The Adirondack and Catskill Parks mean many things to many people. Chief among them are wilderness and the natural world, for that is why these precious areas were earmarked for conservation.
Our work at New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) is inherently complex. ORDA is mandated to preserve the Olympic Region’s legacy, to advance recreation opportunities, host international events, and to boost economic development. As a robust economic engine operating within the blue lines of both parks, achieving those goals also depends on the thoughtful, careful, and continual stewardship of the natural environment.
That is why being a steward of the New York State Forest Preserve and the lands on which our venues are located is among our greatest responsibilities. As people who live in, work in, and love the Adirondacks and Catskills, ORDA will always be part of the sustainability solution.
Our Sustainability Practices
Two massive solar array installations are helping protect future winters by offsetting electric use with renewable energy – in essence, turning sunlight into snow. Gore Mountain’s 14,589-panel solar array spans 20 acres and generates 5.3 Megawatts of power. That array is the largest in the United States dedicated to a ski area. Whiteface Mountain’s 9,000 panel system spans 12 acres and generates 2.6 Megawatts.
These systems generate renewable energy for the local power grids, providing a source of clean electricity in the regions they are located. ORDA collects the energy credit, and the savings are applied to the facilities.
Hybrid Snow Groomers
The cleanest, quietest snow groomer on Earth is the Pisten Bully 600E+. With six of these engineering marvels in our fleet, ORDA grooming teams are boosting their energy efficiency. Automatically assessing variables, such as slope gradient, speed, and hydraulic tiller output, the snowcat’s engines provide optimal grooming with minimal fuel consumption. The 600E+’s engine drives electric motors and is 30 percent more fuel efficient than the best alternative. These machines comply not only with US EPA standards but also with the most stringent emission requirements for off-road machinery in the world.
Visitors to our ski centers expect great conditions, and our top-notch skier experiences depend on our getting trails open and ensuring they are in excellent shape. When it comes to creating a solid base for skiers and riders, snowmaking is essential.
Today, ORDA is achieving greater efficiency in snowmaking, due to smart investments in systems and equipment. In fact, over the previous 10 years snowmaking efficiencies kept our average ski resort energy use flat, despite increases in the number of ski lifts, increases in days of operations (thanks to increased snowmaking), and an ever-vigilant devotion to creating outstanding skiing and snowboarding conditions. And we are expanding those successes across our ski resorts. Because snowmaking accounts for approximately 70 percent of ski resort energy requirements, this work is a high priority. The goal is more snow, faster, with less energy.
Snow gun replacement offers the greatest results toward achieving that goal. New snow gun technology increases the rate of conversion from water to snow without upping water use. This makes new snow gun installation a revolution in efficiency on the order of LED lighting compared with incandescent bulbs.
In combination with new snow guns, compressors are a major part of the energy savings equation, too. Working together, these separate devices mix compressed air and water to create snow crystals and direct them to the ski trail. ORDA not only eliminated the use of rental compressors for snowmaking that require diesel but also installed new systems that use less air, require less time, and use less overall energy to produce the same volume of snow. And they even work better under a range of weather conditions.
Water use and pumping efficiencies offer additional opportunities. To best protect our water resources and more efficiently using our permitted withdrawal capacities, we rebuilt pumphouses and water systems at all our ski resorts. Important new technologies that went into them include main lines that lift water more efficiently and new valve systems that send water in more precise amounts directly where it’s needed. In addition, soft starters for snowmaking pumps and compressors decrease the in-rush of current needed to get the equipment up to speed.
Variable frequency drives are yet another energy saving device. They conserve power by controlling the rate water is withdrawn for snowmaking, thereby optimizing output of systems as the natural environment changes energy demands.
An additional enhancement – a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system – controls all pumps, compressors, and valves used in snowmaking. The ability to control snowmaking infrastructure remotely helps reduce the duration of its use. The guns can also be manually shut off based on field determinations during operation. These changes decreased not only the energy costs associated with snowmaking but also the time and labor required. In turn, that improves our ability to open more trails earlier in the season. These efforts have been funded, in part, through New York State Energy, Research, and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and National Grid rebates as energy saving measures.
Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Lighting
ORDA has been working at all its venues to make an important switch from standard fluorescent and incandescent lighting to LED technology. The latter is highly energy-efficient and uses 75 percent less energy than traditional lighting. They also provide our teams the ability to control light direction and intensity and thereby reduce light pollution while maximizing efficiency. Additionally, the added control allows ORDA teams to creatively use color and dim and fade functions to visually recognize teams of different nations and evoke themes during events.
Fuel Oil to Propane
Along with the addition of solar technologies, ORDA successfully phased out fuel oil for boilers, replacing this energy source with propane. In fact, the organization is actively transitioning building operations away from fuel oil entirely. The switch makes heating more efficient and cost-effective with less liability and a far lower impact on the environment. Propane offers a higher energy content and is a cleaner burning fuel that produces fewer emissions than fuel oil, including 13.5 percent less carbon dioxide per million BTUs. Propane also comes with the added benefit of being non-toxic, non-caustic, and virtually odorless, and as such, it does not create an environmental hazard if released as a liquid or vapor into the water or soil.
Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy was born on ice. Since 1924 when local speedskater Charles Jewtraw won the very first gold medal ever awarded in the Winter Olympics, many of the moments that made us who we are today were made on ice.
Just as Lake Placid’s history is born from ice, Lake Placid’s ice is born from refrigeration. This history dates back as far as the Region’s Olympic history. The 1932 Jack Shea Arena was the first indoor ice sheet ever used for the Olympics. Furthermore, for the 1980 Games, the expanded Olympic Center complex put into place one of the largest single refrigeration plants in the country to maintain all three hockey rinks and its speed skating oval.
Thanks to refrigeration, ice surfaces inside our Olympic Center and at Mt Van Hoevenberg’s indoor push track are in use year-round. In addition, the outdoor seasons at Mt Van Hoevenberg and the James C. Sheffield Olympic Speed Skating Oval are far more reliable.
Since recent upgrades, ORDA cooling systems are boosting output while using less energy. ORDA’s industrial refrigeration improvements have not only met or exceeded all code requirements but also operate at a sustained level that uses about 20 percent less energy during typical operations. That’s a difference that generates energy savings month after month and takes the same consistent load off the local energy grid.
In addition to helping protect our precious winters, the efficiencies that come with these advanced cooling systems allow more reliable operation of the historic speed skating oval. That translates to more skating days and consistent conditions for events. These events, athlete training, and family skating fun are staples in Lake Placid that all get a boost from better ice throughout more of the winter.
To add to the efficiencies of these systems, the waste heat from the refrigeration compressors is used not only to melt snow scrapings in the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena but also to the heat hydronic glycol that melts snow on walkways around the Olympic Center. This is another practical way ORDA is incorporating life cycle decision making to the design criteria of projects.
New Administrative Building
As with the modernization of venues, ORDA also integrated sustainability into the planning and development of its new administrative facility. This includes significant sunlight into workspaces, vehicle fleet structure with EV charging stations, and low profile visual impact considerations from exterior colors to air handling equipment inside the building (versus on the roof). Additionally, the facility has an electric snow melt system at the entrance to reduce the application of salt, further embracing the Randy Preston Salt Reduction Act. These approaches reflect ORDA’s core values, increasing the sense of community and responsibility to respect and maintain the environment.
The elusive Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) is designated a Species of Special Concern by the New York Natural Heritage Program. A migrant bird that winters in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, it nests and breeds in mountaintop fir forest habitats as is found high on Whiteface and Gore Mountains in summertime. The species has lost winter nesting habitat, which has caused these concerns.
Mitigation measures and best management practices for construction were initiated in the 2006 Unit Management Plan (UMP) for Whiteface Mountain and again in the 2022 UMP Amendment. Within this plan ORDA restricts all tree cutting at elevations above 2800 feet to protect the bird’s habitat during its breeding season, May 15 through August 1.
The birds’ ethereal song can still be heard high on Whiteface and Gore Mountains, and each summer people come from all over to see and hear Bicknell’s Thrush. Some say that seeing and hearing the bird along with the beauty and majesty of the mountain is among the highlights of their lives.
Salt Use Reduction
Over 190,000 tons of road salt are applied each year in the Adirondacks, posing a threat to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems as well as to water quality for residents. ORDA actively supported adoption of the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act of 2020, and in cooperation with the NYS DOT and Adirondack municipalities, ORDA modified salt use practices to protect water resources and animal habitats across the region. In specific locations, such as Gore Mountain’s Sundeck and Belleayre’s Discovery and Overlook Lodges, radiant snow melt capabilities entirely eliminate salt use. ORDA also educates guests on salt reduction efforts and asks guests to drive slower in environmentally sensitive areas.
Locally Sourced Foods
ORDA facilities are home to many dining options for visitors. At all venues, ORDA works with its food service partners to incorporate locally produced foods in menus. This practice boosts economic development while shrinking the distance from farm to table, thereby decreasing both the costs and environmental impacts of transportation.
Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
ORDA supports venue guests’ individual efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by providing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at Gore Mountain, Whiteface Mountain, and Mt Van Hoevenberg. EV charging stations are a vital precursor to electric vehicle ownership and a necessity for guests who are often early adopters of the technology. To date, EV charging stations at ORDA venues have saved 23,411 kilograms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from being released into the environment, analogous to planting 600 trees and allowing them to grow for 10 years.
Two electric Zambonis at ORDA’s Olympic Center are changing the game on ice maintenance emissions. These new ice-resurfacing machines are 100 percent electric and offer exceptional charging efficiency with zero tailpipe emissions. The events schedule at the Olympic Center is year-round, and ice resurfacing is performed at high frequency. The electric Zamboni is an advancement that makes maintaining our indoor ice surfaces truly emission-free.
