Big Tupper one step closer to opening

TUPPER LAKE – It will take more than volunteers to get Big Tupper Ski Area’s lifts running again.

Paperwork, permits and inspections are also part of the preparatory process.

“People think ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy) just goes up there and switches the lights on, but that’s not the case,” said Jim LaValley, chairman of ARISE. “There’s a whole punch card of things we need to take care of before we can open.”

On Oct. 28, LaValley punched another hole in the card when the state Adirondack Park Agency issued ARISE a permit granting “temporary re-use of an existing ski facility, previously permitted by prior Agency permits.”

“It’s an example of one of a great working relationship,” LaValley said. “The APA has really helped guide ARISE in getting Big Tupper up and running again.”

Moving forward, ARISE must obtain a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which ensures that wastewater and stormwater discharges are in accordance with the Clean Water Act.

ARISE also needs approval from the state Department of Health, mostly to deal with the lack of potable water at the resort. ARISE will either have to install a new chlorination system or find another way to provide water to visitors.

“ARISE is in no position to replace that chlorination system, so we’ll have to put in water coolers so water is available,” LaValley said. “We’ll also have to have signage near water faucets telling people not to drink the water.”

As if that’s not enough, LaValley said ARISE must also satisfy the state Department of Labor’s requirements. That includes having an outside agency inspect the lifts and installing adequate signage on all the trails.

The insurance company representing ARISE will also do its own safety inspection of the mountain.

“None of these entities are being obstructionists, they’re just looking out for the safety of everyone on the mountain,” LaValley said.

LaValley expects everything will be in order by early December, well before Big Tupper’s tentative opening day of Dec. 26. In the meantime, he said he will focus on negotiating the purchase of a new trail groomer.

Last year, ARISE sold one of the ski center’s groomers to Titus Mountain Family Ski Center near Malone, which gave the group a little extra cash. LaValley said volunteer mechanics have worked on Big Tupper’s remaining groomer, but it isn’t enough.

In the past, there have been up to four paid employees manning the center’s 25-plus trails. To help maximize revenue, the ski center will be completely volunteer-run this winter.

“The expertise within that volunteer pool is phenomenal, and comes from many years of experience within the ski industry, not just at Big Tupper but from Whiteface, from Vermont, from Colorado and from the Northwest,” LaValley said. “Our volunteers really have an incredible background in ski experience.”

Some of those volunteer positions require special training. For instance lift attendants must receive training in safety procedures like emergency evacuation before they can work the slopes.

Training volunteers might add more work to an already-full workload, but LaValley said the number of people wanting to help is indicative of the community spirit in Tupper Lake.

“I have to tell you, this community has really come out to support Big Tupper,” LaValley said. “We have 200 to 300 volunteers signed up right now. That covers everything from ski patrol and lift attendants to people taking tickets and sweeping the floors.”

Once the mountain opens, chairlifts 2 and 3 and the rope tow will service 23 trails ranging from beginner to expert. Season passes won’t be sold, but day passes will cost $25.

On Dec. 14, the formal-dress Snow Ball will be held in the Big Tupper lodge to raise money to support the ski center.

“It became really evident when we we opened four years ago for the first time, there was an excitement in the community,” LaValley said. “When we weren’t able to operate last winter, you could just feel that people were kind of down a little bit on it. It should be an exciting season for us.”