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The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast

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Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains. www.stormskiing.com

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Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains. www.stormskiing.com

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Podcast #177: White Grass Ski Touring Center Founder and Owner Chip Chase

7/14/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on July 7. It dropped for free subscribers on July 14. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Chip Chase, Founder and Owner of White Grass Ski Touring Center, West Virginia Recorded on May 16, 2024 About White Grass Touring Center Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Chip Chase Located in: Davis, West Virginia Year founded: 1979 (at a different location) Pass affiliations: Indy Pass and Indy+ Pass: 2 days, no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Canaan Valley (8 minutes), Timberline (11 minutes) Base elevation: 3,220 feet (below the lodge) Summit elevation: 4,463 feet (atop Weiss Knob) Vertical drop: 1,243 feet Skiable Acres: 2,500 Average annual snowfall: 140 inches Trail count: 42 (50 km of maintained trails) Lift count: None Why I interviewed him One habit I’ve borrowed from the mostly now-defunct U.S. ski magazines is their unapologetic focus always and only on Alpine skiing. This is not a snowsports newsletter or a wintertime recreation newsletter or a mountain lifestyle newsletter. I’m not interested in ice climbing or snowshoeing or even snowboarding, which I’ve never attempted and probably never will. I’m not chasing the hot fads like Norwegian goat fjording, which is where you paddle around glaciers in an ice canoe, with an assist tow from a swimming goat. And I’ve narrowed the focus much more than my traditionalist antecedents, avoiding even passing references to food, drink, lodging, gear, helicopters, snowcats, whacky characters, or competitions of any kind (one of the principal reasons I ski is that it is an unmeasured, individualistic sport). Which, way to squeeze all the fun out of it, Stu. But shearing off 90 percent of all possible subject matter allows me to cover the small spectrum of things that I do actually care about – the experience of traveling to and around a lift-served snowsportskiing facility, with a strange side obsession with urban planning and land-use policy – over the broadest possible geographic area (currently the entire United States and Canada, though mostly that’s Western Canada right now because I haven’t yet consumed quantities of ayahuasca sufficient to unlock the intellectual and spiritual depths where the names and statistical profiles of all 412* Quebecois ski areas could dwell). So that’s why I don’t write about cross-country skiing or cross-country ski centers. Sure, they’re Alpine skiing-adjacent, but so is lift-served MTB and those crazy jungle gym swingy-bridge things and ziplining and, like, freaking ice skating. If I covered everything that existed around a lift-served ski area, I would quickly grow bored with this whole exercise. Because frankly the only thing I care about is skiing. Downhill skiing. The uphill part, much as it’s fetishized by the ski media and the self-proclaimed hardcore, is a little bit confusing. Because you’re going the wrong way, man. No one shows up at Six Flags and says oh actually I would prefer to walk to the top of Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger. Like do you not see the chairlift sitting right f*****g there? But here we are anyway: I’m featuring a cross-country skiing center on my podcast that’s stubbornly devoted always and only to Alpine skiing. And not just a cross-country ski center, but one that, by the nature of its layout, requires some uphill travel to complete most loops. Why would I do this to myself, and to my readers/listeners? Well, several factors collided to interest me in White Grass, including: * The ski area sits on the site of an abandoned circa-1950s downhill ski area, Weiss Knob. White Grass has incorporated much of the left-over refuse – the lodge, the ropetow engines – into the functioning or aesthetic of the current business. The first thing you see upon arrival at White Grass is a...

Duration:01:51:40

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Podcast #176: Wildcat General Manager JD Crichton

7/3/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on June 26. It dropped for free subscribers on July 3. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who JD Crichton, General Manager of Wildcat Mountain, New Hampshire Recorded on May 30, 2024 About Wildcat Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Vail Resorts Located in: Gorham, New Hampshire Year founded: 1933 (lift service began in 1957) Pass affiliations: * Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Northeast Value Pass – unlimited access * Northeast Midweek Pass – unlimited weekday access Closest neighboring ski areas: Black Mountain, New Hampshire (:18), Attitash (:22), Cranmore (:28), Sunday River (:45), Mt. Prospect Ski Tow (:46), Mt. Abram (:48), Bretton Woods (:48), King Pine (:50), Pleasant Mountain (:57), Cannon (1:01), Mt. Eustis Ski Hill (1:01) Base elevation: 1,950 feet Summit elevation: 4,062 feet Vertical drop: 2,112 feet Skiable Acres: 225 Average annual snowfall: 200 inches Trail count: 48 (20% beginner, 47% intermediate, 33% advanced) Lift count: 5 (1 high-speed quad, 3 triples, 1 carpet) Why I interviewed him I’ve always been skeptical of acquaintances who claim to love living in New Jersey because of “the incredible views of Manhattan.” Because you know where else you can find incredible views of Manhattan? In Manhattan. And without having to charter a hot-air balloon across the river anytime you have to go to work or see a Broadway play.* But sometimes views are nice, and sometimes you want to be adjacent-to-but-not-necessarily-a-part-of something spectacular and dramatic. And when you’re perched summit-wise on Wildcat, staring across the street at Mount Washington, the most notorious and dramatic peak on the eastern seaboard, it’s hard to think anything other than “damn.” Flip the view and the sentiment reverses as well. The first time I saw Wildcat was in summertime, from the summit of Mount Washington. Looking 2,200 feet down, from above treeline, it’s an almost quaint-looking ski area, spare but well-defined, its spiderweb trail network etched against the wild Whites. It feels as though you could reach down and put it in your pocket. If you didn’t know you were looking at one of New England’s most abrasive ski areas, you’d probably never guess it. Wildcat could feel tame only beside Mount Washington, that open-faced deathtrap hunched against 231-mile-per-hour winds. Just, I suppose, as feisty New Jersey could only seem placid across the Hudson from ever-broiling Manhattan. To call Wildcat the New Jersey of ski areas would seem to imply some sort of down-tiering of the thing, but over two decades on the East Coast, I’ve come to appreciate oft-abused NJ as something other than New York City overflow. Ignore the terrible drivers and the concrete-bisected arterials and the clusters of third-world industry and you have a patchwork of small towns and beach towns, blending, to the west and north, with the edges of rolling Appalachia, to the south with the sweeping Pine Barrens, to the east with the wild Atlantic. It’s actually pretty nice here across the street, is my point. Even if it’s not quite as cozy as it looks. This is a place as raw and wild and real as any in the world, a thing that, while forever shadowed by its stormy neighbor, stands just fine on its own. *It’s not like living in New Jersey is some kind of bargain. It’s like paying Club Thump Thump prices for grocery store Miller Lite. Or at least that was my stance until I moved my smug ass to Brooklyn. What we talked about Mountain cleanup day; what it took to get back to long seasons at Wildcat and why they were truncated for a handful of winters; post-Vail-acquisition snowmaking upgrades; the impact of a $20-an-hour minimum wage on rural New Hampshire; various bargain-basement Epic Pass options; living through major resort...

Duration:01:22:39

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Podcast #175: Whistler Blackcomb Vice President & COO Belinda Trembath

