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The ski wars have begun... again

Dec 08, 2010 11:26 am
ALBANY -- The Times-Union reports this morning that Greene County's two private ski areas in Hunter and Windham have again started to take on neighboring, state-owned Belleayre Mountain ski center, in Ulster County, claiming their state competition is dumping too many free tickets to draw skiers. And this at the same time tyhat the state-owned region is shifting most of its employment from full- to part-time and seasonal, with deep staffing and other spending cuts gaining political traction in the deep Catskills, as reported HERE..

The two ski areas, it is reported, used the state Freedom of Information Law to obtain Belleayre's records on free and discounted tickets during the two previous ski seasons, which showed the state facility was giving away about 10 percent of its skier visits for free. That's about five times what a privately owned ski center might do with promotional free tickets, according to Scott Brandi, president of Ski Areas of New York Inc., a group that represents the state's ski mountains, including Hunter, Windham and Belleayre.

"I have heard the complaints and the defenses of all the parties here," said Brandi. "There has been a lot of finger-pointing." He said a "detente" among Belleayre, Windham and Hunter, which banded together just last month to give away free tickets to promote the state's $1.1 billion ski industry, apparently has fallen apart.

Now, both Windham and Hunter are hoping to draw a bull's-eye on Belleayre as a taxpayer-supported, money-loser that is giving away too much product during a time of austerity, and want the new administration of Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo to take notice.

"Everyone does some free tickets, but our numbers are 20 percent of what Belleayre does," said Russ Coloton, president of Hunter Mountain Ski Bowl. "For a long time, the state has been buying business. If this was an international company, it would be called dumping."

According to Belleayre records, Belleayre gave away nearly 16,000 free tickets last year, out of about 169,000 skier visits, and posted a $1 million operating loss. The year before, Belleayre gave away about 16,700 free tickets out of 154,700 skier visits and posted a $76,000 operating loss.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which has operated Belleayre for 40 years, said the free tickets were about 7 percent of the total -- a figure that would still be about triple what a private ski mountain might do. It was not immediately clear why the figures differed.

"Giveaways are employed by ski mountains in all areas," said DEC spokesman Yancey Roy, "It's a way to attract new and repeat customers. It can also stretch the limited dollars Belleayre has for advertising by working in partnership with commercial entities. This is not unlike the current ongoing promotion Hunter has with some Capital Region filling stations that allow frequent gasoline customers to earn free ski tickets."

Roy added that Belleayre, unlike Hunter and Windham, does not have lodging on its mountain, and must use "a variety of promotions to attract skiers."

About a half-hour away, at Windham, General Manager Tim Woods said it is unfair that he has competition "flooding the market with inexpensive product. They are showing an increase in skier visits because of this predatory pricing."

He noted that Belleayre also is charging significantly less for a lift ticket than either Windham or Hunter. Belleayre charges $54 for an adult weekend daily lift ticket. Windham and Hunter charge $68 and $65, respectively.

"I hope the state will take a look at this, in their quest to get us out of the financial situation that we are in. They should be looking at every avenue," Woods said.

He said Belleayre should be allowed to give away promotional tickets like any privately owned mountain, but not as many as has been done.

He also suggested that the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which already runs the state-owned Whiteface and Gore ski mountains, might take over Belleayre. ORDA would not be able to run the mountain at a deficit, because the authority does not have access to state general funds to soak up red ink, Woods said.
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