TUPPER LAKE - The Big Tupper Ski Area was once a regional hub of wintry activity: Local children spent entire winters on the slopes skiing and snowboarding, adults mixed with friends in the bar in between runs, tourists from around the North Country and Canada took advantage of the low prices and accessible trails, and employees earned money while teaching, serving and helping customers.
Then the ski area closed after the 1998-99 season. The lifts were shut off, the lodge was abandoned, and the snow melted.
Over the 10 years since the lodge's doors were shuttered, vandals stole trail signs and broke windows, moss grew on carpets, and brush overwhelmed the trails.
Cliff Levers, harnessed in, works on a lift tower of Chair 2 at Big Tupper Ski Area, which has been closed for 10 years.
(Photo — Denise Davis)
But now, there is a buzz of activity on Mount Morris. A group of community volunteers is banding together and trying to get the mountain opened for skiing this year.
The effort is being headed up by ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving Their Economy), a local nonprofit group organized to support the development project that has been proposed for the mountain.
A development group, Preserve Associates Inc., bought the ski area a few years ago from former operators Peter Day and Leroy Pickering and has proposed a large-scale development that would replace all the lifts and buildings at the ski area, reopen it, and surround it with about 600 luxury housing units. After announcing the plan in 2004, developers have found the project stalled for several years in the process of getting a permit from the state Adirondack Park Agency.
Tom Lawson, one of the developers investing in the project, estimated this week that from the day the group gets its permit, it will still be three years until the ski slope can be operational.
In the meantime, Tupper Lakers want to ski.
"A generation of kids are on the edge of losing an opportunity that has been afforded to a lot of us living here to ski at the mountain," said real estate broker and ARISE member Jim LaValley, who has been spearheading much of the activity, "and I just don't want to see that happen."
The organization has simple plans for the slope: There will only be a lift and a place to go inside and warm up. There will be no snowmaking, no food or equipment for sale, and no equipment rentals.
While the development project has drawn controversy between developers, environmental groups, local business owners and neighbors to the project, the effort to get Chair 2 running has seen essentially unanimous support. Environmental groups like the Adirondack Council, which has been pushing back against developers about the size of the proposed project, have gone out of their way to endorse Chair 2's reopening.
ARISE is organizing a group of volunteers who have been busy at Mount Morris. They have boarded off the unusable parts of the lodge, demolished the dilapidated deck and mowed some of the brush.
All that was done while the group was still looking at using the T-bar, a ski lift that drags skiers and boarders along the snow. That lift needed more work and money than originally expected, though, so the group switched gears in early September and decided to get Chair 2 up and running.
Since then, Cliff Levers, a Tupper Laker who used to work oil fields in Texas, has been climbing up to the top of the lift towers and working on the connections between the towers, the chairs and the cable that pulls them. He has been fixing the wheels that the cable runs through in order so the lift can be turned on.
Levers has been putting in two to three hours almost every night for the last few weeks, plus time on weekends. He said his girlfriend calls him a workaholic, but he has been doing it because, until recently, he was the only one who would climb up to those heights, and it needed to get done.
After the wheels are in order, Levers and other volunteers will turn on the lift and take the chairs off the cable one by one. When they are off, the pieces that attach to the cable will need to be tested, and once they are reattached, the state Department of Health will test each chair to ensure it can hold 400 pounds of weight, as it's supposed to.
In addition to that, more mowing needs to be done, several buildings need work, the bathrooms need to be in working order, several permits need to be obtained, and money needs to be raised.
According to a draft budget, ARISE expects it to cost about $60,000 to get the mountain operational, plus $26,000 per year in recurring items like electrical costs and fuel. They plan to raise about $87,500 in ticket sales; the working prices for season tickets are $400 for a family of four, $250 for a couple, $150 for a single person. They expect to sell day passes for about $25 each.
They want to raise about $25,000 through fundraisers and have several in the works.
ARISE volunteers have organized a fundraising dinner for Wednesday, Sept. 30 at the Tupper Lake Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Take-out orders will be available, LaValley said.
They are also about to launch a campaign for people to sponsor a tower, for $1,500, or chair, for $1,000, on which a person's or business' name can be displayed; such a sponsorship will also come with a family pack of season tickets. People interested in purchasing a chair or tower can call LaValley at 359-9440 or Rick Dattola at 359-3491.
To make a general donation to the cause, ARISE has secured the post office box that used to belong to the former ski area. Mail donations to ARISE of Northern New York at P.O. Box 1200, Tupper Lake, NY 12986.
To volunteer your time, call LaValley at 359-9440.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.