Lithium-Ion batteries maintain higher voltage significantly longer than a lead acid battery throughout the discharge cycle. This means the machine always has the same power level and the driver never experiences a reduction in performance. The batteries have exceptional charge efficiency, meaning it takes less electricity and significantly less time to recharge. Lithium-ion batteries are sealed and require no maintenance. These self-contained lithium-ion batteries no longer require you to water the batteries, measure the open circuit voltage, handle electrolyte containing sulfuric acid, or clean-up battery corrosion. There are no tailpipe emissions and no off-gassing of the batteries during charging, providing a truly emission-free resurfacing vehicle that does not release emissions into the building.
All ORDA tickets are printed on reusable and reloadable cards that use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. This gives guests a hassle-free and seamless ticketing experience with direct lift access and no waiting in lines. And it’s all 100 percent online with zero waste. With RFID media, guests can use the same card over many years.
ORDA’s venues provide opportunities for “frontcountry” hiking that optimizes use of existing infrastructure while also offsetting growing challenges from large numbers of people on popular wilderness trails. Opportunities abound at Belleayre, Gore Mountain, Whiteface Mountain, and Mt Van Hoevenberg to offer trails for hikers of varying abilities.
These venues come complete with facilities including restrooms, retail, and foodservice, plus other activities, including adventure attractions and scenic skyrides. Trails with such unique advantages make them attractive alternatives, serving to reduce pressure on sensitive wilderness areas. As demand for wilderness experiences has grown in recent years, these centers’ use has grown. Hiking opportunities range from interpretive strolls stimulating interest in the natural environment to relaxing wooded loops to challenging peak summit quests. Hikers may even ride a chairlift or gondola, start at a higher elevation, and hike uphill or downhill.
The Mt Van Hoevenberg East Trail is one of the newest hikes in the Adirondacks. Constructed in cooperation with the DEC with a hardened surface, it is a model of sustainable trail design. With ample parking at the Mountain Pass Lodge, this trail offers hikers of varying abilities stunning views of the High Peaks in a moderate out and back hike.
To assist in guiding guests to great experiences, ORDA provides helpful staff at ORDA venues and interpretive information on some trails. These advantages help visitors learn about and appreciate the history, ecology, and geology of the Adirondack and Catskill areas as well as educate guests on climate protection and forest preservation. Such self-guided hiking that also offers education and the convenient access to ORDA facilities is a valuable alternative for many.
Recognition and Awards
Protecting the environment is the clear purpose of sustainability efforts. Recognition is not. But recognition does offer evidence from outside agencies that our leadership and actions are substantial and effective. The recognition and awards ORDA have earned to date are only the beginning. Our commitment to environmental stewardship will not waver. On behalf of the great State of New York, its citizens, and future generations, our work will continue.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely used building rating system in the world. LEED certification recognizes healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings by evaluating a variety of factors, including transportation, sustainable land use, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and innovation. The Conference Center in Lake Placid is LEED Gold certified, thanks to our work with the US Green Building Council (USGBC).
In addition, the New York State Olympic Region itself achieved LEED Gold certification, joining a distinguished group of communities around the world. The New York Olympic Region (NYOR) is a partnership created between ORDA, the Town of North Elba, the Village of Lake Placid, and the Lake Placid Central School District. The partners work together to continue the enhancement of regional economic prosperity and social mobility while remaining responsible for and responsive to the sensitive ecology of the Adirondack Park. The Region uses a metrics-based, community-specific approach to understand how innovation, new technologies, and novel approaches help achieve these divergent goals. Working with a Clarkson University research team to analyze data, the Region achieved LEED Gold certification. The NYOR will be updating their metrics this year to keep a LEED Gold Certification and in preparation for the 2023 World University Games. It is anticipated that additional partners will kickstart a holistic review of energy metrics with the goal of joining the NYOR in the near future.
NYS DEC Environmental Excellence Award – Gore, 2018
This program recognizes those who are implementing innovative sustainable actions to improve and protect New York State’s environment and contribute to a healthier economy. Award recipients are those who have demonstrated significant and measurable environmental, economic and social benefits as a result of new and unique projects or programs that go beyond standard techniques or regulatory requirements.
Golden Eagle Awards
Presented by the National Ski Area Association’s Climate Challenge initiative, the Golden Eagle awards are the highest honors bestowed on ski resorts for their environmental performance, recognizing those ski areas striving to make a sustainable difference in observable ways. The NSAA celebrates the best in sustainability programs and leadership across the North American continent, and their recognition of ORDA’s work is noteworthy:
Gore Mountain – Golden Eagle for Overall Environmental Excellence, 2016.
Gore Mountain – Three Silver Eagle Awards for Excellence in these disciplines: Environmental Education, Environmental Group Relations, and Minimization of Visual Impact.
Whiteface Mountain – Silver Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence in Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection.
Whiteface Mountain – Climate Change Impact Award Finalist, 2020.