Future looks bright at West
What’s going on at West Mountain?
In a nutshell: The news is good, and the outlook is promising. Certainly, things are much better now than just a year ago when the future of the area was in serious doubt.
Spencer Montgomery, a Glens Falls native, heads Apex Capital, the group that now controls the future at West. Going into the final weeks of what will be its first season in charge, he is upbeat.
“It has been a good winter” he said in an interview earlier this week.
“Our goal was to break even on area operations and it looks like we will do that, plus a little bit more.”
Of course, weather has been important. Unlike recent years, this has been a cold winter with average snowfall, including some well-timed storms just before holiday periods.
But more important, said Montgomery, “People are coming back to the mountain.”
West has had a place in the regional ski scene since the Brandt brothers opened the Queensbury layout in 1961. For much of that time, it has been more than just a local hill, as exposure to passing traffic on I-87 has given it a visibility that is the envy of most ski areas in more remote locations.
In the 1970s, it was the fun spot to be, especially evenings. Mike Brandt, who was running the area by then, was “Mad Mike,” the fun-loving star of advertisements that were all over the airwaves during the period. But over the years, as he turned his attention to other matters like real estate development and railing against New York State and its ski activities, Brandt increasingly shifted into “Grumpy Mike,” and West stood still as other ski areas in the region moved forward.
New management in place in recent years didn’t work out and just a couple of years ago, West was in serious financial trouble. As recently as last fall, early-season pass purchase revenues were placed in an escrow account for return in case the area didn’t open.
That seems to be history today.
Later this month, Montgomery and his associates expect to have clear title to the ski area and land which frees them to start acting on long term plans for infrastructure upgrades and significant capital improvements.
In the meantime, some $600,000 was spent in two months last fall just to get the area ready for operations this season. A lot of the investment is hard to spot right off the bat, like new heating ducts and a long overdue general cleaning and painting of the base lodge. Then there are the bathrooms. A major upgrade there is a point of pride to Montgomery and the improvements are often cited — and universally appreciated — by visitors to West.
New seating pads on the Summit chairlift seem
especially welcome by skiers, Montgomery said.
“People think the lift is faster this winter.” he says. “It isn’t, but it is amazing how much shorter the ride seems when the seats are comfortable.”
Montgomery is 44 years old. He grew up skiing at West Mountain and graduated from Glens Falls High School where he was on the ski team. He and his wife are rehabilitating an older home in Glens Falls, and his four children all ski and race in the West Mountain program.
When he talks about the
future of the ski area, he plans to be a part of it.
Right now, he has dreams. He is hoping soon those will be plans.
“I’d like to see West with a quad chair lift from the base area where the Summit chair is now up to the top of the Northwest area summit,” Montgomery said. “I would like another quad where the Face chair now is that will extend up the hill to the top of the ridge. That would give us much more central access to all our terrain and the ability to develop more trails in between those lifts.”
Montgomery’s plans don’t end with the lifts.
“We need to improve our snowmaking so we can cover the full layout, north to south. That will mean a whole new water system, including a new pump house.”
All of these plans cost money, of course, and attracting skiers is a prerequisite to that. Montgomery believes that skier visits will be in the 50,000 range this year, which he would like to see increase to 80,000-120,000 in two years and 150,000-200,000 in five. There were approximately 800 season passes sold this year. He’s looking to increase that to 3,000 soon.
To do that, West has a very attractive ticket pricing structure. The most expensive full-day ticket price is $45 dollars on weekends, $37 during the week. Juniors, seniors,
students and military personnel pay less. There are also two- and four-hour lift tickets available at less than full-day rates.
For people who buy a season pass this spring for next winter, the most expensive is $299, and it is good for the remainder of the current season.
Those prices are very competitive for a reason, Montgomery said.
“We want lots of people to ski here. I see West Mountain as a recreational resource for Glens Falls and the surrounding region, and I want it to make it as affordable as I can,” he said.
Down the line, Montgomery wants to see West develop into a major center for ski-race training and competition including the possibility of a ski academy program at the hill. He has already had some interaction with programs at other areas, including Gore Mountain, something that old West watchers believed would happen only when Mike Brandt froze over.
Brandt, who has lived in Wisconsin in recent years, is a partner in Apex Capital and talks with Montgomery on a regular basis. He has input, but no longer has a controlling interest in the ski area or property.
For a while, not too long ago things did not look good for West Mountain. But with some new ownership, some
financial daring, and some new spirit, it appears the ski center is back on track and the area population is responding to the effort.
It is time to check with your favorite ski area on 2014-15 season passes. If you buy now, you can get a substantial savings on prices to be offered next fall and many of the passes permit holders to use them now through the close of the season.