When Vail Resorts revealed a few days ago that Greg Gavrilets, the young general manager of Attitash Mountain Resort, left his job on Jan. 17 amid great dissatisfaction over very limited terrain, it came at a very bad time for the giant ski resort property chain based in Colorado.
It was the most snowless start to the season in memory in the North Conway, New Hampshire area and throughout New England ski country for that matter with most major resorts at 50% off. capacity at most, and some pass holders at Attitash and Wildcat have complained loudly about Vail’s public and alleged mismanagement.
Ski area pain
Attitash and Wildcat, Vail’s two operations in the Mount Washington Valley, suffered more than most ski areas, in large part due to outdated snowmaking and lift systems and a shortage of manpower. work worse than in most places, in part due to the somewhat remote location of North Conway.
While local Vail critics, mostly retirees quoted in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper, alleged ownership of remote businesses was to blame, independent New England ski areas – including Berkshire East in Charlemont and Magic Mountain and Bolton Valley in Vermont – were also hit hard by inclement weather and forced to cut hours, days and terrain.
Under their previous owner, Peak Resorts, which Vail acquired in July 2019, Attitash and Wildcat languished with little capital improvement while Peak invested in Mount Snow, the southern Vermont resort town, the jewel of the Peak Range. Likewise, the former owners of Okemo and Stowe, who are now also owned by Vail, have seen a steady stream of investments from their former owners.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Gavrilets, at 33 already an experienced mountain manager, is leaving for a better job.
It begins March 1 in Mount Rose, the jewel of the Lake Tahoe region near Reno, Nevada, and will work with the current retired GM, Paul senft, until the end of the season and take over as General Manager on April 18.
“While the timing of my departure is a bit unique, the decision is strictly up to family and the incredible opportunity to lead Mount Rose,” he said. “Attitash is a special place, and I still firmly believe it has the most potential of any Vail property on the east coast.”
Anyone in the ski area would grab the Monte Rosa opportunity if they could.
Family-owned Mount Rose, at 8,260 feet, has the highest base elevation of any ski area in famed Tahoe, California and Nevada, and averages 350 inches of snow per year, over double that of Attitash.
With a drop of 1,800 feet, equivalent to that of Attitash, it has more than 1,200 acres of skiable terrain, compared to Attitash’s 311, and the 9,700-foot summit of Monte Rosa eclipses the peak of 2,350. feet of Attitash.
Vail fly review
Either way, Vail, who has sold over 2.1 million Epic Mega Passes this season after dropping prices 20% from last year and is the largest ski area owner in the world. country, has tried to respond to criticism.
Vail is a prime target for disgruntled skiers and snowboarders, but he’s unlikely to appease his enemies until the Snow Gods grant real snowfall to New England.
As part of the ski giant’s public relations offensive and attempt to attract and retain scarce staff, it is offering all hourly workers an end-of-season bonus of $ 2 per hour for all workers. hours worked between January 1 and April 15.
“Each year, finding staff members is a challenge,” said Adam white, spokesperson for the northeastern ski areas of Vail Resort. “These are unfavorable conditions to work outside in New England in the winter, and many of these jobs involve pretty specific skill sets.
“It’s hard work and it’s a competitive market. There are a lot of ski areas in the North East competing for the same talent, ”he added.
Essentially, picking up Attitash, Wildcat, and Crotched Mountain in Bennington, New Hampshire – which decided to close on Mondays and Tuesdays, causing a bit of uproar – from Peak as well as higher performing properties like Mount Snow and Hunter in New York, Vail inherited some struggling assets.
“The reality is that by acquiring these stations, Vail also encountered some of these issues associated with older systems,” White said.
The way to improve Attitash, Wildcat, and Crotched is to invest more in them. Vail has started doing this with increased snow cover and lift maintenance and a new lift slated for Attitash next season, but perhaps not as fast as he could and certainly not as fast as his pass holders. are waiting for him.
In addition to some of its other moves, the ski area giant might consider giving pass holders in some of its hardest hit areas some sort of partial discount if the situation of light snow and sparse open terrain persists.
