(The second article in a series on summer projects at Olympic Authority mountains)
In 1949, Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills boasted five trails and the first chair lift ever in the State of New York. Though its facilities were austere, such as the dirt floor in the cafeteria, the mountain’s management continually upgraded and refined them over the decades, and the mountain’s popularity grew along with the improvements.
Then in 2012, Belleayre’s operations were transferred to the Olympic Authority, and that success accelerated. Today, with 64 trails, eight lifts, including the Catskill Thunder Gondola, high-efficiency snowmaking systems, modern learning facilities, and three lodges, Belleayre is an ideal destination for families as well as highly skilled skiers and riders.
The Impacts of Upgrades
The upgrades continue to change the guest experience which, in turn, is changing where people go to ski and snowboard. In the 2022-23 season, skiers and riders flocked to Belleayre, producing record-breaking numbers, including 29 percent more visitors and 48 percent more revenue. The obvious fact is upgrades in recent years are shifting consumer preference and boosting sales big time.
This summer, work continues on multiple fronts. After all, though Belleayre is best known for being an alpine ski and snowboard wonderland, the mountain and its possibilities are far more expansive. So in addition to upgrading lifts, increasing snowmaking capacity, diversifying terrain and accessibility, future projects are also planned to expand summer hiking and mountain biking trails, upgrade Nordic ski trails, continue to improve sustainability, and install electric vehicle charging stations.
The Rigorous Planning Process
A major precursor to achieving such important goals is developing a Unit Management Plan (UMP). While the plans of many organizations are written without outside input, a UMP is different. It requires research, collaboration, careful analysis, a full environmental assessment, and public review and input before it can be seriously considered. The Belleayre UMP is a roadmap, forged jointly between the NYSDEC and the Olympic Authority’s Environmental, Planning, and Construction team, that aligns the destination goals with careful consideration of the ongoing preservation flora and fauna and all the beautiful natural treasures than make up a region like the Catskills.
The biggest of projects in recent years was the continuing upgrades in the efficiency and effectiveness of snowmaking systems. Those advances continue yet this summer in an effort to replace the final pieces of older equipment, including 27,000 feet of pipe with the new and greatly improved hardware, as well as 250 HKD Impulse R5 tower snow guns and 5 SMI Super Polecats, replacing old high-energy-consumption snow guns. These will allow crews to make snow more efficiently and better utilize water pumping capabilities.
The totality of these upgrades over several years is among Belleayre’s most celebrated achievements and has guests reveling in the early openings and the reliability of conditions, even when weather conditions aren’t cooperating. Belleayre’s snowmaking advances place the mountain among the most prepared venues on the planet to maintain conditions in the face of climate change. In fact, this past winter fans outvoted supporters of six other ski areas across the U.S. to win the Belleayre snowmaking crew the “I AM A SNOWMAKER” contest.
Another project with a substantial and long-term impact on the guest experience is the replacement of Lift 7, which takes skiers and rider to the summit from Overlook Lodge. An aging triple chair, this replacement is a key update to lift infrastructure that will maintain reliability, continue to enhance the skier and rider experience. This project also calls for a skier bridge over a parking lot to provide skiers descending multiple trails easy access to the relocated Lift 7.
Other lift upgrades are planned this summer to Belleayre Express and Lift 8 to overhaul their electrical systems and preserve their continued reliability.
Alpine Trail Improvements
Changes to ski and snowboard trails include allowing a few existing trails, such as Upper Cathedral Brook, to return to forest. Others – Utsayantha and Goat Path – will be modified to both expand intermediate terrain high on the mountain and add snowmaking on those trails.
Lodges and Buildings
The Catskill Thunder gondola, the only gondola in the Catskills, will also be getting a new maintenance building this summer. This is a modest new structure that will allow crews easier access to gondola cabins and continue to ensure they are maintained to the highest standards, all while still permitting uninterrupted daily gondola operations.
With the growth in visitors at Belleayre, the aging Administrative Building requires an expansion as well. The exterior deck of this current building will be removed to make room for a modest 875 square foot building addition. This space will be added to the rear of the structure to preserve parking in front. The expansion will be made with a similar wood frame construction and include improvements to outdated heating and air handling systems.
Grooming and Sustainability
The Belleayre grooming fleet will be getting a new environmentally friendly hybrid groomer called a winch cat. Though this environmentally friendly groomer can be used on all terrain, it comes with a specialized winch system to allow improved grooming for a better guest experience on steeper terrain.
Continuing the Tradition
Together, these improvements continue the more than seven-decade tradition of advancements that have forged the way for Belleayre’s rising popularity. These thoughtful enhancements through the years have a direct and important impact on healthy recreation alternatives for individuals and families, especially the enormous population living such a short drive from the Catskills.