6/17/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on June 10. It dropped for free subscribers on June 17. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Belinda Trembath, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia Recorded on June 3, 2024 About Whistler Blackcomb Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Vail Resorts (majority owners; Nippon Cable owns a 25 percent stake in Whistler Blackcomb) Located in: Whistler, British Columbia Year founded: 1966 Pass affiliations: * Epic Pass: unlimited * Epic Local Pass: 10 holiday-restricted days, shared with Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek Closest neighboring ski areas: Grouse Mountain (1:26), Cypress (1:30), Mt. Seymour (1:50) – travel times vary based upon weather conditions, time of day, and time of year Base elevation: 2,214 feet (675 meters) Summit elevation: 7,497 feet (2,284 meters) Vertical drop: 5,283 feet (1,609 meters) Skiable Acres: 8,171 Average annual snowfall: 408 inches (1,036 centimeters) Trail count: 276 (20% easiest, 50% more difficult, 30% most difficult) Lift count: A lot (1 28-passenger gondola, 3 10-passenger gondolas, 1 8-passenger gondola, 1 8-passenger pulse gondola, 8 high-speed quads, 4 six-packs, 1 eight-pack, 3 triples, 2 T-bars, 7 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Whistler Blackcomb’s lift fleet) – inventory includes upgrade of Jersey Cream Express from a quad to a six-pack for the 2024-25 ski season. Why I interviewed her Historical records claim that when Lewis and Clark voyaged west in 1804, they were seeking “the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” But they were actually looking for Whistler Blackcomb. Or at least I think they were. What other reason is there to go west but to seek out these fabulous mountains, rising side by side and a mile* into the sky, where Pacific blow-off splinters into summit blizzards and packed humanity animates the village below? There is nothing else like Whistler in North America. It is our most complete, and our greatest, ski resort. Where else does one encounter this collision of terrain, vertical, panorama, variety, and walkable life, interconnected with audacious aerial lifts and charged by a pilgrim-like massing of skiers from every piece and part of the world? Europe and nowhere else. Except for here. Other North American ski resorts offer some of these things, and some of them offer better versions of them than Whistler. But none of them has all of them, and those that have versions of each fail to combine them all so fluidly. There is no better snow than Alta-Snowbird snow, but there is no substantive walkable village. There is no better lift than Jackson’s tram, but the inbounds terrain lacks scale and the town is miles away. There is no better energy than Palisades Tahoe energy, but the Pony Express is still carrying news of its existence out of California. Once you’ve skied Whistler – or, more precisely, absorbed it and been absorbed by it – every other ski area becomes Not Whistler. The place lingers. You carry it around. Place it into every ski conversation. “Have you been to Whistler?” If not, you try to describe it. But it can’t be done. “Just go,” you say, and that’s as close as most of us can come to grabbing the raw power of the place. *Or 1.6 Canadian Miles (sometimes referred to as “kilometers”). What we talked about Why skier visits dropped at Whistler-Blackcomb this past winter; the new Fitzsimmons eight-passenger express and what it took to modify a lift that had originally been intended for Park City; why skiers can often walk onto that lift with little to no wait; this summer’s Jersey Cream lift upgrade; why Jersey Cream didn’t require as many modifications as Fitzsimmons even though it was also meant for Park City;...

Duration:01:51:52

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Podcast #174: Blue Knob, Pennsylvania Owners & Management

6/11/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on June 4. It dropped for free subscribers on June 11. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who * Scott Bender, operations and business advisor to Blue Knob ownership * Donna Himes, Blue Knob Marketing Manager * Sam Wiley, part owner of Blue Knob * Gary Dietke, Blue Knob Mountain Manager Recorded on May 13, 2024 About Blue Knob Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Majority owned by the Wiley family Located in: Claysburg, Pennsylvania Year founded: 1963 Pass affiliations: Indy Pass and Indy+ Pass – 2 days, no blackouts (access not yet set for 2024-25 ski season) Closest neighboring ski areas: Laurel (1:02), Tussey (1:13), Hidden Valley (1:14), Seven Springs (1:23) Base elevation: 2,100 feet Summit elevation: 3,172 feet Vertical drop: 1,072 feet Skiable Acres: 100 Average annual snowfall: 120 inches Trail count: 33 (5 beginner, 10 intermediate, 4 advanced intermediate, 5 advanced, 9 expert) + 1 terrain park Lift count: 5 (2 triples, 2 doubles, 1 carpet – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Blue Knob’s lift fleet) Why I interviewed them I’ve not always written favorably about Blue Knob. In a state where shock-and-awe snowmaking is a baseline operational requirement, the mountain’s system is underwhelming and bogged down by antiquated equipment. The lower-mountain terrain – Blue Knob’s best – opens sporadically, sometimes remaining mysteriously shuttered after heavy local snows. The website at one time seemed determined to set the world record for the most exclamation points in a single place. They may have succeeded (this has since been cleaned up): I’ve always tried to couch these critiques in a but-damn-if-only context, because Blue Knob, considered purely as a ski area, is an absolute killer. It needs what any Pennsylvania ski area needs – modern, efficient, variable-weather-capable, overwhelming snowmaking and killer grooming. No one, in this temperamental state of freeze-thaws and frequent winter rains, can hope to survive long term without those things. So what’s the holdup? My goal with The Storm is to be incisive but fair. Everyone deserves a chance to respond to critiques, and offering them that opportunity is a tenant of good journalism. But because this is a high-volume, high-frequency operation, and because my beat covers hundreds of ski areas, I’m not always able to gather reactions to every post in the moment. I counterbalance that reality with this: every ski area’s story is a long-term, ongoing one. What they mess up today, they may get right tomorrow. And reality, while inarguable, does not always capture intentions. Eventually, I need to gather and share their perspective. And so it was Blue Knob’s turn to talk. And I challenge you to find a more good-natured and nicer group of folks anywhere. I went off format with this one, hosting four people instead of the usual one (I’ve done multiples a few times before, with Plattekill, West Mountain, Bousquet, Boyne Mountain, and Big Sky). The group chat was Blue Knob’s idea, and frankly I loved it. It’s not easy to run a ski area in 2024 in the State of Pennsylvania, and it’s especially not easy to run this ski area, for reasons I outline below. And while Blue Knob has been slower to get to the future than its competitors, I believe they’re at least walking in that direction. What we talked about “This was probably one of our worst seasons”; ownership; this doesn’t feel like PA; former owner Dick Gauthier’s legacy; reminiscing on the “crazy fun” of the bygone community atop the ski hill; Blue Knob’s history as an Air Force station and how the mountain became a ski area; Blue Knob’s interesting lease arrangement with the state; the remarkable evolution of Seven Springs and how those lessons could fuel Blue Knob’s growth; competing against...

Duration:01:35:03

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Podcast #173: Kirkwood Vice President & General Manager Ricky Newberry

6/9/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on June 2. It dropped for free subscribers on June 9. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Ricky Newberry, Vice President and General Manager of Kirkwood Ski Resort, California Recorded on May 20, 2024 About Kirkwood Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Vail Resorts Located in: Kirkwood, California Year founded: 1972 Pass affiliations: * Epic Pass: unlimited access * Epic Local Pass: unlimited access with holiday blackouts * Tahoe Local Epic Pass: unlimited access with holiday blackouts * Tahoe Value Pass: unlimited access with holiday and Saturday blackouts * Kirkwood Pass: unlimited access Closest neighboring ski areas: Heavenly (:43), Sierra-at-Tahoe (:44) – travel times vary significantly given weather conditions, time of day, and time of year. Base elevation: 7,800 feet Summit elevation: 9,800 feet Vertical drop: 2,000 feet Skiable Acres: 2,300 Average annual snowfall: 354 inches Trail count: 86 (20% expert, 38% advanced, 30% intermediate, 12% beginner) Lift count: 13 (2 high-speed quads, 1 fixed-grip quad, 6 triples, 1 double, 1 T-bar, 2 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Kirkwood’s lift fleet). Why I interviewed him Imagine this: 1971. Caltrans, the military-grade state agency charged with clearing California’s impossible snows from its high-alpine road network, agrees to maintain an additional wintertime route across the Sierra Crest: Highway 88, over Carson Pass, an east-west route cutting 125 miles from Stockton to US 395. This is California State Route 88 in the winter: A ridiculous road, an absurd idea: turn the industrial power of giant machines against a wilderness route whose wintertime deeps had eaten human souls for centuries. An audacious idea, but not an unusual one. Not in that California or in that America. Not in that era of will and muscle. Not in that country that had pushed thousands of miles of interstate across mountains and rivers and deserts in just 15 years. Caltrans would hammer 20-foot-high snow canyons up and over the pass, punching an arctic pathway into and through the howling angry fortress of the Sierra Nevada. And they did it all to serve a new ski resort. Imagine that. A California, an America that builds. Kirkwood, opened in 1972, was part of the last great wave of American ski resort construction. Copper, Northstar, Powder Mountain, 49 Degrees North, and Telluride all opened that year. Keystone (1970), Snowbird (1971), and Big Sky (1973) also cranked to life around this time. Large ski area building stalled by the early ‘80s, though Vail managed to develop Beaver Creek in 1980. Deer Valley opened in 1981. Outliers materialize: Bohemia, in spite of considerable local resistance, in 2000. Tamarack in 2004. But mostly, the ski resorts we have are all the ski resorts we’ll ever have. But there is a version of America, of California, that dreams and does enormous things, and not so long ago. This institutional memory lives on, even in those who had no part in its happening. Kirkwood is an emblem of this era and its willful collective imagining. The mountain itself is a ludicrous place for a commercial ski resort, steep and wild, an avalanche hazard zone that commands constant vigilant maintenance. Like Alta-Snowbird or Jackson Hole, the ski area offers nominal groomed routes, a comfortable lower-mountain beginner area, just enough accommodation for the intermediate mass-market passholder to say “yes I did this.” This dressing up, too, encapsulates the fading American habit of taming the raw and imposing, of making an unthinkable thing look easy. But nothing about Kirkwood is easy. Not the in or the out. Not the up or the down. It’s rough and feisty, messy and unpredictable. And that’s the point of the place. As with the airplane or the...

