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.
Todd Eastman says
‘ 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.” ‘
ORDA should not be leveraging events to justify widening trails, an action that requires amendments like the one described in this article.
Will ORDA place a bid for monster truck events at Whiteface next?
Slippery slope argument, much? Whiteface has been hosting world-class ski racing events and cutting trails for these events since the 1932 Olympics, perhaps earlier. If there was something unconstitutional about it, you’ve had 90 years to say something.
Todd Eastman says
Your understanding of Whiteface’s ski history is rather thin, like the natural snow cover at Iceface…
There were no Alpine events in 1932. Aside from Marble Mountain (late 1940’s), and an FIS race trail cut in 1938, well after the 1932 OWGS, Whiteface did not exist as a ski center until then Governor Harriman ordered an area built in 1957. Other stories can cover the fateful opening day when the winds arrived and stripped the trails of snow.
Anyway, bone up on your ski history…
Don Biggs says
Todd, you’re right on the history part but you lose me with your position that ORDA should not be “leveraging events to justify widening trails”. I have not read ORDA’s Mission Statement but I’d be very surprised if actions taken to attract more world class sporting events violated either its letter or spirit. It’s not as if they’re proposing to widen every trail – which I would oppose – but taking steps to ensure that WF remains a relevant racing venue seems wise to me.
OK. Since 1957. You’ve had 65 years to say something.
And I still disagree with your central point: that ski racing isn’t a constitutional use of that mountain. The ski center itself is a land designation permitting intensive use, supporting the limited widening needed for high performance skier safety. The adjacent land is in the Wilmington Wild Forest, not a wilderness area. This part of the Adirondacks is designated for these kinds of recreational uses and land management.
I have not read the entire Audubon Society statement regarding the direct impact on Bicknell’s Thrush, but I am thinking that may be a cherry-picked statement, and thus misleading.
With regard to Bicknell’s Thrush (BT) – it isn’t necessary to damage existing BT HABITAT to damage BT populations. Much of the current stress on BT populations is due to other thrush species gradually moving up-slope due to warming changes in the area – NOT only direct habitat loss. BTs seem to have little ability to resist this up-slope migration by other species or to compete favorably with them with regard to nesting and rearing young. It therefore could well be argued that removing habitat for these down-slope thrush species will simply push those competing species to move up-slope into historical BT habitat. This is likely to happen in the relatively near future if warming continues, but would likely happen sooner with the loss of this lower-elevation habitat on mountains that harbor Bicknell’s Thrush.
Don Biggs says
They didn’t cherry-pick. I checked with a friend at NY Audubon and he/she looked into it and replied that they are satisfied with the efforts made in the UMP to protect the Bicknell Thrush. 10+ pages dedicated to the issue, no tree cutting during breeding season, new trails far from their habitat, monitoring, mapping, etc. “Very comprehensive” was their descriptor.