Owners aim to create local gathering place as well as a getaway
By Tim Rowland
Its blond wood gleaming and glass sparkling after a nine-month makeover, the long-dormant Paleface ski center on Route 86 in Jay has reopened as the NewVida Preserve. Its owners are working to not only breathe new life into the lodge, but also into an aging Adirondack hospitality model that is becoming less sustainable with time.
Rick Vidal and his husband Matthew Telford Vidal purchased the sprawling 2,000-acre resort for $6.5 million last October, and refurbished the familiar teal-roofed A-Frame with 16 guest rooms, a Latin-themed bistro, commercial kitchen, a dining room overlooking Whiteface and Esther mountains, craft bar, yoga and massage rooms and space for in-progress amenities including a gym, pool and spa.
The bistro is open for breakfast seven days a week and for lunch Thursday through Sunday. Dinner will be served starting this weekend, and all food and drink services are open to the public, with dinner and bar discounts for members.
NewVida focuses on wellness and rejuvenation, not just for people, but also the land and the historical memory of the resort, which in its day was popular with skiers and nonskiers less interested in the slopes than in swapping stories at the bar.
A local connection
As NewVida has opened up its facilities this summer there has been a similar duality in the clientele — vacationers from the cities bathing themselves in the forests and massage therapy sessions, along with locals eager to see their home away from home for the first time in 30 years.
Vidal said he’s been fascinated by the stories and the emotion of those whose love for Paleface has endured the years. The loft ski shop, for example, is remembered less as an outfitter than as a secluded spot to make out. “There’s so much nostalgia,” he said. “People have been moved to tears.”
The Vidals are fostering this local connection, believing it to be the key to sustainability for the Adirondack hospitality industry. It also operates under the belief that “preservation can be profit producing,” Vidal said.
NewVida is a “hybrid,” Vidal said, appealing to luxury tourists, but also selling memberships — $500 for individuals with discounts for couples, families and young people under 30. For the money, people receive gym membership, access to the pool, sauna and spa, discounts at the bar and restaurants and access to more than 35 miles of hiking and skiing trails.
In the first few weeks after opening, Vidal said NewVida was halfway to its membership goals for the year. When canvassing the community, Vidal said he was somewhat surprised that in an activity-oriented region, a gym (opening this fall) was a key membership selling point. “Every single person wanted a gym,” he said.
Members also have access to the lounge where they can come at any time to work on their laptops or just relax and chat with friends — a community center with a view.
Instead of treating tourists and full-time residents as two separate worlds, Vidal said NewVida plans to be an active participant in both: At Jay Days, Vidal entered the sack race and won, narrowly beating out Jay Supervisor Matt Stanley.
The hiking trails at NewVida take advantage of old ski runs and carriage roads and offer destinations previously not open to the public, most notably the summit of Bassett Mountain in the Fourpeaks region, which has grand views of the Ausable River Valley, Great Range and Sentinel Range to the south, and Stephenson Range, Poke-o-Moonshine and The Gulf to the north.
Vidal said he also has discussed opening up other nearby summits with their private landowners, and when the trail buildout is finished hikers will be able to connect with trails from Paleface to the Sentinel Wilderness.
Mountain biking, alpine touring and rock climbing are in the offing, and the return of downhill skiing is a possibility, although insurance costs are prohibitive for lifts in which the skiers’ skis leave the snow.
A new approach to hospitality
NewVida is also collecting local talent — guides, artists, chefs and therapists — to interact with guests and provide personalized experiences. Those face-to-face relationships are a key to return business, Vidal said. The public has been responsive. A recent talk by Adirondack historian and author Larry Gooley on bootlegging packed the house, and shows range from music to poetry readings.
Whether it’s food, entertainment or art, the Vidals believe different is good — although sometimes hard to coax from a hospitality industry set in its ways. When interviewing chefs — and encouraging them to let their hair down, figuratively speaking, Vidal said there was still the tendency to revert to the classic Adirondack bacon-cheeseburger with tomato jam.
Already possessing rich and varied resumes, the Vidals entered the hospitality business with the creation of Cascada Farm, a 400-acre health- and experience-themed preserve in the Hudson Valley, with indoor pampering and outdoor challenges.
They refurbished an 18th century farmhouse and also restored to health a barren brook that is now teeming with trout. The journey was rewarding, and being familiar with the Adirondacks, Vidal said he and Matt began looking for a large property in the North Country — the Paleface property, which has been on the market for years, popped right up on Zillow.
Beyond hospitality, the Vidals have tech, marketing and health backgrounds. Rick Vidal served as director of sales engineering and tech sales at Google, and before that (he believes re-inventing oneself every so often is good for the soul) fought infectious diseases in Africa. Matt is corporate counsel at Google and former vice president at Nickelodeon.
The game plan for NewVida was developed by researching the Adirondack hospitality industry and seeing what worked, or more to the point, what did not.
Vidal said he was struck by the tenuous hold many owners had on their businesses, which discouraged creativity for fear that failure would set off a death spiral. So they continue to hustle during the high seasons, praying it will be enough to hold them through the off-season doldrums. With that model, Vidal said, “you may break even, but you won’t grow.”
Still, he said, NewVida has not been immune from Adirondack hospitality challenges, notably the paucity of help. Ideas such as profit sharing and even the prospect of year-round work are also a bit foreign to the Adirondack Park’s commercial ecosystem.
Vidal said the Adirondacks as a brand still has work to do in population centers, where Lake Placid and winter sports have a more recognizable identity than the mountains themselves. He hopes NewVida will help change that by being an attraction for urbanites and a cozy home for their rural brethren. “We love getting to know people and seeing familiar faces come through the door,” he said.