By Susan E. Campbell
Spencer Montgomery and the co-owners of the West Mountain Ski Resort are within $2 million of realizing their goal of “rebuilding the nuts and bolts of the core business” and restoring the ski area to the “family run, family focused, affordable resort” it was built to be in the early 1960s.
The partners will learn in December if they will be awarded a $400,000 Empire State Development matching grant. If successful, Montgomery will have received “the spark needed to raise the remaining $1.6 million so that we can operate a full ski center with the amenities that go along with it,” he said.
“We really need that assistance,” Montgomery said. “But I knew that we would have to prove ourselves first.”
Some $5 million has been invested since the partnership took over the resort during the 2013-2014 winter season. Last year was the first break-even year, Montgomery said, noting that “revenues will double” when fully operational.
“West Mountain had been operating as half of a ski area,” he said, and many acres of land are yet untouched. The owners originally had a five-year timetable for re-branding and updating the resort, he said. But they added another 12 months to the schedule because of a bad winter last year.
Repairing and adding ski lifts, restoring old trails and the Northwest Lodge, additional lighting, and laying 17,000 feet of pipeline to carry water to 20 new state-of-the-art snow guns required welders and other skilled laborers and materials like lumber, dirt, pipe, steel and high-voltage equipment. All were provided from local sources, with Rozell Industries contracted for the more technical projects, such as the finishing work on the towers, according to Montgomery.
The partners themselves have done a lot of work in-house, allowing them to “turn 40 cents into a dollar,” said Montgomery. “We call ourselves Team West Mountain, a real solid team of mostly women who run the place soup-to-nuts.”
The next wave of improvements will continue to “have an enormous impact on the local economy” in as many ways, Montgomery said. There will be a new lodge. Renovations will result in providing food and ticket sales from more locations.
A retail sports store is on the drawing board and a new lift for tubers. Plans are in the works for 50 more snowmaking machines.
Snowmaking is especially important for the two newly re-opened trails, said Montgomery—the Cure and the Holy Mackerel trail it feeds into. These have the steepest slopes and require a stickier base of man-made snow.
“These trails represent a piece of history that we have brought back,” he said.
Montgomery said he expects as many hires this year as last, but the number will increase next year when the new lodge, store and food canteen are up and running. Last year’s payroll was $1.2 million, he said.
For Montgomery and his wife Sara, teaching young people how to ski and snowboard and to develop an interest in the sport is a high goal. Montgomery said he grew up on West Mountain and the couple now has their four children enrolled in the ski schools and after-school programs there.
“We put in a lunch program for the kids and there is much more growth to be had for the schools,” he said.
Montgomery said Olympic coach Sean Warman had agreed to join them as program director and head coach of the West Mountain racing program for alpine, free ski and snowboard competitions.
With a 1,000-foot drop, 25 trails, and membership as a USAA racing club, Montgomery said West Mountain is big enough “to put Warren County on the map.”
International competitions, like giant slalom races, could bolster demand for hotels, food service and other amenities like clothing and equipment in and around Queensbury, he said.
He said there are more skiers per capita in the Capital District than anywhere in the U.S., making West Mountain “an urban ski area only 45 minutes from Albany. It is both accessible and affordable, not charging the higher ticket prices of the big mountains.”
“There is a lot of activity in the area for resorts like ours,” he said. “I am restoring and polishing the gem that founder Michael Brandt put in place decades ago.”
Visit www.westmtn.net for more information.