Lake Placid was filled with state legislators, regional and local officials and their families Sunday. They had accepted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's challenge to try winter sports activities available in the North Country in order to showcase upstate recreational tourism opportunities.
The Adirondack Winter Challenge was an effort to bring awareness within the state about tourism activities available in the upstate region. It took advantage of the Olympic and winter venues in Lake Placid for friendly competition between state, regional and local officials.
Six miles south of the village of Lake Placid at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, cross-country skiers set out on groomed trails. But many were lured to the neighboring tracks that host the combined luge-skeleton and bobsled track. The challenge here allowed competitors to ride the bobsled from its half-mile mark. The bobsleds were handled by experienced drivers and brakemen as they raced down the track at over 50 miles per hour. Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright took his son Jordan with him on the bobsled. “It is exhilarating. It is certainly something that I've never done before and anything that we can do to promote the upstate economy especially here in the historic Lake Placid. And certainly this is something I will never forget
“My name is Michaelle Solages. I represent a portion of Nassau County on Long Island. The Adirondacks is such a treasure to New York State. It’s the largest deciduous forest in the country. I had to come see it in the winter when it's at its prime right here in Lake Placid. It’s really important that we recognize that we need to preserve this land right here. And so when we debate the state budget or when we talk about legislation that pertains to the Adirondacks, it’s so important to see it, not just talk about it.”
Assemblyman Dan Stec represents the Adirondacks. “Visiting a place like this is priceless. It puts us in a better position to convince them when we got an issue or problem that needs help, to help us get it resolved.”
The Olympic Regional Development Authority took the opportunity to not only showcase its facilities, but also the athletes who benefit. Sochi skeleton bronze medalist Matt Antoine greeted bobsled competitors before they took to the track. “Sliding sports are something people typically only see once every four years around the Olympics. So for them to actually come here to see it and experience it is a great opportunity for them.”
Antoine added that there is an added level of importance as state legislators experience what state money is used for. “We are funded by the government and their support is what has made this entire facility and program successful. So I think it’s great to have them up here and see what the monies are going towards and see how things are going. And also for tourism. It creates a great area for people to come visit and for them to see that in action is a big opportunity.” Antoine was asked if he thinks he would have won his medal in Sochi if not for the facilities in Lake Placid. “No. Lake Placid definitely prepared, not only myself, but our entire team to be successful over there. It’s a great facility, wonderful training environment, and it really set us up for success not only all season, but obviously once we got to Sochi.”
Six miles north in the village of Lake Placid, tobaggoning was among the challenges. The Lake Placid Tobaggon Chute – a 30-foot high converted ski jump – spews riders up to a thousand feet onto frozen Mirror Lake. Suffolk County Assemblyman Andrew Raia was among the competitors here. “It was on a par with the bobsled. I grew up tobaggoning, but not on a sheet of ice like this. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. This is a tourist destination, not just in the winter, all year-round. In fact, I heard that it’s actually busier in the summertime than it is in the winter. And we need to support the Olympic venues that are here. We need to pump money into them because we need to make sure we have the most competitive athletes.”
Inside the Olympic Center, a somewhat more sedate, but no less competitive, curling battle was occurring. “I’m a sweeper. I’m creating friction on the ice to make the stone go faster...what was that called? To get in the house.”
Rouses Point, NY resident Jan Latourneau is a member of the Lacolle Curling Club in Canada. She hopes more state investment will come to the sport. “With the importance of everybody on a moving and exercising, especially the sport like curling, it’s a low-impact sport. If you’re doing a lot of sweeping you get some aerobic exercise. You get some flexibility. And it’s a lifelong sport you can play. We have people playing that are in their eighties. So it’s a great sport. You can make it as competitive as you want.”
At the end of the day, the participants gathered for a dinner, awards and to hear from the head of Empire State Development and Governor Cuomo. The governor admitted for him the event was for fun, but also to showcase the critical importance of upstate tourism. “Fifth largest industry for the state of New York now is tourism. We’ve been aggressively focused on it. The message is simple. We know what we have. We know the beauty that we have. It was purely a question of exposure. It’s not that we don’t have tourism come to New York. Fifty million tourists a year. They come to New York City. But that’s not New York State. We’re proud of New York City, we’re proud of our urban environments. But we have so much more to offer. And if we just show them, and they see it, they will come. And once they come, they will come back and back.”
Empire State Development announced a new I Ski NY initiative to provide bus service from New York City and Canada to 13 ski areas across the state. A new marketing campaign targeting tourism assets has been launched. It provides support to Regional Economic Development Council tourism infrastructure projects.