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Philip Johnson's Ski-Lines
by Philip Johnson


A Daily Gazette sports blog
Ski season in Upstate NY

Keep an eye on Demong in Sochi

Remember the part last week where I mentioned that rain and fog were the enemies of ski cond­itions?
Well. we have met the enemy, and, where there had been good snowmaking over the past month, we have glided right by this little hiccup and into good conditions for the holidays.
Next comes the New Year. Here are some things I’m looking for in the coming months.
If you are like me, soon you’ll be giving a lot of attention to the Winter Olympics that start Feb. 6 in Sochi, Russia. Once again. there is a good contingent of ski athletes from our region who will be competing, led by Bill Demong of Vermontville, near Saranac Lake, who won gold and silver medals in Nordic Combined at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Demong is four years older now, is married and has taken a very deliberate path of training this time that included a lot of time off. But as an Olympic competitor since 2002 and a past champion, he is comfortable competing at the highest international levels. As any proven performer will tell you, comfort level is important. He is also a leader of his team and one of the most well liked athletes on the among the entire US roster.
When Demong won in 2010, it was the first time an American had won a medal in the Nordic Combined event. This time, biathletes Tim Burke of Paul Smiths and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid have their turn to make history. Both have been Olympians since 2006, train together year round, and now in their early 30s, have their best chance to become American’s first Olympic medalists in their sport, which is a combination of cross country skiing and shooting targets.
The pair was disappointed at the Vancouver Games when a sudden weather change brought snow which made fast times impossible for late start draws, like them. Since then, the two have been regulars on the World Cup circuit posting strong finishes, especially Burke, who won a silver medal in a sprint event at the World Championships last year. The best medal chance for the two may come in the relay event on Feb. 22, the final Saturday of the Games.
Biathlon is a sport now designed for television. The coverage should be dramatic.
In 2010, one of the great surprises was the exceptional performance that earned Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht a bronze medal in the super-G alpine event. The 27-year-old has been a member of the U.S. ski team for a decade now and his Olympic medal makes him arguably the most accomplished alpine skier ever from the Adirondack region (certainly since Hank Kashiwa of Old Forge in the 1970s)
But a series of injuries since the Vancouver Games have hindered “The Warhorse,” and right now, he needs some good international results in early January just to be nominated to represent the U.S. at Sochi. Weibrecht is on new Head brand equipment this year and reports he is in good shape physically. The U.S. roster is due to Games’ organizers on Jan. 19. He has three weeks to show he is back to top Olympic form. What he did four years ago doesn’t automatically get him a start this time around.
Other things to keep an eye on in the New Year include developments at West Mountain in Glens Falls. Recent years have not been kind to this ski hill, which has been undercapitalized in a sport and recreation activity where new equipment and technology have raised consumer expectations considerably.
With one of the great marketing advantages in the industry — the Northway going right by to showcase its slopes — West offers great access to skiers in our region. And the hill for years has been a favorite of people just learning to ski and those who like to duck over for just a couple of hours. There are a lot of people hoping the new investors will be patient and the ski area has the time and resources to succeed. We’ll know more in March.
Then there is Hickory, just northwest of Warrensburg. It has been a part of the area ski scene since the late 1940s and long has had the cache that if you could ski there, you could ski anywhere. With its corps of dedicated volunteers and family friendly lodge — utensils to warm up lunch over the fireplace are provided — it is special place. Or at least is in years where there is good snowfall. There hasn’t been for the past two years, and Hickory hasn’t operated. There is no snowmaking, and the prospect of installing a modern system seems more like a dream that a plan. Call the mountain these days and the phone is answered in Houston, Texas. Without help from nature, the future of this area does not look bright.
In recent days, there has been a proposal to create a New York State Museum of Skiing to be located in North Creek, which will celebrate its 80th year as a ski destination in 2014. It is a good idea. But barring a major private endowment, don’t bet on this idea going very far.
There is a U.S. Ski Museum located in Ishpeming, Mich., and the New England Ski Museum near Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire is an excellent vis­itor stop and a great archive of the sport. There is Vermont Ski Museum at Stowe and, more recently, a Maine Ski Museum near Sugarloaf Mountain. There is also a very interesting Olympic Museum on the first floor of the 1980 Arena in Lake Placid.
The Ski Areas of New York association has had discussions about a ski museum in the past, but these, and a corollary proposal about a New York Ski Hall of Fame, have never gone beyond the very preliminary stages. While this could become a solid tourism draw, the village of North Creek and Warren County have been reluctant to spend their own money on such plans in the past, leaving only state or private funding for such a project. No volunteers yet!
Recently, a study indicated that Albany had the highest airfares of any city in New York. For certain, a vacation ski trip can be expensive these days, starting with the travel.
Ski resorts, especially those in the western North America, know that their livelihood starts with affordable travel. If you are tempted to head west, check with your ski destination of choice, or one of the specialty ski travel companies, and try to book a package deal.
This is a good time to do it. Often, destination resorts make bulk deals in the spring and summer to purchase entire flights to go with lodging. Areas will price aggressively, especially in New York, if inventory remains available. After all, if no one is in that plane seat, no one will be in the room either, or buying lift tickets, or dining at area restaurants. If you can avoid school vacation weeks, or are flexible about which resort you ski, you can get some good bargains, even flying from Albany.
If you didn’t plan ahead, and find yourself at Vail, Colo., with a day to ski over the holiday vacation
period, get ready for sticker shock. A walk-up, single-day ticket through Jan. 5 will cost you $129. Think you can get a better deal at nearby Aspen? Well, maybe. A single-day, walk-up ticket there over the same period is $121. The lesson here: Plan ahead.
Lake Placid Loppet
The 32nd annual Loppet will be held Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Olympic Sports Complex at Mt. VanHoevenberg. As in the past, this American Ski Marathon Series Nordic ski event will feature 25k and 50k competition in both the classic and freestyle techniques. For more information, check www.- or
Check the Web
This simple instruction applies to both skiers and riders, and should apply to the areas that compete for our patronage. We’ve been taught to check out web sites before leaving for the hill. Every area has one. But it is remarkable how bad some are. Every site should have basic information — what is open, what is expected to open, current weather information and a forecast, and what time the latest inform­ation was posted. A narrative about the coming day or days is helpful, too. And all the current information should be highlighted and readily available.
If you want to check out sites I think are especially good, try, and www.windhammountain.-com.

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