Duration:01:25:09

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Podcast #172 : Tyrol Basin Owner & General Manager Nathan McGree

5/27/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on May 20. It dropped for free subscribers on May 27. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Nathan McGree, Owner and General Manager of Tyrol Basin, Wisconsin Recorded on April 29, 2024 About Tyrol Basin Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Nathan McGree Located in: Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin Year founded: 1958 Pass affiliations: Indy Pass and Indy+ Pass – 2 days, no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Blackhawk Ski Club (:21), Devil’s Head (:46), Cascade (1:00), Christmas Mountain Village (1:02) Base elevation: 860 feet Summit elevation: 1,160 feet Vertical drop: 300 feet Skiable Acres: 40 Average annual snowfall: 41 inches Trail count: 24 (33% beginner, 25% intermediate, 38% advanced, 4% expert) Lift count: 7 (3 triples, 2 ropetows, 2 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Tyrol Basin’s lift fleet) Why I interviewed him When you Google “Tyrol,” the expanse of Italian and Austrian Alps from which this Wisconsin bump draws its name, the robots present you with this image: That is not Wisconsin. According to On The Snow, Tyrol Basin recorded two inches of snowfall during the 2021-22 ski season, and 15 inches the following winter. I don’t know if these numbers are accurate. No one runs, like, the Southern Wisconsin Snorkel Dawgs Facebook group as a secondary verification source. The site pegs Tyrol’s average annual snowfall at 30 inches. That’s not even a powder day at Alta. Indy Pass offers a more generous 51. A site called “GottaGoItSnows.com” lists four feet (48 inches), but also offers, as its featured photo of the ski area, this grainy webcam screenshot, which appears to feature two mis-wired AI bots about to zigzag into one another: But it doesn’t really matter what Tyrol Basin’s average annual snowfall is, or how much snow fell in either of those two winters. The ski area logged a 114-day season during the 2021-22 campaign, and 124 over the winter of 2022-23. That’s an outstanding season, above the NSAA-reported industry averages of 110 and 116 days for those respective campaigns. It’s a particularly respectable number of ski days when a season pass starts at $199.99, as it did last year (McGree told me he expects that price to drop when 2024-25 passes go on sale in July). No one offers 114 days of skiing on two inches of natural snow by accident. You need what the kids (probably don’t) call “mad skillz ya’ll.” Especially when you offer a terrain park that looks like this: What’s going on here? How can a snow-light bump 28 miles west of Madison where snowsportskiing ought to be impossible offer nearly four months of something approximating winter? That the answer is obvious (snowmaking) doesn’t make it any less interesting. After all, put me at the controls of a $106-million Boeing 737, and I’m more likely to crash it into a mountain than to safely return it to the airport – having access to technology and equipment is not the same thing as knowing how to use it (not that I have access to an airplane; God help us). Tyrol Basin is the story of a former diesel mechanic who ended up owning a ski area. And doing a hell of a nice job running it. That’s pretty cool, and worth a deeper look. What we talked about Coping with a crummy Midwest winter; climate change resilience; a beginner-area expansion; the legend of Dave Usselman; how to create an interesting ski experience; a journey from diesel mechanic to ski area owner; the hardest thing about running a ski area; why ski area owners have to live it; “during winter, it’s a hundred-day war”; why owning a ski area is “a lot like farming”; evolving into a year-round business; why mountain biking isn’t happening at Tyrol; why season pass prices will decrease for next ski season; how snowtubing roiled a Wisconsin town; how a dairy barn became a...

Duration:01:31:28

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Podcast #171: Mission Ridge & Blacktail CEO Josh Jorgensen

5/10/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on May 3. It dropped for free subscribers on May 10. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Josh Jorgensen, CEO of Mission Ridge, Washington and Blacktail Mountain, Montana Recorded on April 15, 2024 About Mission Ridge Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Larry Scrivanich Located in: Wenatchee, Washington Year founded: 1966 Pass affiliations: * Indy Pass – 2 days with holiday and weekend blackouts (TBD for 2024-25 ski season) * Indy+ Pass – 2 days with no blackouts * Powder Alliance – 3 days with holiday and Saturday blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Badger Mountain (:51), Leavenworth Ski Hill (:53) – travel times may vary considerably given weather conditions, time of day, and time of year. Base elevation: 4,570 feet Summit elevation: 6,820 feet Vertical drop: 2,250 feet Skiable Acres: 2,000 Average annual snowfall: 200 inches Trail count: 70+ (10% easiest, 60% more difficult, 30% most difficult) Lift count: 7 (1 high-speed quad, 3 doubles, 2 ropetows, 1 carpet – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Mission Ridge’s lift fleet) View historic Mission Ridge trailmaps on skimap.org. About Blacktail Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Larry Scrivanich Located in: Lakeside, Montana Year founded: 1998 Pass affiliations: * Indy Pass – 2 days with holiday and weekend blackouts (TBD for 2024-25 ski season) * Indy+ Pass – 2 days with no blackouts * Powder Alliance – 3 days with holiday blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Whitefish (1:18) - travel times may vary considerably given weather conditions, time of day, and time of year. Base elevation: 5,236 feet Summit elevation: 6,780 feet Vertical drop: 1,544 feet Skiable Acres: 1,000+ Average annual snowfall: 250 inches Trail count: (15% easier, 65% more difficult, 20% most difficult) Lift count: 4 (1 triple, 2 doubles, 1 carpet – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Blacktail’s lift fleet) View historic Blacktail trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him So much of Pacific Northwest skiing’s business model amounts to wait-and-pray, hoping that, sometime in November-December, the heaping snowfalls that have spiraled in off the ocean for millennia do so again. It’s one of the few regions in modern commercial skiing, anywhere in the world, where the snow is reliable enough and voluminous enough that this good-ole-boy strategy still works: 460 inches per year at Stevens Pass; 428 at Summit at Snoqualmie; 466 at Crystal; 400 at White Pass; a disgusting 701 at Baker. It’s no wonder that most of these ski areas have either no snowguns, or so few that a motivated scrapper could toss the whole collection in the back of a single U-Haul. But Mission Ridge possesses no such natural gifts. The place is snowy enough – 200 inches in an average winter – that it doesn’t seem ridiculous that someone thought to run lifts up the mountain. But by Washington State standards, the place is practically Palm Beach. That means the owners have had to work a lot harder, and in a far more deliberate way than their competitors, to deliver a consistent snowsportskiing experience since the bump opened in 1966. Which is a long way of saying that Mission Ridge probably has more snowmaking than the rest of Washington’s ski areas combined. Which, often, is barely enough to hang at the party. This year, however, as most Washington ski areas spent half the winter thinking “Gee, maybe we ought to have more than zero snowguns,” Mission was clocking its third-best skier numbers ever. The Pacific Northwest, as a whole, finished the season fairly strong. The snow showed up, as it always does. A bunch of traditional late operators – Crystal, Meadows, Bachelor, Timberline – remain open as of early May. But, whether driven by climate change, rising consumer...

Duration:01:02:40

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The Storm Live #3: Mountain Capital Partners Buys La Parva, Chile

5/9/2024
The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and to support independent ski journalism, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Who James Coleman, Managing Partner of Mountain Capital Partners Recorded on May 7, 2024 About Mountain Capital Partners About La Parva Base elevation: 8,704 feet Summit elevation: 11,722 feet Vertical drop: 3,022 feet Skiable Acres: 988 acres Average annual snowfall: 118 inches Trail count: 40 (18% expert, 43% advanced, 20% intermediate, 20% beginner) Lift count: 15 lifts (2 quads, 2 triples, 1 double, 10 surface lifts) View historic La Parva trailmaps on skimap.org. What we talked about MCP puts together the largest ski area in the Southern Hemisphere; how La Parva and Valle Nevado will work as a single ski area while retaining their identity; “something I’ve always taken tremendous pride in is how we respect the unique brand of every resort”; La Parva village; will MCP purchase El Colorado next?; expansion; 10,000-vertical-foot dreams; La Parva Power Pass access; why Valle Nevado is not unlimited on the Power Pass yet; considering Ikon Pass and Mountain Collective access for Valle Nevado, La Parva, and the rest of MCP’s mountains; Valle Nevado’s likely next chairlift; why MCP builds fewer lifts than it would like; the benefits and drawbacks of surface lifts; where a ropetow might make sense at Purgatory; snowmaking in the treeless Andes; why South America; what it means to be the first North American ski area operator to buy in South America; Chile is not as far away as you think; how MCP has grown so large so quickly; why MCP isn’t afraid to purchase ski areas that need work; why MCP bought Sandia Peak and which improvements could be forthcoming; why MCP won’t repair Hesperus’ chairlift until the company can install snowmaking on the hill; why the small ski area is worth saving; drama and resilience at Nordic Valley; should Nordic have upgraded Apollo before installing a brand-new six-pack and expansion?; future Nordic Valley expansion; exploring expansion at Brian Head; and why MCP has never been able to open Elk Ridge, Arizona, and what it would take to do so. What I got wrong I said that I saw “an email” that teased lift infrastructure improvements at Valle Nevado. This tidbit actually came from internal talking points that an MCP representative shared with The Storm. Why the format is so weird This is the first time I’ve used the podcast to break news, so I thought the simpler “live” format may work better. I’ll write an analysis of what MCP’s purchase of La Parva means in the coming days. The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 34/100 in 2024, and number 534 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019. Get full access to The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast at www.stormskiing.com/subscribe

