Monday, October 24, 2011

Season Preview Outtakes: Willard Mountain

Following is the fourth in my series of Season Preview Outtakes. In this post, Chic Wilson, owner and General Manager of Willard Mountain, talks about social media and summer operations, among other topics.

Jeff: What kinds of changes are in store for skiers this winter?

Chic: We’ve significantly re-graded the Bunnyhop trail. I can’t even begin to guess how much dirt we’ve moved to eliminate the flat section in the middle and make the trail more skiable. We’ve shifted the whole trail over to skier’s right and built it up by about 10 feet. It should make a big difference this winter, and we’ll do more work on it next year too.

With all that work on Bunnyhop, we thought it would be a good opportunity to come up with a new name. So we reached out to our friends on Facebook with a contest, and the overwhelming consensus – 60% – was to keep it as Bunnyhop. Facebook has really allowed us to communicate and interact with our customers, to keep them engaged and feel like they are involved with Willard in the off season. That’s one reason why we’re New York’s Coolest Little Ski Area.

Jeff: How about snowmaking?

Chic: We’re adding 4 new fan guns. They are an expensive investment but the most efficient way for us to make snow, especially in marginal conditions. We’ve also added and enlarged the snowmaking piping around the base area so that we can make more snow more efficiently there. We’re constantly upgrading and improving our snowmaking operations, it’s the most important part of our business. Sure, we’ve got a ski school and a retail shop, tubing, food operations and a bar, but our main business is snow. We use a lot of HKD snowmaking technology (ed. note: HKD is considered an industry leader in manufacturing high efficiency, automated snowmaking equipment). We’d like to get to the point where we have 100% of the mountain’s snowmaking automated, where you just throw a switch and it goes. We’re about 2/3 of the way there now. People don’t always realize that acre-for-acre, we’ve got as large – or larger - a snowmaking plant as a Killington or Gore.

Jeff: Any other long term plans?

Chic: Long-range, I’d like to move the terrain park and add more snow features, but that will be a considerable expense and is probably at least a few years down the road. We’re also going to replace the cable tow in the learning area with a second magic carpet. We may sell or trade that cable tow, or we may hold on to it to use in the terrain park. If we go that route, we’ll reach out to our terrain park users and get feedback from them.

Jeff: How was last winter for Willard, and what does this year look like at this point?

Willard's unique side-by-side double chairs

Chic: Last year was a good year, another record for us. We’ve been fortunate that every year for the past 16 or 17 years has been a record except for one. Going into the winter, about 60% of our business is normally pre-sold in the form of season passes, lessons, school programs, etc. And after a good winter like last year, those pre-sales are even stronger.

Jeff: Summer operations is a big topic in ski area management. Will Willard eventually add some form of summer activity?

Chic: I don’t really see Willard going in that direction. First, I’d have to hire an entire new management team because we work so hard during the winter that we need that summer down-time for maintenance and other projects. And there are so many summer activities to compete with: Great Escape, fairs, family vacations. How am I going to compete with that? We’re New York’s Coolest Little SKI Area – we don’t really want to become an amusement park or waterslide park.

Jeff: What else makes Willard New York’s Coolest Little Ski Area?

Chic: You know, it’s really our customers. There’s an atmosphere here that’s fun and relaxed that you don’t find at the big mountains. Sure, a lot of our customers ski the big mountains too, but they come back here and consider Willard their home.

To read my interview with Chic from last November, click on the link: A Chat with Chic Wilson

1 comment:

  1. Willard Mountain’s annual used equipment sale begins 10/29 and runs for 4 weekends. Items are sold on a consignment basis with 25% of the sale donated to Willard’s race team.