By Paul Post
Athletes from across the country are converging on Gore Mountain this month, setting the stage for one of the world’s largest sports spectacles a year from now.
The Holeshot Cross Tour (held Feb. 5-11) and USASA Futures Tour ( held Feb. 11-18) give the nation’s top junior freestyle skiers and snowboarders a chance to earn points in their quest to race professionally.
“These are two types of events, ski cross and slope style, we’ll be hosting for next year’s World University Games as well as big air,” said Stephanie Backes, Gore Mountain marketing director. “It’s putting Gore on the map for this caliber of competition and exposing us to people from around the country who have never been here before. It definitely helps lodging and restaurant business.”
World University Games are surpassed in size only by the Olympics, with about 1,600 athletes from 50 nations expected for next year’s competition based in Lake Placid. But Gore will host all freestyle skiing and boarding events, further enhancing its already prominent role as an economic engine in Warren County’s winter tourism industry.
Gore hosted 217,000 guests last winter, up significantly from the 189,000 who visited in 2019/20. Backes attributed this to the COVID-19 pandemic that sparked a major rise in all types of outdoor activity as many other forms of entertainment weren’t available.
In addition, the pandemic gave people working from home more opportunities to take time off. Last year, Gore saw a huge rise in midweek, non-holiday period visits, which have leveled off a bit this winter, but are still higher than pre-COVID attendance.
Through Jan. 31, the state-owned center had welcomed 101,000 visitors this year, with more than two full months to go. “We still have strong visitation in March, but it depends on the weather, too,” Backes said. “Last year we closed on April 10. Die-hards will be on the snow till the bitter end.”
Officials said most of Gore’s guests are day-trip visitors from the greater Capital Region and surrounding Adirondacks, although it also attracts large numbers of Metro New York skiers who stay for multiple days.
Backes said season pass sales are up significantly this winter. She attributed this to COVID, also, as quarantines and travel restrictions kept many people from going to Vermont ski centers last year.
“So they came here and once they checked us out they said, ‘This is a really good mountain. We’re going to buy a pass.’ And they stayed,” she said.
Gore, which opened in 1964, is operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.
About $3.5 million worth of capital improvements such as trail improvements, additional snowmaking and two new grooming machines were made last summer and fall, in preparation for the current ski season.
But much bigger plans are on the horizon.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget proposal includes $30 million for a sparkling new 18,300-square-foot lodge complete with a restaurant and tavern, ski and mountain biking shops and ski patrol headquarters, at the North Creek Ski Bowl site.
The new facility, expected to become a year-round destination, will include a unique recreational offering called a Rail Zipline, which combines features of a zipline with a rail system, similar to an alpine coaster. Riders will take a treetop trolley ride up the mountain on a route that includes several switchbacks and spirals. Once at the top, they’ll begin a high-speed descent up to 30 mph through several thrilling features before arriving back at the base.
Plans also call for a new chairlift and expanding the terrain with new trails near the Ski Bowl, where skiers first visited North Creek by train from Schenectady in March 1934.
ORDA hopes to have the project completed by autumn 2023.
While COVID helped Gore in some respects, like many businesses the resort is still adjusting to a new normal. The biggest challenge, felt by all types of employers large and small across America, is difficulty finding enough help.
The center employs 70 full-time people year round and 480 in winter. But there are about 100 fewer workers on hand this year compared to years past for jobs such as snowmaking, concessions and chairlift attendants.
“For example, we can’t operate every lift every day, it has to be staggered,” Backes said. “It’s tougher to find people who will only work for the winter. Lack of housing locally is a challenge as well.”
Also, many North Country residents can find higher-paying jobs at area fast food restaurants and convenience stores, which have raised wages in an effort to attract workers, she said.
“We’ve been doing the very best we can, our staff has been terrific at holding down the fort as best they can, but this definitely has impacted,” Backes said.
It could be an ongoing challenge as ORDA prepares for the 2023 World University Games, which Lake Placid last hosted in 1972.
The state has already spent $125 million upgrading and improving its 1980 Winter Olympic venues in preparation for the World University Games, which are expected to boost the entire Adirondack region’s tourism industry.