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EYE ON BUSINESS: Ski season is over for Whiteface workers. Now what?

April 26, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - The snow has melted, the lifts are no longer running and "party mountain" is closed for ski season.

The Whiteface Mountain Ski Center closed its doors Sunday, April 14. That means roughly 600 ski instructors, ski patrol and services workers have to fill their time and wallets elsewhere until next winter.

Now what?

Article Photos

Whiteface Mountain as seen in April 2014
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Ski instructor supervisor Bill Fischer said that's part of the deal, and everybody who works at the mountain knows it.

"People realize it's part of the cycle," he said. "Anybody who has the least amount of experience realizes the season will end, and the snow goes away."

Fischer is from Quebec, but he spent a lot of time in the Adirondacks growing up playing hockey. He knew wasn't going to the NHL, but he took the sport seriously in high school. That seriousness quickly diminished, though, when he went on a ski trip with his school. The experience gave him a thrill unparalleled to what he felt on the ice.

"I realized I would never skate as fast as I could ski," he said. "So I dropped hockey and took up skiing."

At that point, he was 18, a little too old to start competing, so he skied for pleasure.

"I went to school at SUNY Plattsburgh, and three guys I lived with came from ski instructing jobs at smaller mountains in New York, and they had already arranged jobs at Whiteface. That helped me get my foot in the door."

Fischer said ski instructing was a great opportunity for a college student - extra spending money, and he got a free pass to the mountain, which allowed him to hone his skills even more.

He's taught skiing at Whiteface on and off for the past 25 years. Now he supervises a group of instructors and sets up the private and general lessons for guests.

As the temperature starts to drop and the leaves fall, right around early November, Fischer said he gets giddy.

"We're really fortunate Whiteface tends to open up earlier than some other mountains in the area," he said. "I think the earliest I ever went skiing was the week of Halloween a few years back."

It never gets old.

"When the season comes to the end, I miss it no doubt," Fischer said. "If I could pull it off 365 days a year I would. I even contemplated heading down to South America and skiing there."

For the spring and summer, Fischer switches to his other seasonal job - managing Alberg Golf Links in Alberg, Vermont.

"One of the things I enjoy about either job is your number one customer is Mother Nature," Fischer said. "Some days she's good, and some days not so much. You gotta learn to love her or get out of these industries. I love snowy mountains, but there's certainly a draw to a carpet of green grass."

Jeff Murray works as a volunteer on the ski patrol at Whiteface. He first started at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Cross Country & Biathlon Center, but like Fischer, he wanted to go faster.

"I switched to Whiteface for a change of pace," he said. "You keep your skills up more because there are a few more accidents."

The first part of Murray's job entails opening the slopes, checking snow conditions and marking hazards along the mountain. After that, it can get a little quiet unless a skier or snowboarder gets hurt. The ski patrol is there to keep people safe and provide medical aid. Sometimes an injury is just a few bruises or a twisted ankle, but other times it's serious and life-threatening. Last year, Lukas Harvey of Castleton, Vermont, died after he slipped out of one of his skis and crashed into a tree. Murray said despite being on ski patrol for 10 years, he's never had to answer a serious call.

"I luckily have never been on anything that bad, but I don't think people would be in this profession if they couldn't handle certain trauma," he said. "You really want to help people in need, and if you can save someone, you feel good about it."

In the summer, Murray likes to stay active, going for hikes and breaking out his canoe and mountain bikes. Before transitioning to Adirondack life, Murray worked multiple indoor jobs - accountant, lawyer, teacher, professor. In 2003, he was looking for something completely different and started working as a nature guide with Adirondack Leadership Expeditions, a rehabilitation group for troubled teens.

"I always say to people, 'my pay keeps going down, but my job satisfaction keeps going up,'" he said. "It was a little weird first being an executive and pushing myself all the time to working in something I actually love."

Whiteface may close every spring, but Murray said he likes to head West and extend his ski season just a few more weeks. During a recent phone interview, he was on his way to Colorado and Utah for more snow.

"And then I'm back in time for blackflies," he said.

 
 
 

 

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