Duration:01:16:32

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Podcast #170: Bluewood, Washington General Manager Pete Korfiatis

4/25/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on April 18. It dropped for free subscribers on April 25. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Pete Korfiatis, General Manager of Bluewood, Washington Recorded on April 4, 2024 About Bluewood Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Local investors Located in: Dayton, Washington Year founded: 1980 Pass affiliations: * Indy Pass and Indy+ Pass: 2 days, no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Cottonwood Butte, Idaho, 3 hours east Base elevation: 4,545 feet Summit elevation: 5,670 feet Vertical drop: 1,125 feet Skiable Acres: 355 Average annual snowfall: 300 inches Trail count: 24 (30% difficult, 45% intermediate, 25% easy) Lift count: 4 (2 triples, 2 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Bluewood’s lift fleet) Why I interviewed him Someday, if it’s not too late, I’m going to track down the old-timers who snowshoed into the wilderness and figured this all out. The American West is filled with crazy little snow pockets, lesser-known mountain ranges spiraling off the vast plateaus. Much of this land falls under the purview of the United States Forest Service. In the decades immediately before and after World War II, the agency established most of our large western ski areas within its 193 million-acre kingdom. That’s a lot of land – approximately the size of Texas – and it’s not all snowy. Where there is snow, there’s not always roads, nor even the realistic possibility of plowing one through. Where there are roads, there aren’t always good exposures or fall lines for skiing. So our ski areas ended up where they are because, mostly, those are the best places nature gave us for skiing. Obviously it snows like hell in the Wasatch and the Tetons and the Sierra Nevadas. Anyone with a covered wagon could have told you that. But the Forest Service’s map of its leased ski areas is dotted with strange little outposts popping out of what most of us assume to be The Flats: What to make of Brian Head, floating alone in southern Utah? Or Mt. Lemmon, rising over Tucson? Or Ski Apache and Cloudcroft, sunk near the bottom of New Mexico? Or the ski areas bunched and floating over Los Angeles? Or Antelope Butte, hanging out in the Wyoming Bighorns? Somewhere, in some government filing cabinet 34 floors deep in a Washington, D.C. bunker, are hand-annotated topo maps and notebooks left behind by the bureaucrat-explorers who determined that these map dots were the very best for snowsportskiing. And somewhere, buried where I’ll probably never find it, is the story of Bluewood. It’s one of our more improbable ski centers. Not because it shouldn’t be there, but because most of us can’t imagine how it could be. Most Washington and Oregon ski areas line up along the Cascades, stacked south to north along the states’ western thirds. The snow smashes into these peaks and then stops. Anyone who’s driven east over the passes has encountered the Big Brown Endless on the other side. It’s surreal, how fast the high alpine falls away. But as Interstate 90 arcs northeast through this rolling country and toward Spokane, it routes most travelers away from the fecund Umatilla National Forest, one of those unexpected islands of peaks and green floating above our American deserts. Here, in this wilderness just to the west of Walla Walla but far from just about everything else, 300 inches of snow stack up in an average winter. And this is where you will find Bluewood. The Umatilla sprawls over two states and 1.4 million acres, and is home to three ski areas (Anthony Lakes and inactive Spouts Springs, both in Oregon, are the other two). Three map dots in the wilderness, random-looking from above, all the final product of years in the field, of hardy folks pushing ever-deeper into the woods to find The Spot. This is the story of one...

Duration:01:17:04

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Podcast #169: Panorama Mountain President & CEO Steve Paccagnan

4/23/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on April 16. It dropped for free subscribers on April 23. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Steve Paccagnan, President and CEO of Panorama Mountain, British Columbia Recorded on March 27, 2024 About Panorama Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Panorama Mountain Village, Inc., a group of local investors Located in: Panorama, British Columbia, Canada Year founded: 1962 Pass affiliations: * Ikon Pass: 7 days, no blackouts * Ikon Base Pass: 5 days, holiday blackouts * Mountain Collective: 2 days, no blackouts * Lake Louise Pass: view details here Closest neighboring ski areas: Fairmont Hot Springs (:45), Kimberley (1:43), Kicking Horse (1:54) – travel times will vary considerably depending upon road conditions and time of year Base elevation: 3,773 feet/1,150 meters Summit elevation: 8,038 feet/2,450 meters Vertical drop: 4,265 feet/1,300 meters Skiable Acres: 2,975 Average annual snowfall: 204 inches/520 centimeters Trail count: 135 (30% expert, 20% advanced, 35% intermediate, 15% beginner) Lift count: 10 (1 eight-passenger pulse gondola, 2 high-speed quads, 2 fixed-grip quads, 1 triple, 1 double, 1 platter, 2 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Panorama’s lift fleet) Why I interviewed him U.S. America is making a mistake. In skiing, as in so many other arenas, we prioritize status quo protectionism over measured, holistic development that would reorient our built environments around humans, rather than cars, shrinking our overall impact while easing our access to the mountains and permitting more people to enjoy them. Our cluttered and interminable western approach roads, our mountain-town housing shortages, our liftlines backed up to Kansas are all the result of deliberate generational decisions to prioritize cars over transit, open space over dense walkable communities, and blanket wilderness protection over metered development of new public ski areas in regions where the established businesses - and their surrounding infrastructure - are overwhelmed. I write about these things a lot. This pisses some of you off. I’m OK with that. I’m not here to recycle the broken ideas that have made U.S. skiing into the mess that (in some fundamental ways, in certain regions) it is. I’m here to figure out how it can be better. The skiing itself, mind you, tends to be fabulous. It is everything that surrounds the mountains that can spoil the experience: the cost, the hassle, the sprawl. There are better ways to do this, to get people to the mountains and to house them there, both to live and to vacation. We know this because other countries already do a lot of the things that we ought to be doing. And the most culturally similar and geographically cozy one is so close we can touch it. U.S. America and U.S. Americans are ceding North American skiing’s future to British Columbia. This is where virtually all of the continent’s major resort development has occurred over the past three decades. Why do you suppose so many skiers from Washington State spend so much time at Whistler? Yes, it’s the largest resort in North America, with knockout terrain and lots of snow. But Crystal and Stevens Pass and Baker all get plenty of snow and are large enough to give most skiers just about anything they need. What Whistler has that none of them do is an expansive pedestrian base village with an almost infinite number of ski-in, ski-out beds and places to eat, drink, and shop. A dense community in the mountains. That’s worth driving four or more hours north for, even if you have to deal with the pain-in-the-ass border slowdowns to get there. This is not an accident, and Whistler is not an outlier. Over the past 30-plus years, the province of British Columbia has deliberately shaped its regulatory environment and...

