Local group travels north for ORDA tour

By Joan Lawrence-Bauer
Visions of bobsled runs, ski jumps and hockey rinks danced in their heads as nearly two dozen community leaders returned last week from a trip to Lake Placid to visit facilities operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA).

Town supervisors and skiers, local business people and chamber of commerce members, leaders of economic development organizations and tourism officials all made the 13-hour round-trip on a bus underwritten by the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC) and returned with a better understanding of what might be possible at Belleayre Mountain now that ORDA operates the facilities here.

Cooperative effort
A joint effort of the Coalition to Save Belleayre, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD) and the CWC, the trip was arranged in part, because of local frustration with changes in programming implemented in the take-over of Belleayre operations after 63 seasons of with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

Educational experience
Longtime Belleayre advocate and ORDA Board Member, Joe Kelly urged local stakeholders to learn more about what ORDA does and how the Adirondack Region officials share many of the same problems and concerns seen in the Catskills. Those on the bus agreed.

“The future for our businesses and our communities in the Catskills will be based on collaboration, communication and a commitment towards cooperation between organiz- ations,” said Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce Executive Carol O’Beirne in explaining why she took the trip.
“The visit to Lake Placid and conversations with ORDA staff and management about their hopes for the improvements and future of Belleayre made me realize that this new opportunity will work. It also emphasized the need for us to look at new initiatives such as the Catskill Mountain Scenic Byway, to be an example of municipal cooperation at its best.”

More than 50 locals were invited to make the trip, which began at 6 a.m. at the Catskill Interpretive Center site on Route 28 in Mt. Tremper. The group arrived at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center before 10 a.m. and ORDA President and CEO Ted Blazer greeted the group with a shout out to Town of Stamford Supervisor, Mike Triolo for a hello to the town where Blazer once lived and worked. With Blazer doing commentary, the group moved on to the Olympic Center and a view of the Olympic Ice Skating Rink.

By noon, the group was at the Olympic Training Center, touring the U.S. Olympic training facilities where young Olympic hopefuls rub shoulders with current Olympic athletes and former medal winners. The group enjoyed the same lunch offerings that athletes eat at the training center before moving on to the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. There, after a close up look at the awesome ramp that ski jumpers launch from before flying over the length of a football field, the group took the elevator to the observation deck of the K-120 meter jump. Then the visitors moved through the jumpers’ preparation room to get a bird’s eye view of what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate toward the end of the ramp.

At the last stop of the day, former Olympic Bobsledder and former US Bobsled Team Coach Tony Carlino led the group on a tour of the cross-country ski center, biathlon range and bobsled run. Carlino, along with Rebecca Dayton, marketing manager for the Olympic Sports Complex and the Ski Jumping Complex, introduced a number of their colleagues and shared ideas they had for collaborating with their new Catskill colleagues.

“The visit was a positive step in the right direction in building the foundation for what can be a phenomenal new beginning for Belleayre Mt. and the community as a whole,” said Chuck Perez. The owner of Big Indian Service Station and a long-time Belleayre skier and patroller echoed the comments of many participants saying, “The ORDA representatives were truly enthusiastic from the parking lot attendants to the cafeteria workers and their enthusiasm was contagious.”

Throughout the day, in addition to interacting with Blazer, Brad Clark, Carlino and Dayton, the visitors had opportunities to question as many as a dozen other staffers doing everything from marketing to ski tuning. “They seemed just as excited about sharing ideas for Belleayre as they were about doing their own thing up there,” said Perez in a later conversation. “Clearly, with enough enthusiasm, you can do anything.” While Blazer and his staff needed to wait for Belleayre numbers and budget figures for the coming year before having serious discussions about Belleayre’s future, they talked about seeing real possibilities for Nordic training facilities at Belleayre, and for putting in other sorts of attractions in addition to improving the ski experience.

“It was a wonderful and exciting experience to see what ORDA has done at Whiteface,” said Eric Wedemeyer of Coldwell Banker/Timberland Properties. “For Belleayre Mt. Ski Center to be included in the extensive promotional materials of both Gore and Whiteface is of immeasurable importance for increased attendance.  The possibility of attaining some of the attractions they have plus the ability to learn from their proven successes is nothing but positive.”

Most trip participants agreed that getting everyone one the bus for the trip was as great an accomplishment as the tour of the facilities. Spirited discussions among both Delaware and Ulster county attendees covered not only dreams for Belleayre but recognition of the fact that the Catskill Region has not built the strong, unified branding and promotional collaboration efforts it needs to succeed.

All agreed that the fact that they were on a bus together, having the conversation, was a good first step. Carol O’Beirne may have summed it up best when she said, “There is much potential but it is going to be important for open minds to look at our biggest problem - cooperation and transparency in working together to serve the needs of the tourist.” Each of the organizations represented on the bus will be continuing that dialogue with their own constituents and many will reconvene in the coming months to put action steps in place.