Monday, October 10, 2011

Season Preview Outtakes: West Mountain

Following is the second in a series of interviews with Adirondack ski area personnel. In this post, I talk with Mike Barbone, General Manager and owner of West Mountain Ski Center in Queensbury.

Jeff: Last year you installed the new SnowDAG electronic ticketing system, how has that worked out for you?

Mike: Some people resisted the idea of spending $5 on the card, but most people went along with it fine. It gives us a lot of opportunities going forward to make skiing convenient for our customers. For example, somebody could come over, park at the triple chair and make a couple runs – the RFID will allow us to do stuff like that. Why should somebody have to buy a full ticket when all they want to do is make a couple of runs? A lot of Canadian areas already use the RFID ticketing systems to do skiing-by-the-hour or even skiing-by-the-run. Now that we’ve got the system, we’ll move towards options like that. It’s all about convenience for the customer.

Jeff: Any snowmaking upgrades this year?

Mike: We’re constantly making improvements to our snowmaking operation. We’re adding more fan guns this year - we tend to add a few every year and move out the oldest ones. We’ll be installing the new automated fan guns on our towers, which means the snowmaking crew won’t have to climb the towers. The new units turn on more nozzles as it gets cold, and they shut themselves off if it warms up. It’s efficient, because the temperature is always changing or the wind blows in a different direction, and the unit automatically adjusts. Those units are a big investment, but it pays off because of the efficiency.

Jeff: You use fan guns exclusively in your snowmaking operations, right?

Mike: That’s right. They work out really well for us not just because of the efficiency but also because of the quality of the product. The traditional air/water guns most ski areas use have a hard time putting out a product that’s as consistent as the fan guns we use. The product we put out is first class. If you could ski our product side-by-side with the product put out by the other guys, you’d say “Holy Cow!”

Jeff: I know I’ve often been impressed with the quality of the snow at West, particularly in a marginal snow year like we had two winters ago.

Mike: Thanks, I hear that from skiers all the time. In a marginal winter, that’s when the fan guns really shine.

Jeff: What’s the capacity of West Mountain’s snowmaking plant?

Mike: We put out about 2800 gallons of water per minute. We can bury Frolic top-to-bottom, side-to-side in about 4 days. Mach and Bannister go quick. Midway (under the triple chair) we do last because it takes the longest. We’re on town water, so we really watch our P’s and Q’s, but when it’s cold, we don’t mess around. You know, most people don’t understand how complicated the process of making snow is. Snowmaking is the ski industry’s #1 business. If it wasn’t for snowmaking we wouldn’t exist.

Jeff: How was the summer season for you? I did the Warrior Run back in June, and that was a great event.

Mike: Summer was good. The restaurant was open and we did a lot of weddings, parties, showers. We did concerts, and the Warrior Run was good too – we’re looking into hosting another one next summer.

Jeff: How about the Zip Line and Mountain Coaster? What’s the status of those projects?

Mike: I’ve got all my approvals in place and now we’re working on the financing, so we’ll have it up for next summer.

Jeff: Any plans to eventually replace one of the lifts?

Mike (hearty laughter): Maybe someday the State will buy me one. (More laughter.) But seriously, you can see what we’re doing here: we’ve opened up the restaurant year-round, we’re doing more in the summer, and if things work out maybe the cost of a new chairlift is affordable. You have to have year-round activity so your cash flow doesn’t go negative in April for the next seven months.

Jeff: I would guess that even without going to a high-speed detachable quad you’re talking well into 7-figures for a new/used lift. That’s an awful lot of lift tickets.

Mike (laughter again): You think? You know, before I put the addition on the restaurant (2008) we looked at a brand new, $1.8 million fixed-grip triple to replace the double chair. But when you put it all down on paper, there’s no way you can get your investment back out of the lift ticket, even with increasing your skier visits.. You have to have the year-round business for it to make sense, and that’s where we’re heading.

Jeff: Who do you consider to be your primary competition?

Mike: You know, I don’t look at anybody as our competition. What we offer – convenience, great snow, night skiing, close to home and close to the Northway - nobody else has. So who’s the competition? People are staying local, and we put out a helluva product. You can come here for $17 on a Monday or Tuesday night and ski for 5 hours, you can’t beat that. All I can say is that when you come to West Mountain, you’re going to have a great day, a fun day.

Jeff: I appreciate your time Mike. I’ll see you on the slopes soon.

Top photo: Mike Barbone with new electronic ticketing equipment, November 2010, courtesy The Saratogian. Bottom photo: tower-mounted fan guns on the Frolic trail, courtesy West Mountain.


  1. Great work Mike. Thanks for all you do for the customers!!!


  2. ....Well if a new lift is out of the question (understandably) would it be possible/practicle to replace the chairs only on the double? Something without that *#%#! center support pipe. Hate that thing.


  3. Snowballs, I agree the center-pole double is an "acquired tasted" -- that's a good reason to ride the triple instead. :)