Duration:01:25:21

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Podcast #168: Gunstock Mountain President & GM Tom Day

4/22/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on April 15. It dropped for free subscribers on April 22. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Tom Day, President and General Manager of Gunstock, New Hampshire Recorded on March 14, 2024 About Gunstock Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Belknap County, New Hampshire Located in: Gilford, New Hampshire Year founded: 1937 Pass affiliations: Unlimited access on New Hampshire College Pass (with Cannon, Cranmore, and Waterville Valley) Closest neighboring ski areas: Abenaki (:34), Red Hill Ski Club (:35), Veterans Memorial (:43), Tenney (:52), Campton (:52), Ragged (:54), Proctor (:56), Powderhouse Hill (:58), McIntyre (1:00) Base elevation: 904 feet Summit elevation: 2,244 feet Vertical drop: 1,340 feet Skiable Acres: 227 Average annual snowfall: 120 inches Trail count: 49 (2% double black, 31% black, 52% blue, 15% green) Lift count: 8 (1 high-speed quad, 2 fixed-grip quads, 2 triples, 3 carpets - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Gunstock’s lift fleet) Why I interviewed him In the roughly four-and-a-half years since I launched The Storm, I’ve written a lot more about some ski areas than others. I won’t claim that there’s no personal bias involved, because there are certain ski areas that, due to reputation, convenience, geography, or personal nostalgia, I’m drawn to. But Gunstock is not one of those ski areas. I was only vaguely aware of its existence when I launched this whole project. I’d been drawn, all of my East Coast life, to the larger ski areas in the state’s north and next door in Vermont and Maine. Gunstock, awkwardly located from my New York City base, was one of those places that maybe I’d get to someday, even if I wasn’t trying too hard to actually make that happen. And yet, I’ve written more about Gunstock than just about any ski area in the country. That’s because, despite my affinity for certain ski areas, I try to follow the news around. And wow has there been news at this mid-sized New Hampshire bump. Nobody knew, going into the summer of 2022, that Gunstock would become the most talked-about ski area in America, until the lid blew off Mount Winnipesaukee in July of that year, when a shallow and ill-planned insurrection failed spectacularly at drawing the ski area into our idiotic and exhausting political wars. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can read more on the whole surreal episode in the Podcast Notes section below, or just listen to the podcast. But because of that weird summer, and because of an aspirational masterplan launched in 2021, I’ve given Gunstock outsized attention in this newsletter. And in the process, I’ve quite come to like the place, both as a ski area (where I’ve now actually skied), and as a community, and it has become, however improbably, a mountain I keep taking The Storm back to. What we talked about Retirement; “my theory is that 10 percent of people that come to a ski area can be a little bit of a problem”; Gunstock as a business in 2019 versus Gunstock today; skier visits surge; cash in the bank; the publicly owned ski area that is not publicly subsidized; Gunstock Nice; the last four years at Gunstock sure were an Asskicker, eh?; how the Gunstock Area Commission works and what went sideways in the summer of 2022; All-Summers Disease; preventing a GAC Meltdown repeat; the time bandits keep coming; should Gunstock be leased to a private operator?; qualities that the next general manager of Gunstock will need to run the place successfully; honesty, integrity, and respect; an updated look at the 2021 masterplan and what actually makes sense to build; could Gunstock ever have a hotel or summit lodge?; why a paved parking lot is a big deal in 2024; Maine skiing in the 1960s; 1970s lift lines; reflecting on the changes over 40-plus years of...

Duration:01:20:15

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Podcast #167: Tenney Mountain GM Dan Egan

4/15/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on April 8. It dropped for free subscribers on April 15. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Dan Egan, General Manager of Tenney Mountain, New Hampshire Recorded on March 14, 2024 About Tenney Mountain Owned by: North Country Development Group Located in: Plymouth, New Hampshire Year founded: 1960 (closed several times; re-opened most recently in 2023) Pass affiliations: * No Boundaries Pass: 1-3 days, no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Campton (:24), Kanc Recreation Area (:33), Loon (:34), Ragged (:34), Waterville Valley (:35), Veteran’s Memorial (:39), Red Hill Ski Club (:42), Cannon (:44), Proctor (:44), Mt. Eustis (:50), Gunstock (:52), Dartmouth Skiway (:54), Whaleback (:55), Storrs (:57), Bretton Woods (:59) Base elevation: 749 feet Summit elevation: 2,149 feet Vertical drop: 1,400 feet Skiable Acres: 110 acres Average annual snowfall: 140 inches Trail count: 47 (14 advanced, 27 intermediate, 6 beginner) + 1 terrain park Lift count: 3 (1 triple, 1 double, 1 platter - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Tenney’s lift fleet) View historic Tenney Mountain trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him Dan Egan is an interesting guy. He seems to have 10 jobs all at once. He’s at Big Sky and he’s at Val-d’Isère and he’s writing books and he’s giving speeches and he’s running Tenney Mountain. He’s a legendary freeskier who didn’t die young and who’s stayed glued to the sport. He loves skiing and it is his whole life and that’s clear in talking to him for 30 seconds. So he would have been a great and compelling interview even outside of the context of Tenney. But I’m always drawn to people who do particular, peculiar things when they could do anything. There’s no reason that Dan Egan has to bother with Tenney, a mid-sized mountain in a mid-sized ski state far from the ski poles of the Alps and the Rockies. It would be a little like Barack Obama running for drain commissioner of Gladwin County, Michigan. He’d probably do a good job, but why would he bother, when he could do just about anything else in the world? I don’t know. It’s funny. But Egan is drawn to this place. It’s his second time running Tenney. The guy is Boston-core, his New England roots clear and proud. It makes sense that he would rep the region. But there are New England ski areas that stand up to the West in scope and scale of terrain, and even, in Northern Vermont, snow volume and quality (if not consistency). But Tenney isn’t one of them. It’s like the 50th best ski area in the Northeast, not because it couldn’t be better, but because it’s never been able to figure out how to become the best version of itself. Egan – who, it’s important to note, will move into an advisory or consultant role for Tenney next winter – seems to know exactly who he is, and that helps. He understands skiing and he understands skiers and he understands where this quirky little mountain could fit into the wide world of skiing. This is exactly what the ski area needs as it chugs into the most recent version of itself, one that, we hope, can defy its own legacy and land, like Egan always seems to, on its skis. What we talked about A vision for Tenney; what happened when Egan went skiing in jeans all over New Hampshire; the second comeback season was stronger than the first; where Tenney can fit in a jam-packed New Hampshire ski scene; why this time is different at Tenney; the crazy gene; running a ski area with an extreme skier’s mindset; expansion potential; what’s lost with better snowmaking and grooming and wider trails; why New England breeds kick-ass skiers; Tenney’s quiet renovation; can Tenney thrive long-term with a double chair as its summit lift?; what’s the worst thing about a six-person chair?; where Tenney could build more beginner terrain;...

Duration:01:30:21

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Podcast #166: Okemo Vice President & General Manager Bruce Schmidt

4/12/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on April 5. It dropped for free subscribers on April 12. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Bruce Schmidt, Vice President and General Manager at Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont Recorded on Feb. 27, 2024 (apologies for the delay) About Okemo Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Vail Resorts Located in: Ludlow, Vermont Year founded: 1956 Pass affiliations: * Epic Pass: unlimited access * Epic Local Pass: unlimited access * Epic Northeast Value Pass: unlimited access with holiday blackouts * Epic Northeast Midweek Pass: unlimited weekday access with holiday blackouts * Epic Day Pass: access on “all resorts” and “32 resorts” tiers Closest neighboring ski areas: Killington (:22), Magic (:26), Bromley (:31), Pico (:32), Ascutney (:33), Bellows Falls (:37), Stratton (:41), Saskadena Six (:44), Ski Quechee (:48), Storrs Hill (:52), Whaleback (:56), Mount Snow (1:04), Hermitage Club (1:10) Base elevation: 1,144 feet Summit elevation: 3,344 feet Vertical drop: 2,200 feet Skiable Acres: 632 Average annual snowfall: 120 inches per On The Snow; Vail claims 200. Trail count: 121 (30% advanced, 37% intermediate, 33% beginner) + 6 terrain parks Lift count: 20 (2 six-packs, 4 high-speed quads, 5 fixed-grip quads, 2 triples, 1 platter, 6 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Okemo’s lift fleet) View historic Okemo trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him Whether by plan or by happenstance, Vail ended up with a nearly perfect mix of Vermont ski areas. Stowe is the beater, with the big snows and the nasty trails and the amazing skiers and the Uphill Bros and the glades and the Front Four. Mount Snow is the sixth borough of New York City (but so is Florida and so is Stratton), big and loud and busy and bursting and messy, with a whole mountain carved out for a terrain park and big-drinking, good-timing crowds, as many skiers at the après, it can seem, as on the mountain. And Okemo is something that’s kind of in-between and kind of totally different, at once tame and lively, a placid family redoubt that still bursts with that frantic Northeast energy. It's a hard place to define, and statistics won’t do it. Line up Vermont’s ski areas on a table, and Okemo looks bigger and better than Sugarbush or Stowe or Jay Peak. It isn’t, of course, as anyone in the region will tell you. The place doesn’t require the guts that its northern neighbors demand. It’s big but not bossy. More of a stroll than a run, a good-timer cruising the Friday night streets in a drop-top low-rider, in no hurry at all to do anything other than this. It’s like skiing Vermont without having to tangle with Vermont, like boating on a lake with no waves. Because of this unusual profile, New England skiers either adore Okemo or won’t go anywhere near it. It is a singular place in a dense ski state that is the heart of a dense ski region. Okemo isn’t particularly convenient to get to, isn’t particularly snowy by Vermont standards, and isn’t particularly interesting from a terrain point of view. And yet, it is, historically, the second-busiest ski area in the Northeast (after Killington). There is something there that works. Or at least, that has worked historically, as the place budded and flourished in the Mueller family’s 36-year reign. But it’s Vail’s mountain now, an Epic Pass anchor that’s shuffling and adding lifts for the crowds that that membership brings. While the season pass price has dropped, skier expectations have ramped up at Okemo, as they have everywhere in the social-media epoch. The grace that passholders granted the growing family-owned mountain has evaporated. Everyone’s pulling the pins on their hand grenades and flinging them toward Broomfield every time a Saturday liftline materializes. It’s not really fair, but it’s...

