What’s going on at West Mountain?
The short answer seems to be good things!
Not too long ago, the picture wasn’t very promising. Local support had waned, and the area was bankrupt. But this long-time piece of the Capital Region ski picture now appears to be in full comeback mode, beyond the “hope” threshold, and with solid local support, now firmly into the “what’s next” stage.
New trails and upgrades to the old layout have freshened the ski experience and the new lift in front of the main lodge has improved the quality of the area significantly in the past two seasons. Next comes the resurrection of the adjacent Northwest trail configuration with a new lift and a new base lodge.
Flash back just a few years and try to imagine the West Mountain that you see today. Unlikely!
Credit Spencer Montgomery, a fourth generation Glens Falls native who, with wife Sara and four children, moved back to the area from Colorado six years ago. Montgomery and his five siblings grew up skiing at West, “from the time I was 3,” he recalls.
In 2014, Montgomery, along with investor-partners, took over the area and brought it out of bankruptcy. Despite a near disastrous 2015-16 snow drought season when it was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve, he has pushed the area forward since day one.
His first achievement was to upgrade the base lodge bathrooms, an improvement that brought instant notice and appreciation from area regulars. Just last week, West played host to the New York under-14 alpine championships that attracted more than 140 of the best young skiers from across the state. That would not have happened at West in the years before the ownership change.
The event? “Spectacular,” said Montgomery, whose four children are all ski racers. “We got great reviews”.
Since the early 1960s, West has played a significant role in helping our area become one of the best in the country in making skiing a major part of the winter season. Data indicates that, with the possible exception of Denver, the Capital District metro area has a higher percentage of the population that claims to ski than any other metropolitan center in the country.
It makes sense. We are surrounded by ski areas, small ones where children are introduced to the sport, and big areas that offer a wide variety of skiing and resort options.
But what makes our area truly special is the variety of ski possibilities in the middle: Great places to spend the day with more variety than the beginners only and not the commitment of a resort, places like Catamount and Windham to our south, Jiminy Peak and Butternut to the east and the “Cheers goes skiing” surroundings at Royal Mountain to the west .
That’s the niche for West Mountain. It is easy to get to, just off Exit 18 off I-87. And with a vertical of just under 1,000 feet, it offers solid skiing options.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it was a hopping place. Then things began to slide and over the next 20 years, infrastructure aged and facilities became outdated. Ownership placed much of the blame on New York State and claimed unfair competition, especially Gore Mountain in North Creek.
The geography hasn’t changed. Gore is still there, and this year, the state has promised resources to underwrite improvements and new facilities.
Montgomery could stomp and growl. But he hasn’t, and won’t.
“I believe in the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ notion,” he said last week. “If something is good for skiing, then my area will benefit, too. We have great local support. People look at us as part of the family. As long as we keep improving and moving forward, we’ll be okay.”
It doesn’t happen overnight. The original three-year plan? “It is now a five-year plan,” Montgomery said.
With Sara as the area general manager taking on many of the inside duties, Montgomery is free to focus on decisions in the field like what kind of road base work best for parking lot access and how to clear brush to keep future trail development practical. He is right at home driving a four-wheeler on the hill. But he worked in finance before coming back to Glens Falls in 2011, and that background is at least as important as snowmaking and grooming. Raising money is a big part of his challenge.
And he likes the trends he brings to the table.
“We will have 60,000 skier visits this year, almost twice what we had three years ago,” Montgomery said. “We are pointing to 100,000. The new terrain will help that and new hotels being built at the nearby Northway exists will help too. We now have 1,500 people in our ski programs, more than double what we had when I took over.”
West Mountain is a key resource to skiing in our region. Signs now are that it will remain the same for years to come.
The recent mild weather and rain spells has brought an end to the season at Maple Ski Ridge.
The 35th annual Lake Placid Loppet that was postponed last month is now set for next Saturday at Mt. VanHoevenberg. Registration for the 25- and 50-Km classic and freestyle races is open through Tuesday.
The Alpine FIS World Cup finals are scheduled to begin Wednesday in Aspen, Colo. Because this event is in Aspen, a World Cup normally scheduled for the Colorado resort in November was shifted to Killington. There is no decision yet on whether the World Cup will come back to Vermont next fall.
Phil Johnson can be reached at pcj1407@gmail.