Former Olympic luger led the World University Games planning
By James M. Odato
For the first time in its history, the Olympic Regional Development Authority will turn to a woman to handle all the operations of the skiing, skating, sliding and world event planning at New York’s premier winter competition and recreation sites in the Adirondacks.
The ORDA board on Monday unanimously chose Ashley Walden, 41, as its new chief executive officer and president to replace the retiring Mike Pratt.
Walden’s resume includes running the organization that brought the FISU World University Games to the North Country last January, centered at North Creek’s Gore Mountain, Wilmington’s Whiteface Mountain and the Lake Placid region’s cross-country skiing, figure skating and hockey facilities.
An athlete, event organizer
A former Olympic luger under the last name Hayden, she won silver medals twice in International Luge Federation mixed team events, in 2004 and 2005. She married former Olympic luger Bengt Walden, who became coach of Norway’s national luge team, according to her online bio.
She coordinated the WUG buildup as director of the Adirondack Sports Council. Before that, she served as director of internal operations for the US Bobsled & Skeleton Federation.
According to ORDA officials, Walden rose from a list of candidates chosen by board chair Joe Martens and his search committee. Local sentiment held that the new leader should be a person familiar with the operations of the state authority and of major sporting events.
She replaces Pratt, who turns 62 next month, a 37-year ORDA veteran who was the top officer the past six years. He announced his retirement this spring with the intention of stepping down Sept. 29. Walden starts Sept. 11.
Former marketing and communications professional Chris Carroll, who worked with Walden at the sports council, said the choice by ORDA is fantastic.
Carroll, who was marketing leader for the sports council through 2022, said the event drew 70,000 to an event that is not well-known in the United States.
“That is a pretty good feat. Her responsibility was ensuring those games came off, and I’m pretty sure she did it,” he said. “She has the global management experience, and she has the athlete’s perspective.”
North Elba Supervisor Derek Doty said: “I’m definitely in full support of Ashley. The town worked extensively with her during the FISU games. She’s an extremely good communicator.”
For most of his tenure, Pratt managed aged public facilities. They include the Olympic ski-jumping complex in Lake Placid; nearby Mount Van Hoevenberg and its cross-country skiing trails and competition tracks for luge, bobsled and skeleton; and the alpine skiing mountains of Belleayre in the Catskills, Gore in North Creek and Whiteface in Wilmington. Most of the venues are owned by the state although the town of North Elba owns the ski jump site and arena complex that includes the speed-skating oval.
In addition to its six venues in the Adirondacks and Catskills, the Olympic Authority manages the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and Lake Placid Conference Center. The organization also owns and maintains the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, the U.S. Luge Association facility, and the Olympic Authority’s Corporate offices, all located in Lake Placid.
Pratt led a state-supported expansion of the winter recreation holdings. Leading up to the FISU Games, the capital investment total over six years was $550 million. With this year’s approved capital budget of $105 million the capital investment over seven years is now more than $650 million.
Much of the money went into high-efficiency snowmaking systems, lifts, grooming tractors, guest facilities, and trails as well a revamped Olympic Center in Lake Placid with improved skating, dining, retail and museum space and a new building for administrative offices.
The authority board has praised his work and seen operating revenues rise during his tenure. Total revenues, including state and town of North Elba payments, for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023, topped $80.1 million and expenses amounted to $68.3 million; up from the same period a year earlier when revenues exceeded $62.9 million with expenses reached $52.8 million.
Pratt leaves after the Olympic facilities received the greatest upgrades in four decades allowing ORDA to host the World University Games, the biggest international competition since the 1980 Winter Olympics at the facilities, although the event drew traffic well below capacity to the Lake Placid area.
ORDA will set a salary for Walden with annual compensation and performance reviews, Martens said. Pratt was paid $236,615 in 2022, including a base of $207,565, according to SeeThroughNY. That’s up from total pay of $198,481 on a base of $188,065 the year before.
Tourism Economics, a research firm used by ORDA, said the authority’s activities, including local operational spending and revenues as well as the state’s investments, resulted in direct economic impact of $341.8 million in the past year.
ORDA operations, it noted, supported 3,414 jobs and generated $25 million in state and local tax revenues. The venues saw 881,000 visitors.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify total state investment in ORDA facilities and to change Walden’s start date to Sept. 11, not Sept. 1.