Western-style skiing in Maine
I hadn’t been to Sugarloaf in seven or eight years until I skied it last weekend in considerably less than ideal weather conditions, and I nevertheless remembered that this outpost of the northern Maine might be New England’s best ski area.
“It’s just big,” said my old skier friend and former pro freestyler. Rich schreuer from Gloucester, turning around just before plunging into the Narrow Gauge, the legendary racetrack, on a freezing single-digit but brilliantly sunny day last Saturday. “Some places are big, but this one is big and you feel big. “
With our faithful friend from Pain de Sucre Bill leete from Falmouth, Maine, Schreuer and I hiked the massive expanse of open terrain at this iconic ski area which is New England’s longest drive to ski from central Massachusetts. But at about four o’clock, it’s worth it.
The wide and relentless slopes of Narrow Gauge, Spillway, Sluice and Skidder and others were open with extended fall lines on mostly hard compact, as opposed to the ice which has been the norm almost everywhere this dark season.
I skied here when I was in college in Maine too long ago, and not much has changed, but the change is happening.
Granted, a few years ago Sugarloaf achieved a unique land expansion with 650 acres of new off-piste (backcountry terrain accessible by ski lifts and snow cat) with Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain, where Sugarloaf runs the one of the few snow cat operations in the east.
And, of course, “le Pain” is still home to the only accessible ski above the tree line to the east in the snowfields, sugar on bread.
The largest in the east
Sugarloaf, with 2,820 vertical feet and 1,240 developed acres, bills itself as the largest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains. I think this is correct. While Whiteface in New York City has 3,430 vertical feet – the easternmost, it offers only 288 skiable acres.
But Sugarloaf, with a sizable number of around 300,000 annual ski visits as a destination resort, needs new lifts and new accommodations.
Ethan Austin, chief marketing officer, acknowledged this and highlighted the Sugarloaf 2030 plan, highlighted by a projected high-speed quad chairlift and extensive housing development.
“The real estate market has gone crazy over the past couple of years, and there is very little inventory to buy and fewer people are renting homes than in the past,” Austin said. “We’re a resort destination, so we need places where people can stay. So in order for us to kind of build this volume excuse, we need more box spring. West Mountain takes care of a lot of that.
During this time, however, the sister region of Sunday River is an hour south and attracts more visitors. As a result, company owner Boyne Resorts, who also owns Loon in New Hampshire, has run extensive high-speed lift infrastructure to Sunday River and Loon, with the new Kancamagus 8 eight-passenger covered chair.
Austin, however, maintained that Boyne’s development strategy is suitable for each of the characters at all three stations. I agree that the jibe of Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain fits in with the hardcore skier vibe of Sugarloaf, and that the mountain has adequate if not optimal climbing ability, especially when the lifts Superior mechanics Skyline and Timberline are not in gear with the wind.
On Sunday we skied in freezing rain that looked like sharp needles on exposed flesh, but the snow skied well.
With around 275 acres open when I was there, Sugarloaf enjoyed fewer freeze-thaw cycles than most other major resorts, although Bread suffers from the same acute staff shortage as most others. country and has been hit by a slew of COVID and other health issues that have squeezed the workforce.
Stable snowfall and an excellent ski bar
“We’ve been pretty, lucky enough. Even though we haven’t had a lot of natural snow, we’re further north and our elevation is pretty high, ”Austin said. “So we were lucky with temperatures where we have been able to produce snow fairly consistently since our opening. “
Oh, and by the way, I’m retroactively adding the Rack après ski bar to my recent list of the best New England ski bars.
While this large bar and barbecue has been shifted by COVID and forced to open with strict distancing numbers with only a fraction of its normal space, it remains one of the funkiest places in the country to ski.
For the record, by popular demand I’m also adding Tom’s Loft, in Okemo, and the Whaleback Pub in the non-profit Whaleback ski area in Enfield, New Hampshire.
—Contact Shaun Sutner by email at [email protected]