Monday, October 31, 2011

Season Preview Outtakes: Whiteface

Following is the fifth and final Season Preview Outtake. In this post, Whiteface Mountain's General Manager, Bruce McCulley, and ORDA’s Public Relations Coordinator, Jon Lundin, expand on some of the topics that we covered for my Season Preview article on Adirondack

Jeff: I know you’re doing quite a bit of work in the base lodge this year.

Bruce: We changed the food in the J.Lohr café last year, it’s really high quality food but the kitchen is kind of marginal, so we’re renovating that. We’re bringing in new Rossignol skis from for the rental shop that will use rocker technology, and putting in a whole new racking system to organize the rental area better. We’re completely renovating the retail shop, it had been old and outdated, kind of dark.

Jeff: How about snowmaking and grooming?

Whiteface Mountain as it appeared just before the start of the 2010-2011 season.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

Bruce: We’re getting 4 more of the automated fan guns, which means we’ll have 8 altogether. They do a great job, they produce very consistent snow and they’re fairly energy efficient – although they’re not the most energy efficient. They’re automated, which is where we get the savings. It’s always good to have a mix of snowmaking guns.

And we’ve got a brand new state-of-the-art winch-cat groomer. It’s a major investment at $350 thousand but it’s a really important addition to our grooming fleet - we run winch-cats every night and this new one replaces one that’s aging.

Jeff: How’s the work on the Little Whiteface lift coming along? That lift goes all the way back to the original ski center development in the late ‘50s doesn’t it?

Bruce: The original lift was built in ’58, and it was re-done in ’78 all the way to the top for the 1980 Olympics. Then in ’89 they put in the lift beside it (the Mountain Run lift), so all the towers from mid-station down were new then. We’re putting in new towers and new sheave trains from the mid-station up. Plus we’re overhauling the entire drive-train mechanism, so it will essentially be a new lift. That lift had an awful lot of hours on it.

Jeff: Skiers feel like it’s a pretty key lift for flexibility in accessing the upper mountain terrain.

Bruce: Right. We don’t necessarily run it every day during the winter, but it’s still an important lift.

Jeff: Last year you guys had a really strong winter. Skier visits and revenue were both up by more than 10% over the previous winter to record or near-record levels. I know that success was partly attributed to the strong Canadian dollar, partly to having a really good snow year, and partly to marketing efforts. How does this winter look?

Jon: No, no, it was all marketing and public relations! We’re trying to continue a lot of the things we did last year, like the Road Warriors.

Bruce: For this winter, we’re hoping the exchange rate remains favorable – we did great in the Canadian market last year. We had been pretty quiet in that region for a while, but now we’re investing some effort up there and introducing a whole new market to Whiteface.

Jeff: Have you sent the Road Warriors up there?

Bruce: Not yet, but we’re making some plans for that. (Ed. note: since our chat in late September, the Road Warriors have been scheduled for appearances in Ottawa and Montreal.) The Road Warrior program has been great for visibility. It’s unique and catches people’s attention.

Jeff: How does Gore fit into ORDA’s marketing efforts? I wonder if a program like the Road Warriors would benefit Gore?

Jon: ORDA has a role, but Gore does a lot of their own marketing themselves. They have their own approaches, for example Gore does very well in their marketing efforts through ski shows.

Jeff: How was the summer season?

Bruce: We’re probably off from last year just a bit. The weather wasn’t quite as good and we got hit with Irene at the end. But overall it was a decent summer.

Jeff: What’s ORDA’s view of venues and activities that aren’t cash flow positive? I sometimes hear skiers complain that those venues drain resources from the ski operations.

Jon: First, those venues are important for their larger economic impact on the region, plus the positive exposure they bring . After all, where else in the northeast can you bobsled, or skate on an Olympic track? And second, those facilities are paid for by their governing bodies or international federations, and by their user fees – so they’re not a resource diversion at all.

Jeff: Any improvements at Mount Van Hoevenberg this year?

Jon: Yes. We’re doing some lodge improvements and trail work and there’s a new groomer as well. The improvements that we do at venues like Mount Van Hoevenberg may not be the big attention-getting improvements that you see at Gore and Whiteface, but we invest in those facilities year-in and year-out. Make sure you come up to race in the Lake Placid Loppet, it’s the Loppet’s 30th year.

Jeff: What’s the status of the proposal to fold Belleayre into ORDA?

Jon: That’s still just a proposal for now. For this winter at least, Belleayre will continue to be operated by DEC. We’ll see what the future brings.

Jeff: I never seem to time my visits to Whiteface right to ski the slides.

Jon: Put early March 2012 on your calendar now – I guarantee it!

Jeff: Thanks very much Bruce and Jon, I appreciate your time. See you on the slopes soon!

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