by Dan McClelland
Repair work has been in high gear at the Big Tupper Ski Center all this summer as various contractors and their crews rejuvenate the lifts and buildings there in anticipation of the opening of the well-loved facility this coming winter.
Adirondack Club and Resort Developer Tom Lawson announced earlier this year he would reopen the ski center this year and he's been working diligently to that end since then.
After a string of about seven winters of operation- some of which saw little or no natural snow and big losses- Tupper Lake's ARISE (Adirondack Residents Intent on Saving their Economy) leaders called it quits last fall and didn't operate the mountain facility last winter. The developers of the ACR, however, have stepped up to renew winter operations there- much to the excitement of many skiers here and across the North Country.
On two visits to the ski center this summer there was plenty of evidence of repair work underway.
The chairlift No. 2 base station, which was all but destroyed by strong winds blowing down from the top of the mountain several years ago, has been completely rebuilt by Don Bennett and his carpenters. New siding, a new roof and new windows- four feet by eight feet in size- are now in place, as is a fresh coat of Oxford brown stain. The base structure is completely rejuvenated.
The large new windows bring natural light into the area around the lift engine, where there was none before.
All the buildings in the base area have been stained the same shade of that deep brown for a very uniform appearance.
Repair work is also underway on the lift operator control station, next to the engine building and to the entire Mitey Mite lift.
“The Mitey Mite has been totally rebuilt. The top and bottom have been removed for replacement, the motor has been totally rebuilt,” Tom Lawson said on a second tour Friday.
All components of that lift- including the base building- should be back in place next week. Parts of that trail have also been regraded.
Both chairlift No. 2 and the Mitey-Mite lift will be open this winter. Chairlift No. 1 and No. 3 are due to be operating in the 2019-20 winter.
During our first visit about six weeks ago we met Derrick Shaw and Sandra Bushell, partners in a lift restoration company called Tower Dogs.
The partners actually work like dogs, as the expression goes.
The partners started at first light and work until dark.
Tower Dogs is known among any ski area operators all across the country for their diligence and hard work. The partners have worked out west in recent years at Winter Park Ski Resort in Colorado and after they finish up here in July they were headed to Ski Liberty resort in Pennsylvania. Big Tupper was their opening gig of the season.
Everything they were sanding, scraping and painting there is now an attractive evergreen color.
Derrick and Sandra are expected to return to Tupper Lake in mid-September to begin repainting the old t-bar lift towers that will eventually support a new zip line down the mountain some year very soon.
During their time here they stayed at Timber Lodge at Moody and they had praise for its operator, Don Dew Jr.
They had completely painted half of the 14 towers and the chairs on lift No. 2 during our first visit and were due to finish in that days that followed.
All the chairs now sit freshly sanded, primed and painted and ready for rehanging in upcoming days.
The chairs were removed for close inspection by state inspectors and all passed.
The hangers which attach the chairs to the lift cable have all been removed too and shipped to a Vermont company for x-raying for flaws. They are expected to be back by next week.
Lift specialists from a company called All Lifts which has worked at Big Tupper in the past completed mechanical work on the lifts.
The company was charged with making repairs to the wheels and other equipment on the lift towers to put everything in top shape for the coming winter.
Mr. Lawson said the chairlift No. 3 engine has been extensively serviced this summer.
He had hoped that lift might be ready for this winter with an overhaul of its two buildings this fall “but the winter is just approaching too fast. It'll have to wait a year!”
Since our early-summer visit the restoration of the chairlift No. 1 base building was also tackled. It too has been rebuilt with new windows and attractively painted.
All summer long the entire place has been bustling with the work of various contracting crews. Some days there are as many as 40 workers on site. Most of them are local people.
On our first visit Mr. Lawson said they hoped to put a temporary snow-making system in place for the lower trails, but on Friday he mentioned they are simply running out of time for this season.
Some of the old snow-making pipes were pressure-tested this summer but they are full of holes.
The retaining wall next to the lodge has been removed and the earth will be graded in the weeks ahead so skiers can ski right down to their cars in the parking lot. Inspectors also felt the deteriorating wall was a hazard, he said.
Landscaping work is planned below and around the chairlift No. 2 building between it and where the resort's planned hotel will be situated in the large open area at the end of the parking lot.
The ACR plan also calls for the construction of a new spa just below the western edge of the parking lot in the years ahead.
Adjacent to the spa will be the new skating rink planned- similar to the one in place at Sun Valley, Idaho. The unique place will be designed by ACR investor Scott Allen, skating Olympian.
Repair work has also commenced on chairlift No. 3, which services the top of the mountain.
