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By Phil Johnson, originally published in The Daily Gazette, March 8, 2018
The news from West Mountain continues to be good.
It wasn’t that long ago when talk about the Glens Falls ski area focused on the need for a rescue mission: It was floundering, with obsolete lifts and unreliable snowmaking.
Not anymore. West, part of the regional ski scene since 1961, is alive and well once again.
Here are a couple of statistics to help make the point.
Since Spencer Montgomery led a group of partners to take over at West in 2013-14, the snowmaking capacity at the area has increased by 100 percent.
The number of lessons given is three times larger.
The ski racing program has expanded from six participants five years ago to 70 this winter.
There are now 1,600 kids in after-school programs at West.
Add a major upgrade in the main mountain lift, expanded and improved skiable terrain, new lighting and an improved tubing park, and it is clear that this ski hill off Northway Exit 18 is a much better place today.
“We are still a work in progress,” Montgomery said earlier this week. “I’d say we are about 75 percent of where I would like to be right now.
“We want to have a new lift in place in the Northwest area by next season, with full snowmaking to come and a new lodge there.”
And these are just the plans for the immediate future. After that, the hope is for an expanded or new main base lodge, summer activities to help West become a year-round attraction, and eventually lodging that could turn West from a day area into a family resort.
Now, sometimes plans are just dreams that come up in conversation. In this case, the Montgomerys have gone all-in to make it happen. While Spencer is the co-owner and operator, wife Sara is the general manager in charge of day-to-day area operations. They live in a home at the mountain. Older son Hunter, a sophomore at Queensbury High School, just won the New York State high school slalom championship, while his sister, Maddie, a junior, finished second in the state girls’ competition. Younger sister Meredith, 12, and brother Hudson, 9, are both racers.
Spencer, a Glens Falls native, grew up skiing at West Mountain, and raced locally in high school. His interest in youth competition is clear from the expansion of the program at West since he has been in change. Veteran race coach Sean Warman was brought in to lead the program that this winter will host 45 competitions.
A point of pride for Montgomery is that his hill is now FIS homologated for slalom and giant slalom, meaning he can host officially sanctioned racing at West. With a little more tweaking of the terrain, he expects to do even more, including longer Super G races.
As ski operators and consumers know very well, the pathway is not always a clear one. For instance, the cold weather over the important Christmas-New Year holiday had a substantial impact on business.
“We were off by at least 40 percent from a year ago.” Spencer Montgomery said.
But even that turned out to have some redeeming value.
“At least the cold weather during that time was great for snowmaking,” Montgomery said. “We were able to put a lot of cover on the hill and that is still part of the base we are skiing on today. We are now back on our skier-visit target for the winter.”
Montgomery looks at the ski season as a December-through-March operation: “If we can start earlier or continue into April, that’s great. But our goal is to promise at least a full four-month season each year. We like to believe we can do that.”
With all of the ski industry consolidation and multi-area lift agreements already in place and seemingly growing in number, West remains a standalone, at least right now.
“Our market is for families,” Montgomery said. “People come here to learn to ski and be comfortable while they do it. Unlike some big mountains, they know that wherever they end up during the day, they will be able to come right back and meet up at the base.”
Montgomery has brought West a long way in just a few years. There is a way to go, but there is momentum on his side right now. For now the route to the finish this winter is well covered and finely groomed, and area skiers once again have an old favorite that seems to be sticking around for the long haul.
WORLD UNIVERSITY GAMES
The announcement earlier this week that Lake Placid will host the World University Games in 2023 is a big deal. While it may not be the Winter Olympics, it will be the largest sports competition in our area since the 1980 Winter Games, with 2,400 athletes from around the world expected to compete over an 11-day period.
The announcement follows word earlier this winter that Lake Placid will host the 2019 Olympic-like International Childrens’ Games and the 2021 Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships. With the announcement of the games, watch for word about facility upgrades for winter sports venues. Gondola projects at both Whiteface and Gore were undertaken right after the Goodwill Games were announced in the late 1990s.
Jim Blaise gets to show off his snow base at Royal Mountain Saturday as the area hosts the Fool’s Gold Rail Jam. It is a noon start. Royal, with its weekend-and-holidays-only operation, gets to protect its base, which in recent days has grown by more than a foot on top of the two-foot machine-made cover from earlier this winter. The Rail Jam is an all-comers event with open registration from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Caroga Lake Hill.
A reminder of how dramatically the weather can change comes from Chic Wilson who operates Willard Mountain in Greenwich. On consecutive weeks over the Christmas-New Year holidays, he cancelled his ski lesson programs. The first week it was minus-26 degrees at the mountain. A week later, it was 70. That is a 96-degree swing in just seven days.