Who will run Pisgah ski center?

SARANAC LAKE – After years of running Mount Pisgah Ski Center with village employees, the village is now looking for someone else to do it, at least for this winter.

The village Board of Trustees voted 3-1 Monday to give village Manager John Sweeney authority to seek proposals for management of the ski center for the upcoming winter. The resolution says the move is an “effort to establish the most cost-effective way to run the ski center.”

“We’re just trying to look at what our options are,” Sweeney told the board prior to the vote.

The move comes five months after Charlie Martin resigned as village parks and recreation director, a position that included managing Mount Pisgah, in what he described as a dispute over his pay and a lack of direction from the village over his job responsibilities. The vacancy has yet to be advertised.

Sweeney said after the meeting that he hasn’t tried to fill the position yet because he didn’t have approval from the board to do so.

He called the decision to solicit proposals for management of the ski center “an opportunity.

“This is an option to be looked at to see if we have a talented group out there who will run it as a contractor,” he said. “They’re going to have to obviously be able to manage it, do the financial portion of it, do the maintenance stuff, still basically through the village of Saranac Lake, but we would individually contract with this person for the management of it.”

Sweeney said he’s been approached by two people who have expressed interest in running the mountain, “but until I put the whole package together and say, ‘This is the whole deal,’ I don’t know if they’re still going to be interested.”

One of the first groups he plans to approach, Sweeney said, is the Friends of Mount Pisgah, which took over snowmaking operations at the mountain last winter.

“If they say ‘No,’ we’ll go to the next one,” Sweeney said. “We may find out nobody’s interested.”

Martin was making $31,200 plus benefits when he resigned. Whether it would save the village money to hire another recreation director or manager, or to hire an outside contractor to run the mountain remains to be seen, Sweeney said.

“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” he said. “I don’t know what the number is going to be that comes in.”

Trustee Paul Van Cott cast the lone dissenting vote against seeking proposals to operate the ski center. He said he wants to “leave a placeholder” for refilling the recreation director position.

“I think that’s an important position for the village, and I’m concerned that we not forget about it,” Van Cott said. “I certainly appreciate the necessity of doing something now to cover us through the winter, but I don’t want it to be a precedent for how we’re going to handle management of our parks like Mount Pisgah going forward.

“We’re doing so much towards implementation of the destination master plan, and the development of trails, and the use of our parks, I think it’s important to have somebody who has a big-picture view of that. I want to make sure that discussion continues so that hopefully next spring we can rehire that position rather than think about going with a contractor.”

Mount Pisgah typically costs village taxpayers more to run than it makes in revenue each winter. However, the number of skiers and snowboarders who came to the mountain last winter was up, in part due to a longer ski season. A total of 933 day passes were sold during the winter of 2012-13, an increase from the prior winter – the warmest on record – when 618 day passes were sold, according to figures Martin provided the Enterprise in March. The mountain sold 874 passes during the winter of 2010-11. Season pass sales were flat last winter, but sales of tubing passes increased from 1,182 to 1,272. The mountain was open from Dec. 27 to March 24.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.