Mowing of the trails has been done several times this summer by Jeff Trudeau, who is working with his grandson Josh's company which has been building the 11.5 mile great camp road beyond the Lake Simond.
Part of Josh's crew has been assigned to the mountain while another continues to work on the road into the great camps which is almost completed. “Right now we're working on driveways (into the great camps). Many of the lots have already been spoken for but people want to see where their houses will be going!” Mr. Lawson said Friday.
Jeff and others with Trudeau Construction have used large commercial mowers to do the necessary mowing work at Big Tupper.
During our tour Friday Jill Trudeau, Jeff's daughter and Josh's mother and the Adirondack Club and Resort's administrative assistant, predicted there could be at least two more mowings of the mountain trails this fall to put them in good shape to receive the snow nature provides. One mowing, which may involve some manual cutting, will focus on the larger vegetation near the sides of the trails where the big machines can't reach and a late fall mow will be another attack at the trails themselves.
Jill knows the mountain well, having skied there since she was three years of age. When she talks about it and about what's to come her fondness for the place is very apparent.
The resort plans call for a zip line, where the cable will run from the top of chairlift No. 2 area on the old t-bar poles down to the new lake planned adjacent to the lodge. The restoration of those poles in the months and years ahead and the retrofitting for the popular zip line apparatus is expected to produce a whole brand new type of visitor to the mountain who will come in summers ahead to enjoy the new attraction there.
Future plans also call for a new indoor and outdoor bar building- with seating for about 250- on the slab that was once home to the ski shop and later a day care center. “There places are big out west!”
Entrance towers additions are also planned at both ends of the existing lodge, each with lots of windows to shed light there.
Extensive landscaping is also planned around the lodge.
The resort project is also expected to lease a snowcat for trail grooming operations this winter.
“We're working very hard these days to get everything ready for a good season of skiing this winter!” Mr. Lawson said on our first visit.
When the Free Press crew returned for a second visit Friday it was amazing the progress that has been made over the summer.
In recent weeks the entire 600+ acre property has been surveyed by an Albany-based firm using a large commercial drone.
The size of the remotely-controlled aircraft- nearly two feet across- made quite an impression on workers there in recent weeks.
Part of the reason for the topographic map the firm will have ready in upcoming weeks is the layout of a new mountain road to the 30 or so upper elevation residences that will be built below the top of chairlift No. 2 and the dimensions of the lots themselves.
The survey work was also needed to pinpoint the exact locations of new catchment basins in the lodge area to handle all the surface water that typically runs off the mountain.
Hundreds of tons of crushed gravel has been added over the summer to the existing mountain road to the chairlift No. 2 top area to repair it. More is stockpiled in the parking lot for more road work.
On Friday's ride to the top we found Charlie Madore and his crew busy rebuilding the lift station and cabin at the top of chairlift No. 2.
The cabin is being completely rebuilt with a new roof, insulation, new board and batten exterior siding to keep the lift operators at the top dry and warm this winter. CM Construction crew has also completely rebuilt with pressure-treated framing materials the platform where skiers get off the lift each ride up the mountain.
Charlie's partner is Jason Roberge.
On our trip back down the road, as we passed the old ranger cabin, Tom mentioned their plans to eventually rehabilitate it, with rest rooms and a bigger deck where skiers could stop for a break. Once plans are finalized, the ACR will apply for the permits to repair and improve the old cabin.
Pointing over to chairlift No. 1 he admitted it will require “the most work” to put back in operation.
When it is rebuilt it will feature again its mid-way station, where novices and intermediates can get off to enjoy the lower parts of the trails in front of the lodge.
“We've started the repairs to the towers of chairlift No. 1 but there's a lot of work to be done,” said the ACR developer. Some of that work involves extensive repairs to the large bull wheel at top.
Chairlift No. 1 won't be open until the 2019-20 ski season, when chairlift No. 3 will also be open and operating.
Set for a new roof this fall is the ski patrol building, adjacent to the base lodge. Among the repairs will be a new trussed roof. Those materials were expected to arrive from Tupper Lake Supply this week.
Mr. Lawson met recently with Ski Patrol Director Tom Sciacca and some of his volunteer patrollers and they are ready to provide safety on the ski trails this winter.
The main floor of the Big Tupper lodge has been completed gutted in past weeks, in anticipation of a restoration over the winter. The operation of the mountain this winter will be directed from the basement level while renovation proceed above. More on the lodge next week.
Everything is full speed ahead right now at the hometown ski center as the ACR developers plan for a great season of skiing this winter!
by Dan McClelland