Duration:01:12:16

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Podcast #165: Sugar Bowl CEO Bridget Legnavsky

4/6/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on March 30. It dropped for free subscribers on April 6. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Bridget Legnavsky, President & CEO of Sugar Bowl, California Recorded on March 13, 2024 About Sugar Bowl Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: A group of shareholders Located in: Donner, California Year founded: 1939 Pass affiliations: Mountain Collective: 2 days, no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Donner Ski Ranch (:02), Soda Springs (:07), Boreal (:10), Kingvale (:14), Tahoe Donner (:24), Northstar (:27), Palisades Tahoe (:30), Homewood (:44), Diamond Peak (:52), Mt. Rose (:58), Sky Tavern (1:03) - travel times vary considerably given time of day, time of year, and weather conditions. Base elevation: 6,883 feet Summit elevation: 8,383 feet Vertical drop: 1,500 feet Skiable Acres: 1,650 acres Average annual snowfall: 500 inches Trail count: 103 (38% advanced, 45% intermediate, 17% beginner) Lift count: 12 (1 four-passenger gondola, 5 high-speed quads, 3 fixed-grip quads, 1 triple, 1 platter, 1 carpet) - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Sugar Bowl’s lift fleet. View historic Sugar Bowl trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed her Lagnavsky muses, toward the end of our interview, that Lake Tahoe in general is home to “the best skiing I’ve ever had in my life,” and that she can’t fathom why it’s not more of a national and international ski destination. This is coming from someone who has spent 30-plus years in the industry; who’s worked in Europe, Colorado, and New Zealand; who has freeskier credentials etched on her resume. She knows what she’s talking about. And I agree with her. More or less**. Tahoe is spectacular. The views, the snow, the terrain, the vibe, the energy, the variety, the sheer audacity of it all. Sixteen ski areas rung around a 191-square-mile lake at the top of California*^. An improbable wintertime circus, one of the greatest concentrations of ski areas on the continent. And no one would say there is any lack of people there. This is, again, California, home to 39 million Americans. Traffic and housing are big problems. But, being based in the East, I’m dialed into the way that much of the country thinks about Tahoe as a destination ski region. Which is to say, they mostly don’t. And I don’t quite get why. It’s not hard to get to. Reno’s airport is closer to the major Tahoe ski areas than Denver’s is to Summit County. It’s not a huge facility, but it’s served by direct flights from 24 airports, including New York City and Chicago. While the roads can get nasty mid-storm, they’re mostly well-maintained federal and state highways. There are plenty of accommodations on or near the larger resorts. But anytime I ask an Epic- or Ikon-Pass wielding East Coast city skier where they’re going out west, they say the Wasatch or Colorado or Big Sky or Jackson Hole. And if I’m like “what about Tahoe,” they’re usually like, “there’s skiing in California? How strange.” Not that the Epic and Ikon Tahoe mountains need more skiers. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story a couple weeks ago about how fed-up Bay Area skiers were jetting to Utah and Colorado to outsmart the crowds (slow clap for that hack, Fellas). But there is a lot more to this sprawling, captivating ski region than Palisades, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood. And one of the most overlooked but also magical pieces of it is Sugar Bowl. And the fact that it’s not, for whatever reason, a destination to anyone outside of a 250-mile radius might make it exactly the kind of place that a lot of you are searching for. **Settle down, Utah. *and Nevada ^”Ummmm, the highest point in California is Mt. Whitney, which is nowhere near Lake Tahoe.” Thanks Doesn’t-Understand-Intentional-Hyperbole Bro. P.S. I hate you. What we talked...

Duration:01:08:32

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Podcast #164: Sunday River General Manager Brian Heon

4/2/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on March 26. It dropped for free subscribers on April 2. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Brian Heon, General Manager of Sunday River, Maine Recorded on January 30, 2024 About Sunday River Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Boyne Resorts Located in: Newry, Maine Year founded: 1959 Pass affiliations: * Ikon Pass: 7 days, no blackouts * Ikon Base Pass: 5 days, holiday blackouts * New England Pass: unlimited access on Gold tier Reciprocal partners: * New England Pass holders get equal access to Sunday River, Sugarloaf, and Loon * New England Gold passholders get three days each at Boyne’s other seven ski areas: Pleasant Mountain, Maine; Boyne Mountain and The Highlands, Michigan; Big Sky, Montana; Brighton, Utah; Summit at Snoqualmie, Washington; and Cypress, B.C. Closest neighboring ski areas: Mt. Abram (:17); Black Mountain of Maine (:34); Wildcat (:46); Titcomb (1:05); Attitash (1:05); Cranmore (1:11) Base elevation: 800 feet Summit elevation: 3,150 feet (at Oz Peak) Vertical drop: 2,350 feet Skiable Acres: 884 trail acres + 300 acres of glades Average annual snowfall: 167 inches Trail count: 139 (16% expert, 18% advanced, 36% intermediate, 30% beginner) Lift count: 19 (1 eight-pack, 1 six-pack, 1 6/8-passenger chondola, 2 high-speed quads, 5 fixed-grip quads, 4 triples, 1 double, 1 T-bar, 3 carpets – Sunday River also built an additional triple chair on Merrill Hill, which is complete but not yet open; it is scheduled to open for the 2024-25 ski season – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Sunday River’s lift fleet.) View historic Sunday River trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him What an interesting time this is in the North American ski industry. It’s never been easier or cheaper for avid skiers to sample different mountains, across different regions, within the span of a single season. And, in spite of the sorry shape of the stoke-obsessed ski media, there has never been more raw information readily available about those ski areas, whether that’s Lift Blog’s exhaustive databases or OpenSnow’s snowfall comparisons and histories. What that gives all of us is perspective and context. When I learned to ski in the ‘90s, pre-commercial internet, you could scarcely find a trailmap without visiting a resort’s ticket window. Skimap.org now houses more than 10,000 historic trailmaps for North America alone. That means you can understand, without visiting, what a ski area was, how it’s evolved, and how it compares to its neighbors. That makes Sunday River’s story both easier and harder to tell. Easier because anyone can now see how this monster, seated up there beyond the Ski 93 and North Conway corridors, is worth the drive past all of that to get to this. The ski area is more than twice the size of anything in New Hampshire. But the magical internet can also show skiers just how much snowier it is in Vermont, how much emptier it is at Saddleback, and that my gosh actually it doesn’t take so much longer to just fly to Utah. Sunday River, self-aware of its place in the ski ecosystem, has responded by building a better mountain. Boyne has, so far, under-promised and over-delivered on the resort’s 2030 plan, which, when launched four years ago, didn’t mention either of the two D-Line megalifts that now anchor both ends of the resort. The snowmaking is getting better, even as the mountain grows larger and more complex. The teased Western Reserve expansion would, given Sunday River’s reliance on snowmaking, be truly audacious, transforming an already huge ski area into a gigantic one. Cynics will see echoes of ASC’s largess, of the expansion frenzy of the 1990s that ended in the company’s (though fortunately not the individual ski areas’) extinction. But Boyne Resorts is not some upstart....

