Despite lack of snow, most cross-country facilities manage to stay open.
By Rick Karlin
Donald Preuninger and Brian McDonnell have something in common: they both took over cross-country-ski centers before one of the warmest and driest winters in recent memory. But they aren’t complaining about the weather—not too much, anyway.
“I can’t tell you we’re doing great, but we are hanging in there pretty well,” said Preuninger, who bought Garnet Hill Lodge near North Creek for $1.2 million in December.
McDonnell took over management of the Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths last year after the Adirondack Park Agency decided it could no longer run the facility and its network of hiking and ski trails.
“I can’t remember any winter with the dearth of snow like this,” said McDonnell, the owner of Mac’s Canoe Livery in Lake Clear.
Nevertheless, the VIC and Garnet Hill as well as other cross-country centers in the Adirondacks have by and large stayed open this winter, though with limited terrain.
“It’s been a late start, but you’ve got to expect that sometimes,” said Olavi Hirvonen, owner of Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center near Northville in the southern Adirondacks.
As of early February, Lapland Lake had been open nineteen days, seen thirty-seven inches of snowfall, and had forty-five kilometers of groomed tracks open, which is almost all of the terrain save for three hilly loops.
Cascade Cross-Country Ski Center outside Lake Placid had been open thirty-five days by early February, about half as many days as normal. Skiing was limited to about five kilometers of trail instead of the usual fifteen to twenty. “It’s been pretty sparse,” said owner Art Jubin. Still, skiers have not stopped coming and his retail shop has been holding its own, he said.
The state-run cross-country center at Mount Van Hoevenberg was open sporadically during the early months of winter, according to Jon Lundin, spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority. He noted, though, that cross-country skiers can be a determined bunch. “They want to ski and they want to find the snow,” Lundin said.
Preuninger and McDonnell took advantage of winter’s late arrival by improving and expanding their trail networks. At the VIC, McDonnell doubled the trail mileage by connecting disjointed routes and opening old logging roads. The VIC now offers 9.25 miles for ski skating, 6.5 miles for classic Nordic skiing, and 9 miles for snowshoeing. All of the trails were open as of early February. (Once free, the VIC now charges users a $10 fee.)
Preuninger was out rolling and packing the snow every chance he had; as a result, many trails had a base of ice with several inches of snow on top. That allowed for consistent skiing on thirty kilometers of his fifty-kilometer network. The lodge offers nature hikes in addition to skiing.
Cross-country operators may not be getting rich this year, but they are confident they’ll get through the season.
Because most backcountry trails were not skiable, the VIC has attracted people who might not have gone there otherwise, according to McDonnell. “It’s a good harbinger,” he said. “We’re bringing in some revenue and were doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
At Garnet Hill, Preuninger noted that many visitors book reservations a year in advance. “Business is down from last year, but not by too much,” he said.
Both Garnet Hill and the VIC have hosted ski races, which helped with the bottom line.
Downhill areas are likewise down but not out, said Scott Brandi, president of Ski Areas of New York, a trade group. Across the state, downhill operators are seeing a drop in visits of between 10 percent and 40 percent.
“They haven’t put us on the do-not-resuscitate list,” quipped Steve Uzdavinis, manager of McCauley Mountain in Old Forge. As of late January, McCauley had all of its runs open except one. McCauley also has ten kilometers of cross-country trails at the base of the mountain, but Uzdavinis said conditions have been “marginal” for much of the winter. Instead of charging the usual $5 fee, McCauley has allowed tourers to ski for free.
Uzdavinis was hoping for a snowy March to compensate for the slow start to winter. He is not alone. Hickory Ski Center in Warrensburg, a small operation that relies on natural snow, had not opened at all as of early February. “All it takes is one storm. We are ready and waiting,” said Jeremiah Greco, Hickory’s marketing manager. n