of the mountain.
According to the mountain’s co-owner and onsite operator, Spencer Montgomery, crews are in the process of dismantling the old chair, which he said will take approximately two weeks to complete. Once that phase of the work is over, the new chairlift will be installed and operational in time for the upcoming 2018-2019 skiing and snowboarding season.
The new chairlift will be located in closer proximity to the existing chairlift that services the summit. By re-positioning it, skiers and riders will all be able to feed into one set of corrals, have their tickets checked and decide which of the two lifts they want to take, he said.
It will also make things easier for people leaving the nearby ski rental facility. Previously, skiers had to trek across the front of the lodge area to get to the chairlift that takes them down the trail known as “The Face.”
Montgomery said the new four-seater lift will improve the overall experience for the skier, making the ride safer, easier and adding an additional “teaching moment” on the lift as well as on the mountain.
“It’s a big upgrade,” he said. “This new chair is a rear-loading lift with comfier seats and a higher seating capacity. The old lift was a more difficult side-loading lift, meaning that the skier had to ‘scooch’ over when getting on the chair. It will also be a quieter, smoother and slightly faster ride.
For those who are having a ski lesson, the new chairlift also gives them the chance to ride up with their instructors.
“Typically, people are in group lessons of two or three students. Now, students will not have to ride up on the lift without their instructor,” said Montgomery.
By relocating the new chair slightly to the north, Montgomery said that The Face won’t be as broken up as it was with the positioning of the old lift.
The cost of the upgrade, including installation will be approximately $900,000, but it will boost capacity by 50 percent and reduce wait times dramatically.
The other big addition to West Mountain will be the zipline canopy tour the owners are installing to attract summer people to the mountain. It is one part of a larger, comprehensive plan to transform West into a multi-season resort destination.
Montgomery said they have worked closely with Ed Bartholomew of EDC Warren County, as well as Empire State Development, and have obtained a 20 percent reimburseable grant to fund part of the new expansion. They are also hoping to receive an additional grant sometime during the summer.
Upon completion of the zipline project, the mountain will receive 20 percent of its capital costs back once they have demonstrated that certain criteria—such as job creation—have been met.
Montgomery said the zipline is not a straight drop from summit to base. Rather, it takes riders on a traversing pathway in a zigzagging fashion. Riders are suspended on a cable with a harness. They reach the zipline by taking the West Express chairlift.
To ensure safety, guides are placed in front of and behind each rider. Montgomery said the total ride traverses back and forth down the mountain for nearly two miles.
The cost of this project is approximately $2 million.
There is also a treetop aerial mountain adventure being constructed at the summit, with three hubs and six different courses. The company doing the work is Tree-mendous, which specializes in designing and building aerial and treetop adventures. They are known both regionally and nationally for their installations at the Bronx and San Diego zoos, as well as numerous ski resorts.
He said that work is expected to be completed on the Zipline and operational in time for the 2019 spring/summer season, and there is a possibility that the treetop adventure component may be ready by this fall.
Mountain biking also began at West last summer but, due to the ongoing construction of the new chairlift, it was temporarily suspended until summer of 2019. Montgomery said, however, that the first season hosting mountain-biking was well attended. They have already purchased a fleet of bikes for rental and they anticipate that it will be just as successful next summer as it was in 2017.
Montgomery said he and his partners are working toward turning West Mountain into a “ski and stay” resort, with amenities and activities available throughout the year.
“Our location is what will make this a success,” said Montgomery, referring to the mountain’s proximity to Lake George, Saratoga Springs and other popular destinations.
Once the outdoor activities are operational, the food and beverage component will also be expanded to accommodate four-season visitors. Plans are already in the works to expand the cafeteria in the lodge. Montgomery said they will try to host weddings and other events.
The owners are betting that developers will be interested in building lodgings and accommodations as the mountain becomes a year-round destination.
Montgomery said that he and his partners have planned for approximately $10 million in expansion and upgrades and they are on track, with an estimated $4.5 to $5 million invested to date.