Duration:01:14:09

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Podcast #163: Red Mountain CEO & Chairman Howard Katkov

3/6/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on Feb. 28. It dropped for free subscribers on March 6. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription (on sale at 15% off through March 12, 2024). You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Howard Katkov, Chairman and CEO of Red Mountain Resort, British Columbia Recorded on Feb. 8, 2024 About Red Mountain Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Red Mountain Ventures Located in: Rossland, British Columbia, Canada Year founded: 1947 (beginning of chairlift service) Pass affiliations: * Ikon Pass: 7 days, no blackouts * Ikon Base Pass and Ikon Base Pass Plus: 5 days, holiday blackouts * Lake Louise Pass (described below) Closest neighboring ski areas: Salmo (:58), Whitewater (1:22), Phoenix Mountain (1:33), 49 Degrees North (1:53) Base elevation: 3,887 feet/1,185 meters Summit elevation: 6,807 feet/2,075 meters Vertical drop: 2,919 feet/890 meters Skiable Acres: 3,850 Average annual snowfall: 300 inches/760 cm Trail count: 119 (17% beginner, 34% intermediate, 23% advanced, 26% expert) Lift count: 8 (2 fixed-grip quads, 3 triples, 1 double, 1 T-bar, 1 carpet) View historic Red Mountain trailmaps on skimap.org. Here are some cool video overviews: Granite Mountain: Red Mountain: Grey Mountain: Rossland: Why I interviewed him It’s never made sense to me, this psychological dividing line between Canada and America. I grew up in central Michigan, in a small town closer to Canada (the bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron stood 142 miles away), than the closest neighboring state (Toledo, Ohio, sat 175 miles south). Yet, I never crossed into Canada until I was 19, by which time I had visited roughly 40 U.S. states. Even then, the place felt more foreign than it should, with its aggressive border guards, pizza at McDonald’s, and colored currency. Canada on a map looks easy, but Canada in reality is a bit harder, eh? Red sits just five miles, as the crow flies, north of the U.S. border. If by some fluke of history the mountain were part of Washington, it would be the state’s greatest ski area, larger than Crystal and Stevens Pass combined. In fact, it would be the seventh-largest ski area in the country, larger than Mammoth or Snowmass, smaller only than Park City, Palisades, Big Sky, Vail, Heavenly, and Bachelor. But, somehow, the international border acts as a sort of invisibility shield, and skiing Red is a much different experience than visiting any of those giants, with their dense networks of high-speed lifts and destination crowds (well, less so at Bachelor). Sure, Red is an Ikon Pass mountain, and has been for years, but it is not synonymous with the pass, like Jackson or Aspen or Alta-Snowbird. But U.S. skiers – at least those outside of the Pacific Northwest – see Red listed on the Ikon menu and glaze past it like the soda machine at an open bar. It just doesn’t seem relevant. Which is weird and probably won’t last. And right now Shoosh Emoji Bro is losing his goddamn mind and cursing me for using my platform focused on lift-served snowskiing to hype one of the best and most interesting and most underrated lift-served snowskiing operations in North America. But that’s why this whole deal exists, Brah. Because most people ski at the same 20 places and I really think skiing as an idea and as an experience and as a sustainable enterprise will be much better off if we start spreading people out a bit more. What we talked about Red pow days; why Red amped up shuttle service between the ski area and Rossland and made it free; old-school Tahoe; “it is the most interesting mountain I’ve ever skied”; buying a ski area when you’ve never worked at a ski area; why the real-estate crash didn’t bury Red like some other ski areas; why Katkov backed away from a golf course that he spent a year and a half planning at Red; why the 900 lockers at the dead center...

Duration:01:39:11

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Podcast #162: Camelback Managing Director David Makarsky

2/19/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on Feb. 12. It dropped for free subscribers on Feb. 19. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who David Makarsky, General Manager of Camelback Resort, Pennsylvania Recorded on February 8, 2024 About Camelback Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: KSL Capital, managed by KSL Resorts Located in: Tannersville, Pennsylvania Year founded: 1963 Pass affiliations: * Ikon Pass: 7 days, no blackouts * Ikon Base Pass: 5 days, holiday blackouts Reciprocal partners: None Closest neighboring ski areas: Shawnee Mountain (:24), Jack Frost (:26), Big Boulder (:27), Skytop Lodge (:29), Saw Creek (:37), Blue Mountain (:41), Pocono Ranchlands (:43), Montage (:44), Hideout (:51), Elk Mountain (1:05), Bear Creek (1:09), Ski Big Bear (1:16) Base elevation: 1,252 feet Summit elevation: 2,079 feet Vertical drop: 827 feet Skiable Acres: 166 Average annual snowfall: 50 inches Trail count: 38 (3 Expert Only, 6 Most Difficult, 13 More Difficult, 16 Easiest) + 1 terrain park Lift count: 13 (1 high-speed six-pack, 1 high-speed quad, 1 fixed-grip quad, 3 triples, 3 doubles, 4 carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Camelback’s lift fleet) View historic Camelback trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him At night it heaves from the frozen darkness in funhouse fashion, 800 feet high and a mile wide, a billboard for human life and activity that is not a gas station or a Perkins or a Joe’s Vape N’ Puff. The Poconos are a peculiar and complicated place, a strange borderland between the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast. Equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, approaching the northern tip of Appalachia, framed by the Delaware Water Gap to the east and hundreds of miles of rolling empty wilderness to the west, the Poconos are gorgeous and decadent, busyness amid abandonment, cigarette-smoking cement truck drivers and New Jersey-plated Mercedes riding 85 along the pinched lanes of Interstate 80 through Stroudsburg. “Safety Corridor, Speed Limit 50,” read the signs that everyone ignores. But no one can ignore Camelback, at least not at night, at least not in winter, as the mountain asserts itself over I-80. Though they’re easy to access, the Poconos keeps most of its many ski areas tucked away. Shawnee hides down a medieval access road, so narrow and tree-cloaked that you expect to be ambushed by poetry-spewing bandits. Jack Frost sits at the end of a long access road, invisible even upon arrival, the parking lot seated, as it is, at the top of the lifts. Blue Mountain boasts prominence, rising, as it does, to the Appalachian Trail, but it sits down a matrix of twisting farm roads, off the major highway grid. Camelback, then, is one of those ski areas that acts not just as a billboard for itself, but for all of skiing. This, combined with its impossibly fortuitous location along one of the principal approach roads to New York City, makes it one of the most important ski areas in America. A place that everyone can see, in the midst of drizzling 50-degree brown-hilled Poconos February, is filled with snow and life and fun. “Oh look, an organized sporting complex that grants me an alternative to hating winter. Let’s go try that.” The Poconos are my best argument that skiing not only will survive climate change, but has already perfected the toolkit to do so. Skiing should not exist as a sustained enterprise in these wild, wet hills. It doesn’t snow enough and it rains all the time. But Poconos ski area operators invested tens of millions of dollars to install seven brand-new chairlifts in 2022. They didn’t do this in desperate attempts to salvage dying businesses, but as modernization efforts for businesses that are kicking off cash. In six of the past eight seasons, (excluding 2020), Camelback spun lifts into...

Duration:01:26:58

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Podcast #161: Teton Pass, Montana Owner Charles Hlavac

2/16/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on Feb. 9. It dropped for free subscribers on Feb. 16. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Charles Hlavac, Owner of Teton Pass, Montana Recorded on January 29, 2024 About Teton Pass Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Charles Hlavac Located in: Choteau, Montana Year founded: 1967 Pass affiliations: None Closest neighboring ski areas: Great Divide (2:44), Showdown (3:03) Base elevation: 6,200 feet Summit elevation: 7,200 feet (at the top of the double chair) Vertical drop: 1,000 feet Skiable Acres: 400 acres Average annual snowfall: 300 inches Lift count: 3 (1 double, 1 platter, 1 carpet – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Teton Pass’ lift fleet) View historic Teton Pass trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him There was a time, before the Bubble-Wrap Era, when American bureaucracy believed that the nation’s most beautiful places ought to be made available to citizens. Not just to gawk at from a distance, but to interact with in a way that strikes awe in the soul and roots the place in their psyche. That’s why so many of our great western ski areas sit on public land. Taos and Heavenly and Mt. Baldy and Alta and Crystal Mountain and Lookout Pass. These places, many of them inaccessible before the advent of the modern highway system, were selected not only because they were snow magnets optimally pitched for skiing, but because they were beautiful. And that’s how we got Teton Pass, Montana, up a Forest Service road at the end of nowhere, hovering over the Rocky Mountain front. Because just look at the place: Who knew it was there then? Who knows it now? A bald peak screaming “ski me” to a howling wilderness for 50 million years until the Forest Service printed some words on a piece of paper that said someone was allowed to put a chairlift there. As bold and prescient as the Forest Service was in gifting us ski areas, they didn’t nail them all. Yes, Aspen and Vail and Snowbird and Palisades Tahoe and Stevens Pass, fortuitously positioned along modern highways or growing cities, evolved into icons. But some of these spectacular natural ski sites languished. Mt. Waterman has faltered without snowmaking or competent ownership. Antelope Butte and Sleeping Giant were built in the middle of nowhere and stayed there. Spout Springs is too small to draw skiers across the PNW vastness. Of the four, only Antelope Butte has spun lifts this winter. Remoteness has been the curse of Teton Pass, a fact compounded by a nasty 11-mile gravel access road. The closest town is Choteau, population 1,719, an hour down the mountain. Great Falls, population 60,000, is only around two hours away, but that city is closer to Showdown, a larger ski area with more vertical drop, three chairlifts, and a parking lot seated directly off a paved federal highway. Teton Pass, gorgeously positioned as a natural wonder, got a crummy draw as a sustainable business. Which doesn’t mean it can’t work. Unlike the Forest Service ski areas at Cedar Pass or Kratka Ridge in California, Teton Pass hasn’t gone fallow. The lifts still spin. Skiers still ski there. Not many – approximately 7,000 last season, which would be a light day for any Summit County ski facility. This year, it will surely be even fewer, as Hlavic announced 10 days after we recorded this podcast that a lack of snow, among other factors, would force him to call it a season after just four operating days. But Hlavic is young and optimistic and stubborn and aware that he is trying to walk straight up a wall. In our conversation, you can hear his belief in this wild and improbable place, his conviction that there is a business model for Teton Pass that can succeed in spite of the rough access road and the lack of an electrical grid connection and the small and scattered...

