Public responds to changes proposed by Olympic authority
By James M. Odato
If uphill skiing enthusiasts had their way, multiple proposed changes for biking, alpine and hiking activities at Whiteface Mountain would include more opportunities for them to burn calories.
Writers advocating for uphill skiing dominated the more than 50 responses received by the Olympic Regional Development Authority on its plan to cut trees, widen trails, create shortcuts, add a lift and build a mountain biking network at the Wilmington alpine center.
Ski mountaineering, or skimo, fans urged ORDA to include uphill passes and trails for them — ingredients not in the authority’s more than 160-page unit management plan amendment plan under consideration by state overseers.
The pleas for uphill opportunities came amid concerns registered from other commenters, some calling ORDA’s plan unconstitutional. Some worried about the thousands of trees to be cut or about potential harm to the habitat of the Bicknell’s thrush, a bird the state lists as a “special concern species.” Others hailed the changes.
But 25 people urged ORDA to be more welcoming to ski-climbers, lobbying that Whiteface should be part of the national and international skimo movement.
“Many ski areas in this country are opening their eyes to the sport and potential while Whiteface appears to be ignoring the opportunity,” one writer said. The writer listed Jay Peak, Titus, Cannon, Bromley, Hunter, Stowe and Mad River as “friendlier than and more accommodating than Whiteface” to uphillers.
ORDA redacted most names of writers in public records provided to the Adirondack Explorer. Those commenting to ORDA’s amendment plan for Whiteface did so as the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation review the proposal for potential approval.
About an equal number of writers supported and opposed the plan and a few commented with observations that made their position on the amendment unclear. Some wanted or supported planned biking trails. Some sought protections for the Bicknell’s thrush, which can be found upslope on Whiteface.
Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer wrote that the plan prescribes violations to the state Constitution’s “forever wild” provisions and said ORDA seeks to change Whiteface beyond allowances for the Olympic alpine center.
Whiteface, in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, isn’t supposed to be “a summertime amusement park,” Bauer wrote. He said the Constitution doesn’t provide for a downhill mountain biking trail network and that ORDA would exceed legal limits if it takes down thousands of trees as planned.
The Adirondack Council was generally supportive but asked for more data on the impact on Bicknell’s thrush, whereas the regional chapter of the Audubon Society said the plan seems to avoid harming the thrush’s habitat and nesting.
One writer said ORDA is disregarding the “climate issue” and chose “a terrible time to think of destroying natural resources for profit and recreation.”
ORDA officials reduced the number of trees it envisioned to be cut to create trails. An earlier version of its amendment plan called for cutting more than 33,000. ORDA now proposes to cut 3,335 trees greater than 3 inches and 6,593 trees 1 inch to 3 inches wide for its “constitutionally” allowed trail plan.
Its officials claim the cutting is necessary to create a year-round destination, enhance safety and to conform to standards desired by groups involved in citing international alpine competitions. ORDA is motivated to complete trail widening in time for the January 2023 World University Games it is hosting at facilities it manages in the Adirondacks, including Whiteface.
The University Games’ venues “must meet international dimensional course standards, including trail widths, which provide a suitable racecourse and are protective of ski racer safety (which is also protective of recreational skier safety),” ORDA stated in its amendment plan. “The vast majority of the total trees to be cut are for widening of existing trails in order to meet Federation Internationale de ski (FIS, International Ski Federation) trail homologation standards.”
Cutting will occur over a two-year time period and will be outside of any critical habitats, including that used by the Bicknell’s thrush, ORDA said. All cutting will be performed in accordance with trail construction policy devised by the state DEC, it said.
Beyond the plan receiving public comment for Whiteface, ORDA intends to spend tens of millions of dollars for additional improvements to Whiteface, Gore Mountain in North Creek and Bellearye in the Catskills, for new lifts, snow making and prefabricated restrooms. It will be presenting an amended unit management plan for Belleayre in the months ahead.