He was the obvious choice. The offer was inevitable. The only question was would he accept.
He did, and Mike Pratt, Lake Placid native, SUNY Potsdam graduate, and general manager at Gore Mountain for the past 20 years is the new president of The Olympic Regional Development Authority, effective immediately. ORDA markets and manages New York State’s three ski centers — Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre — plus several Olympics venues around Lake Placid.
Pratt is 55 years old and, with the exception of two years in Colorado after college, is an Adirondack lifer. His dad was a long-time sports administrator in Lake Placid and once served as interim CEO of ORDA. Pratt’s wife, Sandi, owns a real estate business in North Creek, and his daughter, Lexi, is a senior at Clarkson.
Pratt went to work for ORDA at Gore Mountain in 1986, and was named general manager is 1996. As the newly appointed ORDA chief, he succeeds Ted Blazer, who announced his departure in December after 20 years at the helm.
It is a job that has legs. The first CEO after the Authority was created in 1982, was Ned Harkness, the legendary hockey coach whose my-way-or-the-highway style over the next 11 years got things done but created enemies along the way. After Lake Placid outsider Bob Fries served a brief term as ORDA chief, Blazer, who had been the mountain manager at Whiteface, came in and with his natural enthusiasm repaired a lot of the frayed relations created in earlier years.
Now comes Mike Pratt.
If you could compare the CEO position at ORDA to an old western movie, Pratt would be played by Gary Cooper, not John Wayne. He is a quiet, capable guy who is much more at home working on operations details than schmoozing with legislators and dignitaries.
But he knows he’ll be called on to do both. “I own ties, and I can pull out a suit or a sports coat when I need to,” he insisted last weekend in a meeting at Gore.
He has long had a seat at the table for the quarterly meetings of the authority’s Board of Directors. There will be no learning curve required to take on projects planned for the coming year, which include an expansion of the Saddle Lodge and the base lodge, plus a new mountaintop warming hut at Gore and expansion of both the Bear Den children’s facility and the base lodge at Whiteface. Belleayre is in line for lodge expansion plus a new bottom-to-top gondola lift. There are also plans in the works for a zip line at Whiteface and a mountain coaster at Mt VanHoevenberg, both aimed at boosting non-winter activities in the Lake Placid area.
Capital projects aside, Pratt has been around the ski business for a long time and he knows what’s important. “Snowmaking is always at the top of the list,” he said. “The ability to make snow efficiently is essential. And I understand the importance of maintenance and infrastructure.”
But there is much more to the ORDA position than ski area management.
One area where he will need help is events, a big part of the ORDA mission. Lake Placid hosted more than 60 World Cup and World Championship events during Blazer’s term. Not an issue, Pratt believes. “I am inheriting a great staff with years of experience in pulling off world-class competitions. I am confident we will get the job done.”
For years, Pratt’s office has overlooked the base area at Gore. He could be anywhere on the mountain in minutes. Now when he looks out his window in Lake Placid, he’ll see automobile traffic on Main Street. No problem, he insists.
“I am a planner,” he said. “My goal is always to make tomorrow a little better than today.”
Other challenges he will face include succession planning. The core group of Lake Placid-based senior staffers are older than Pratt, and have been around ORDA for years. Then there is the ever-present tension between the state-run and the privately operated ski areas throughout the state. That issue has been somewhat muted in recent years, but new state funding could bring it out once again. And there is the intramural issue of Gore — and now Belleayre — skiers who believe that Lake Placid and Whiteface are always first in line when it comes to resources. Pratt’s tenure at Gore should help minimize that concern.
To his credit, Pratt brings with him to Lake Placid a great record for environmental stewardship. Gore, under his leadership, has won several awards from the National Ski Areas Association, beating out prominent competitors such as Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Beaver Creek. In 2016, Gore won the Golden Eagle Award from NSAA for outstanding environmental achievement for a medium size ski area. Gore now creates about 85 percent of its energy use from solar power. Pratt’s efforts here blend well with the Cuomo Administration’s intention to have all the ski facilities energy self sufficient by 2030.
The ORDA position is a homecoming for Pratt.
In his desk at Gore, Pratt has kept a photo of the massive on-ice celebration by U.S. players at the end of the legendary “Miracle on Ice” hockey win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics. In the upper right corner of that famous picture is a skinny kid on the ice walking behind the scrum.
“It was a wild scene,” recalls Pratt who worked in maintenance during the games. “What I was thinking was ‘How am I going to clean up this mess?’ ”
Mike Pratt knows how to keep his eye on the basics.
Another Alpine World Cup?
As early as next week, officials at Killington are expected to announce that they will host a women’s World Cup Alpine event again next November. The competition, the first World Cup ski event in the Northeast since 1991, was very successful last Thanksgiving, and may have earned the Vermont area a place on the annual schedule previously held by Aspen.
West in Training
Union College sophomore Tucker West will skip the spring academic term to train full time for next winter’s Olympic Games. West won two World Cup Luge competitions en route to a seventh place standing in the overall World Cup standings this year.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].