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Ski center inks 'game changing' deal

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QUEENSBURY  West Mountain will offer more skiing, less sitting next winter.

Co-owner and general manager Spencer Montgomery said Friday the ski center has purchased a triple-chairlift from The Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain in West Dover, Vermont.

“It’s a lift that’s very appropriate for West Mountain, and it’s in beautiful shape,” Montgomery said.

The new lift is also nearly twice as long as it needs to be to reach the top of West Mountain, and Montgomery has secured the purchase of a second “drive terminal” and “bull wheel” that will allow him to turn one chairlift into two.

West Mountain has three chairlifts now – two two-seaters and a triple chair. Montgomery said the first lift to be replaced will be the double-chair that carries passengers to the top of the mountain from near the main lodge. The new triple-chairlift will be up and running in time for the coming ski season.

The chairlift that carries skiers to the top of The Face will not be replaced as part of this project.

The chairlift that carries skiers to the top of the mountain from the northwest lodge, an older triple-chairlift, will be replaced after the double-chairlift is done, although it’s not as likely to be ready for the coming winter, Montgomery said.

“I would say there’s a 25 percent chance that both new lifts will be up this year,” he said.

Components of the new lift are expected to begin arriving at West Mountain soon, as work to disassemble it is well underway in Vermont. Initial work to replace the double-chairlift is beginning immediately, Montgomery said.

Outside engineers and contractors, both of which specialize in liftchair systems, will be hired to get the lift operating, Montgomery said.

Although the new lift has been used by the Hermitage Club, it is a modern system, with the drive terminal at the base of the mountain, in a glassed-in observation deck over the “bull wheel” that controls the direction of the liftchair.

“They had intended on keeping this lift,” Montgomery said.

The Hermitage Club is a private ski resort, and its owners are replacing the triple-chairlift with a new, six-seat lift with weather-shielding “bubbles” to protect passengers at higher altitudes.

The lift West purchased has been recently refurbished and painted.

“They put close to $400,000 into this lift in the last two seasons,” Montgomery said.

The new chairlifts will be significantly faster than West Mountain’s systems. The maximum speed for chairlifts in New York is 450 feet per minute, Montgomery said. The mountain’s triple-chairlift now moves at 150 to 300 feet per minute and is the slowest of West’s three lifts.

The double-chairlift that will be replaced first can hit speeds of 300 to 400 feet per minute, he said.

But the new triple-chairlift will be able to move at the state limit. And because of its modern drive system, it will bring some efficiencies to the mountain, Montgomery said.

The purchase will also address one of the most frequent criticisms of the ski center: antiquated lifts. The double-chairlift that is being replaced for the coming ski season dates to the 1960s, Montgomery said.

“It’s a very awkward lift because it has a center loading pole,” he said. “The chair will swing 2 to 3 meters from side to side as you get on it – something that would not have been a big deal in the past, but it scares the heck out of some people today.”

As the ski center’s fiscal year ended in April, Montgomery offered some insight into the ski center’s operations, detailing portions of the balance sheet. Specifically, he said the mountain booked a net loss of about $250,000 on approximately $2.3 million in revenue for the season.

But improved chairlifts and snowmaking capabilities are expected to get the mountain to a break-even level as early as the 2015-16 season, Montgomery said previously.

On Friday, after announcing the chairlift purchase, he said the new investment could mean a 20 to 30 percent boost in sales next winter. The new lifts will also bring some efficiencies, by moving more people up the mountain with less energy.

Montgomery said the total cost to buy and install the new lifts is expected to be about $1.5 million.

Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough, who is a season-ticket holder at West Mountain, welcomed the news Friday.

“West Mountain Ski Center is an asset to the entire region in terms of economic development and in terms of quality of life,” Strough said. “Local people love skiing there because it’s just minutes’ drive, and I wish them some beautiful winters, like we’ve had.”

Read Scott Donnelly’s blog, Business Connection, at poststar.com

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