Duration:01:43:10

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Podcast #160: Buck Hill Chief Operating Officer Nathan Birr

2/15/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on Feb. 8. It dropped for free subscribers on Feb. 15. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Nathan Birr, Chief Operating Officer of Buck Hill, Minnesota Recorded on January 26, 2024 About Buck Hill Owned by: David and Corrine (Chip) Solner Located in: Burnsville, Minnesota Year founded: 1954 Pass affiliations: * Indy Base Pass – 2 days with 16 holiday blackouts * Indy+ Pass – 2 days with no blackouts Closest neighboring ski areas: Hyland Hills (:21), Como Park (:33), Afton Alps (:41), Elm Creek (:43), Welch Village (:46) Base elevation: 919 feet Summit elevation: 1,225 feet Vertical drop: 306 feet Skiable Acres: 45 Average annual snowfall: 60 inches Trail count: 14 (2 most difficult, 6 intermediate, 6 beginner), 4 terrain parks Lift count: 9 (2 fixed-grip quads, 1 triple, 4 ropetows, 2 conveyors - view Lift Blog’s inventory of Buck Hill’s lift fleet) View historic Buck Hill trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him Buck Hill rises like a ludicrous contraption, impossible there in the Twin Cities flatlands, like the ski resort knotted into Thneedville’s inflatable glades and shirt-sleeve clime (1:25): How did it get there? What does it do? Did someone build it? At first, I thought someone must have, like Mount Brighton, Michigan. But no. The glaciers made it, a gift to the far future as these ice walls retreated and crumbled. It is the highest point for 200 miles in any direction. Before skiing, Native Americans used the hill as a vantage to stalk deer drinking from Crystal Lake. Thus the name. It has probably been “Buck Hill” for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands. Now the lake is covered in ice-fishing shanties all winter, and the hill is hemmed in by an interstate on one side and housing developments on all the rest. And the hill, 45 acres of fall line that erupts from seemingly nowhere for seemingly no reason, is covered with skiers. Good skiers. I am enormously fond of the Midwest’s blue-collar ski scene, its skiers on rental gear in hunter-orange jackets, rat-packing with their buddies as a hootalong thing to do on a Wednesday night. This does not exist everywhere anymore, but in the Midwest skiing is still cheap and so it still does. And these rough fellows dot the slopes of Buck. But they don’t define the place like they do at Spirit or Nub’s Nob or Snowriver. Because what defines Buck Hill is the shin-guard-wearing, speed-suit wrapped, neon-accented-even-though-neon-has-been-over-for-30-years squadrons of velocity-monsters whipping through plastic poles drilled into the snow. It can be hard to square smallness with might. But England once ruled half the world from a nation roughly the size of Louisiana. Some intangible thing. And tiny Buck Hill, through intention, persistence, and a lack of really anything else to do, has established itself, over the decades, as one of the greatest ski-race-training centers on the planet, sending more than 50 athletes to the U.S. Ski Team. Credit founders Chuck and Nancy Stone for the vision; credit confused-upon-arrival Austrian Erich Sailer (“Where’s the hill?” he supposedly asked), for building the race program; credit whatever stalled that glacier on that one spot long enough to leave us a playground that stuck around for 10,000 years until we invented chairlifts. Buck is a spectacular amalgam of luck and circumstance, an improbable place made essential. What we talked about Buck Hill’s brand-new quad; party up top; the tallest point in 200 miles; Chuck and Nancy Stone, who started a ski area on a farmer’s pasture; a glacier’s present to skiers; the hazards of interstate-adjacent snowmaking; why the resort’s founders and long-term owners finally sold the bump in 2015; Erich Sailer and Buck’s incredible ski racing legacy; Lindsay Vonn; a perfect...

Duration:01:22:23

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Podcast #159: Big Sky General Manager Troy Nedved

1/23/2024
This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on Jan. 16. It dropped for free subscribers on Jan. 23. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe to the free tier below: Who Troy Nedved, General Manager of Big Sky, Montana Recorded on January 11, 2024 About Big Sky Click here for a mountain stats overview Owned by: Boyne Resorts Located in: Big Sky, Montana Year founded: 1973 Pass affiliations: * 7 days, no blackouts on Ikon Pass (reservations required) * 5 days, holiday blackouts on Ikon Base and Ikon Base Plus Pass (reservations required) * 2 days, no blackouts on Mountain Collective (reservations required) Reciprocal partners: Top-tier Big Sky season passes include three days each at Boyne’s other nine ski areas: Brighton, Summit at Snoqualmie, Cypress, Boyne Mountain, The Highlands, Loon Mountain, Sunday River, Pleasant Mountain, and Sugarloaf. Closest neighboring ski areas: Yellowstone Club (ski-to connection); Bear Canyon (private ski area for Mount Ellis Academy – 1:20); Bridger Bowl (1:30) Base elevation: 6,800 feet at Madison Base Summit elevation: 11,166 feet Vertical drop: 4,350 feet Skiable Acres: 5,850 Average annual snowfall: 400-plus inches Trail count: 300 (18% expert, 35% advanced, 25% intermediate, 22% beginner) Terrain parks: 6 Lift count: 38 (1 75-passenger tram, 1 high-speed eight-pack, 3 high-speed six-packs, 4 high-speed quads, 3 fixed-grip quads, 9 triples, 5 doubles, 3 platters, 1 ropetow, 8 carpet lifts – Big Sky also recently announced a second eight-pack, to replace the Six Shooter six-pack, next year; and a new, two-stage gondola, which will replace the Explorer double chair for the 2025-26 ski season – View Lift Blog’s inventory of Big Sky’s lift fleet.) View vintage Big Sky trailmaps on skimap.org. Why I interviewed him Big Sky is the closest thing American skiing has to the ever-stacking ski circuses of British Columbia. While most of our western giants labor through Forest Service approvals for every new snowgun and trail sign, BC transforms Revelstoke and Kicking Horse and Sun Peaks into three of the largest ski resorts on the continent in under two decades. These are policy decisions, differences in government and public philosophies of how to use our shared land. And that’s fine. U.S. America does everything in the most difficult way possible, and there’s no reason to believe that ski resort development would be any different. Except in a few places in the West, it is different. Deer Valley and Park City and Schweitzer sit entirely (or mostly), on private land. New project approvals lie with local entities. Sometimes, locals frustrate ski areas’ ambitions, as is the case in Park City, which cannot, at the moment, even execute simple lift replacements. But the absence of a federal overlord is working just fine at Big Sky, where the mountain has evolved from Really Good to Damn Is This Real in less time than it took Aspen to secure approvals for its 153-acre Hero’s expansion. Boyne has pulled similar stunts at its similarly situated resorts across the country: Boyne Mountain and The Highlands in Michigan and Sunday River in Maine, each of them transforming in Hollywood montage-scene fashion. Progress has lagged more at Brighton and Alpental, both of which sit at least partly on Forest Service land (though change has been rapid at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, whose land is a public-private hybrid). But the evolution at Big Sky has been particularly comprehensive. And, because of the ski area’s inherent drama and prominence, compelling. It’s America’s look-what-we-can-do-if-we-can-just-do mountain. The on-mountain product is better for skiers and better for skiing, a modern mountain that eases chokepoints and upgrades facilities and spreads everyone around. Winter Park, seated on Forest Service land, owned by the City of Denver, and operated by...

Duration:01:18:26