Whiteface makes the most of high-tech snowmaking gear

WILMINGTON – Journalists from around the northeast visited Whiteface Mountain Ski Center Wednesday for its annual media day.

They got a tour of the trails and a taste of cuisine from Centerplate, which provides food services there.

General Manager Aaron Kellet touted the mountain as place where the employees are passionate about their jobs.

“We’re a ski mountain run by skiers, and we take a step back all the time and say, ‘Do we like this?'” Kellet told the journalists. “Our groomers are out at night. When they’re done, they come and they snowboard. We feel we have a real advantage that way. Everyone is really vested in what we offer and what we do.

“Every person we hire, we ask them, ‘Do you ski or snowboard?’ That’s not been something that’s been a part of the culture here over the years. There was a lot of people who didn’t ski or snowboard, believe it or not. But we’re finding the more people that ski and snowboard that work here, the more they are vested in the job, and they take a lot of pride in what they do.”

Kellet, who has been skiing since the age of 2, has been Whiteface’s general manager since fall 2012. One of the more notable changes that has occurred since he took over is that the mountain has opened up two weeks earlier than the traditional Friday after Thanksgiving both years. This winter’s Nov. 15 opening was the earliest on record by one day, set the previous year.

“The technology is crazy right now,” Kellet said. “It’s hard to keep up with, and it’s expensive to keep up with, but you know, it pays for itself back really quick.”

Kellet said this winter the mountain is opening trails at a pace faster than last year. He pointed out that the Mountain Run trail was fully open on this day and loaded with snow. Last winter, it didn’t open until Dec. 18.

Kellet said the mountain expects to open Kids’ Kampus for novice skiers this weekend. Trails near the summit such as Paron’s Run and The Follies will see snowmaking next week, which would have them open in time for the Christmas week.

The early opening is due to the cold weather combined with high-tech snow guns purchased in recent years. The guns are fully automated and pretty large. They have weather stations built into them, allowing them to make snow only when the temperature is conducive to that activity.

Kellet also said the ski center hopes to continue to make improvements to its snowmaking capabilities.

“Maybe as early as next spring we’re going to start a new project at the river to boost pressure up the mountain, to draw more water,” Kellet said. “Increasing the pressure from the river pump house, which is right below us, will essentially increase the pressure all the way up the mountain. As we pump more water, it’s drastically less expensive for us and greener.”

He did note that the older, more inefficient ground guns still are useful because they are easy to move around, which is important in places such as Paron’s Run near the summit.

Liz Mezzetti, marketing director for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority which runs Whiteface, told the journalists about the various marketing initiatives at the mountain and ORDA venues. This year, ORDA will emphasize its ties to the Olympics because of the Winter Games in Sochi this February.

Venues will offer free trading cards of local Olympians, such as biathlete Tim Burke and nordic combined skier Billy Demong, and even an Olympic-related challenge for the public. Visitors will be encouraged to visit the Olympic venues and time themselves in events at places such as Whiteface and the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid.

The mountain will also take part in the second year of Discover New York Skiing days on Dec. 19 and Jan. 9. On those days, trail passes will only cost $12 at all participating New York alpine ski hills.

“This is a way to get people back out on the mountain,” Mezzetti said.