Friday, September 27, 2013

Big Tupper: Good news, bad news

Big Tupper, ARISE and the Adirondack Club and Resort:  Good news, (but mostly) bad news.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy), the volunteer group that ran Big Tupper Ski Area for the winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12, recently announced that Big Tupper will be open for the 2013-14 season. The ski area did not operate last winter due to a shortfall of funds and volunteer burnout.

Keeping any ski area open and running is great for the sport. Small, local hills like Big Tupper are vitally important because they provide a lower-cost alternative and they introduce people to skiing. Kudos to the volunteers at Big Tupper for all their efforts over the past few years.

But it’s not all good news. ARISE has bridged the ski area’s funding gap by:
  • Selling a groomer (after selling off the snowmaking equipment several years earlier)
  • Formerly paid employees will now be volunteers
  • Using funds saved by not operating last winter
  • Additional community fund-raising
  • Raising ticket prices
Obviously that’s not a sustainable model for running a ski area.

Why, you may ask, aren’t the developers who own the Big Tupper Ski Area funding its operation? After all, Big Tupper is a key component of the Adirondack Club and Resort, the huge (and hugely controversial) development proposed for Tupper Lake that includes a marina, equestrian center, second homes and “great camps” in addition to the ski center. The ACR developers received APA approval for their project nearly two years ago.

A year ago, when it was announced Big Tupper would not operate for the 2012-13 winter, Jim LaValley (ARISE chairman) stated: “We were negotiating a financial assist from several purchasers/investors of the ACR. I was in discussions with several prospective buyers who wanted to make sure Big Tupper would continue in the 2012-2013 ski season. I told them what our financial losses were over the past two seasons. We told them that even as a volunteer organization, we have averaged $160K per year in operational expenses. This does not include volunteer hours. They were very willing, until the Article 78 lawsuit was filed in March.” LaValley added: “Over the next few weeks, some of the investors that were looking to contribute somewhere between $100K and $200K will be coming forward to discuss their intentions. These discussions will be reported.”

So, blame it on the tree huggers (whose Article 78 lawsuit is actually against the APA, not the developers), ignoring the financial and economic reality that ACR may never be built. Of course the phantom investors never came forward. And a year later there’s still no money for Big Tupper from the developers or investors, despite LaValley’s and the developers’ confidence that the lawsuit will soon be resolved in their favor. You can read more about the current status of the lawsuit and the ACR project here.

It’s time for ACR to put their money where their mouth is and to stop using the Big Tupper Ski Area as a pawn. The people of Tupper Lake deserve more from the developers than the vague promises of eventual investment in the ski area.

And it’s time for ARISE to confront the reality that it will be years before Big Tupper sees any kind of financial support from ACR. Investment in the ski area is contingent upon successful sales of “great camp” lots, and even under ACR’s most optimistic sales projections, that investment will not occur until at least several years into the development plans. What’s ARISE’s plan next year, sell off the chairlifts? And what’s ARISE’s endgame, to run a year-by-year shoestring operation, milking the hopes of their community, and eventually handing over the keys so that the developers can profit by selling great camps to investment bankers and hedge fund managers who will want to “cut first tracks on their own private ski slopes” ? That last phrase, by the way, was taken from ACR's own marketing website, long since taken down.

So, in case you haven’t guessed by now, the likelihood of me skiing at Big Tupper this winter is a snowball’s chance in hell. But that’s not just because I think Big Tupper has become a giant over-politicized cluster-you-know-what. It’s also for the simple reason that Big Tupper is well beyond day trip range from Saratoga, and I’d have to drive right past the front door of the vastly superior ski areas in North Creek and Lake Placid to get there. Hell, I can reach most of Vermont (gasp!) in less time than Big Tupper. Which of course is one of the fundamental reasons why the entire ACR concept is flawed from the start.

Big Tupper used to be owned by the Town of Tupper Lake. McCauley Mountain (Old Forge) and Mount Pisgah (Saranac Lake) are successful municipally-owned ski hills. Maybe that ownership model could eventually provide a pathway for the investment in Big Tupper that Tupper Lake deserves. I don’t pretend to have the solution, but I know that ACR ain’t it. There’s probably not much that I’d agree with Jim LaValley and the ACR developers on, except for LaValley’s closing words in the Adirondack Enterprise article linked above: “We want everybody to think snow. Think hard, and think snow."

Photo credit: Carl Heilman


  1. Note - ARISE also ran Big Tupper for 2009-10

  2. Jeff, You have an excellent read of the whole ACR scenario.. And ARISE is just an offshoot of it. ARISE was thought up by Lavalley and the developer(s) to innacurately show that there was local grassroots support for the ACR. It's funny, last Sept ARISE announced they couldn't open Big Tupper because of the lawsuit, but all through the spring and summer of 2012 they said they were planning to open. I guess they couldn't get their stories straight. The developers right now still have no money, don't pay their property or school taxes, have fed tax liens against them for over a half Million, home was under forclosure proceedings in Jan 2013 and they were being hauled into Small Claims court by locals who weren't getting paid. This latest stunt on opening the hill is just more BS to keep the spin going. Unfortunately the Town(who built Big Tupper and sold it yrs later) will never again own or operate it. There is over a Million in mortgages against it by a few of the investors(developers). Too bad, it was a good little hill.

  3. I live in TL. For years we have been asking these questions but the developer has yet to demonstrate a credible financing plan for the development let alone the ski area.

  4. One would think that the developers would invest in Big Tupper if they were sincere. Jeff, this is a great piece. Keep it up!

  5. Jeff, good take on the ACR. I have a good friend in Tupper who keeps me up on all the BS surrounding the development. Locally the big developer is refered to as a Con Man or a pathalogical liar. He owes so many people money that he has been in Small Claims court several times in the past year. Defaulted on at least one of his buildings on Park St that he has a "Land Contract" on. Can't get anyone to deliver oil to him because he has stiffed all the Tri Lakes suppliers. But he must be good at what he spins, still has local elected official supporting him. Most of the regular people in town are smarter and see through the malarkey.

  6. This commentary also ran on Adirondack Almanack, here. Lots of additional comments and discussion...