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Retiring ORDA president blazed a new trail

Retiring ORDA president blazed a new trail

Blazer has always enjoyed his job.
Retiring ORDA president blazed a new trail
Ted Blazer has resigned after more than two decades as president of ORDA.
Photographer: Antonio Olivero/Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Shortly after he was named manager at Whiteface Mountain in 1989, I stopped by Ted Blazer’s office on the second floor of the area base lodge to see what he had going on since his recent promotion. He jumped up from his desk.

“Lets go take a look!” he said.

In less than a minute, he had pulled a ski suit down from an office rack, put it on over his shirt and tie, jumped into his ski boots which were next to his desk, and out the door we headed to check out the hill first-hand.

Ted Blazer has always been ready to enjoy his job.

Maybe that’s why is came as such a surprise last week when the 61 year old unexpectedly announced his resignation as the President of the Lake Placid–based Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), a job he had held for the past 20 years. Throughout the period, he was arguably the most important figure in the ski industry in New York State and perhaps the ranking person outside of New York City in the state’s tourism industry.

He has overseen the expansion of recreational skiing at Whiteface and the growth of year-round tourism in Lake Placid, all the time continuing the tradition of hosting world-class sporting events. And during his term, under the ORDA banner Gore Mountain has become one of the best ski areas in the Northeast. More recently, state-owned Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills overcame some long standing regional parochialism and became part of the ORDA sphere.

At the same time, ORDA has consolidated the state’s ski operations, the friction that long existed between them and the private ski areas in the state has diminished considerably. That has taken place on Blazer’s watch, and there is now a common face of New York skiing that there never was in the past.

ORDA was originally incorporated in 1981 to manage and market facilities developed for the 1980 Winter Olympics. New York State had invested considerable monies in bringing facilities up to international standards. It was believed more than a reversion to local control would be necessary to keep them that way.

The first ORDA chief executive was Ned Harkness, who came in 1982. The former hockey coach and general manager whose resume included successful runs at RPI and Union was a no-nonsense executive at a time and place where a no-nonsense approach was necessary to continue to build Lake Placid from a local playground to an international sports venue. He did that and his signature achievement, The Olympic Training Center located just outside the village, has allowed Lake Placid to keep in the forefront of U.S. Olympic efforts ever since.

If Harkness had left Lake Placid after the Training Center was completed, there would be statues in his honor in the village today. But he didn’t, and not long after, he was gone. There was an interim period while the ORDA board conducted a national search for the position. They hired respected New England and Colorado ski area executive Bob Fries. But Fries had no prior connection to Lake Placid, and within 11 months, he was lured away by Stratton Mountain in Vermont.

By that time, Blazer was mountain manager at Whiteface. He had a ski background, and while not a Lake Placid native, he lived in the village and owned a small lodge, so tourism and heads in beds were concerns he understood. A boyish 41 at the time, to the surprise of many, he was the choice to become just the third head the Olympic Authority. That was 1995.

In my opinion, he has done a great job ever since.

Blazer’s combination of energy and enthusiasm has put the authority on the right track to preserve and grow the Olympic appeal of Lake Placid. He has blunted the My-way-or-the-highway approach of Harkness that got things done in the early years of the authority, but eventually wore thin. Ted’s tenure sent the brief Fries’ era into the deep past. The tradition of world-class events on world-class facilities has continued.

Just now, for instance, a Free Style World Cup Ski competition in January will be the third international event in town in just six weeks. The skiing at both Whiteface and Gore is up to par with anything in the East these days. Terrain was expanded at both under Blazer’s watch, and gondolas were installed in 1999, which mid-winter skiers in our area have learned to fully appreciate.

What happens next?

Blazer will phase out his duties until official departure at the end of February. Mike Pratt, the low-key but widely respected manager at Gore Mountain for the past 20 years, will step in as ORDA interim director while the search for a new director takes place. He will continue his management duties at Gore during this period. Pratt is 56 and a Lake Placid native. His father Ray was ORDA’s interim director after Ned Harkness. If he were to be named at the ORDA post, he would have to move to Lake Placid from his long time home in the North Creek area, where his wife Sandy owns a real estate business. Most of the rest of the current ORDA senior staff is older, including long time

Blazer executive deputy Jeff Byrne, who reportedly is not interested in the top position.

Given prior wariness about bringing in outsiders, the roster of candidates with local ties is short. Among the names being mentioned are Chris Sullivan, who works for the U.S. Olympic Committee but who was director of marketing for ORDA in the Harkness years, and current Whiteface manager Aaron Kellet, a youthful 38-year-old on the model of Blazer when he was first named ORDA President.

Last year was a poor financial year for ORDA as it was for all ski operations in the East. It is unfortunate the Blazer’s departure coincides with a time when those final figures are being first reported.

But, asked earlier this week about the end of the year holidays timing of his announcement, Blazer had a simple answer.

“I now have 30 years with New York State: 20 years in this position,” he said. “I just thought it was time.”

Section II

The Section II high school competition season gets underway in earnest this week on the cross country side with the Queensbury Relays Saturday and the Saratoga/Shen Wednesday. Queensbury is again the team to beat led by Brian Beyerback and Eliza Blood, who have been dominant in early-season races.

On the alpine side, the first race will be the Saratoga Invitational is a week from Monday. Queensbury, led by Mike Guido and Hunter Montgomery, is looking strong, with a challenge expected from Shenendehowa and Saratoga.

There will be a new woman on top of the podium this winter, as last year’s slalom and giant slalom state champion Sarah Coombs from Saratoga has moved to the Northwoods School in Lake Placid. Saratoga’s Elizabeth McIntyre, Calynn Cerniglia from Emma Willard and Queensbury’s Maddie Montgomery are the heirs apparent.

Maple Ski Ridge

January is national Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. It is the mild terrain of Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam where many area skiers learned to make their first turns. Six-week instructional programs begin the week of Jan. 7. For dates, times, and rates, call of 381-4700, or go to www.mapleskiridge.com.

Happy New Year to all!

Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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