The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Eric Friedman, Marketing Director of Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 6/7/2005:
dmc: Will you guys be having more telemark events next year? NATO is always a blast up there.
Eric Friedman: Greetings AlpineZoners:
Thanks so much for the opportunity to connect with the AlpineZone community and for an interesting bunch of questions. I will also do my best to answer any follow-up questions that may come up. Anyone can also feel free to contact me individually if you like. My email adderss is email@example.com.
Mad River Glen is certainly well known as the “Telemark Mecca” and for good reason. We have loads of Telemark events throughout the season. First and foremost Mad River Glen will be hosting the 31st annual North American Telemark Festival, the worlds oldest and largest gathering of Telemarkers, on March 12-13, 2006. Dickie Hall’s North American Telemark Organization is based here in Waitsfield, VT and he normally has several clinics slated for MRG each season. Their schedule will appear on their website as soon as it is available. MRG also offers EVERY ski school program for Telemarkers. These include group lessons, private clinics and beginner learn to ski packages. We also have several special events during the year. For example every Friday during the season is Free Heel Friday where Telemark clinics for every ability level are offered for only $40 for a 2 hour clinic or $65 for a clinic along with a full day lift ticket. Also on one Friday each month we offer a Woman’s Telemark Yoga Clinic that includes a lift ticket, all-day clinics, lunch, and video analysis. These clinics have proven very popular over the last few years. Beyond that MRG “IS” a Telemark event every day. Just come on up and hook up with one of our skiers. I think one of the reasons MRG is so popular among Telemarkers is the camaraderie they find here and that its easy to meet fellow Telemarkers to ski with.
Greg: What feedback have you received from the Co-op’s decision to replace the old single chair with a new single? Are you still on track to have it completed for the 2006-2007 ski season? Is there any additional information regarding the new single installation you’d like to disclose here? Obviously, Co-op shareholders will get first crack at purchasing an existing chair, but will any be reserved for the general skiing public to bid on? Feel like donating a couple to thetrailboss and me?
Besides the single chair, what other major improvements do you foresee for the next season or two?
Eric Friedman: The feedback we have received has been interesting and varied. Internally 81% voted to refurbish the single chair. While there was a vocal minority the shareholder group obviously was able to find consensus on this issue. Within the “ski industry ” the feedback has been mostly a disbelieving shake of the head followed by “you guys are really “#!@?$-ed Up”. We are on track to tackle this project during the summer of 2006 and it will be ready for the start of the 2006-07 ski season.
In terms of other information about the project, here are the details; The refurbished single chair will have the same lift capacity (approximately 500 skiers per hour) as the current single chair. It will look almost identical to the existing lift to the untrained eye, but will have all new components. The only existing equipment to be re-used will be the wire rope and the lattice towers and return station framework. The towers and framework will be removed, sandblasted, re-painted, and re-installed on new bases. Other features of a refurbished single chair include brand new single chairs built to the exact design of the originals, a new electric drive with diesel backup, new sheaves, new tower bases, and new safety systems.
You are correct that shareholders will have the first crack at the old chairs. If any remain we will devise a mechanism to sell and/or raffle off any that remain. Don’t hold your breath for a donation of a chair to you or the Trailboss.
Improvements? How can you possibly improve a perfectly cut diamond?
Seriously, to answer your question, No! Over the past ten years, Mad River Glen has invested more than $2 million in capital improvements to the area. Unlike other areas Mad River’s goal is to enhance the experience rather then overhaul or upgrade it. The skier-owners and management of the area understand that skiers come to Mad River for the unique combination of legendary terrain, history, sense of community, and atmosphere. We don’t want to mess with a winning combination. Our General Manager Jamey Wimble explains, “Our capital plan is designed to maintain the existing infrastructure properly and to make small changes that will improve the overall experience for our skiers.” Mad River Glen’s long-term capital plan calls for spending about $120,000 on capital projects for the 2005-06 season, a bit less than in a typical year, as the Co-op husbands it resources in preparation for the $1.4 million Single Chair renovation. While most of this year’s projects are relatively small and will not be obvious to many skiers, they are nonetheless very important to Mad River’s goal of keeping the buildings, lifts, and mountains in good shape and enhancing the overall experience for the skiers. “Nothing fancy,” says our Mountain Manager Nate Martin, “Our skiers just want to come and have a great ski experience. Our job is to make sure everything is safe and it works, from the bathrooms to the Single Chair.”
ga2ski: Unfortunately I have not gotten a chance to ski your mountain yet. I had planned on this past February, but didn’t make it. One of the reasons was there was not a two-day Mad River valley ticket Sugarbush/Mad River. Will this be an option in the future?
Eric Friedman: Too bad you missed MRG in February this season, it was fabulous! MRG and Sugarbush do offer a 2 day Ski the Valley ticket (an interchangeable ticket) during midweek periods. They are also available for 3 day packages over a weekend. The only thing is that they are only available as part of a lift and lodging package with the local lodges. Sugarbush and MRG use the Ski the Valley program as a tool to encourage midweek and extended stay traffic. Whenever you come here, especially midweek you can always find great deals, be sure to visit our website for the latest in-season promotions. We also have on-going seasonal specials. (sorry to be so “salesy” in this forum, but I thought it was appropriate in regard to the question of affordable skiing options.
Ski for $1: Buy a two day ticket and ski the next day for $1. Available every day throughout the season except during holiday periods.
Sunday Afternoon Half-day Special
Ski every non-holiday Sunday afternoon (12 -4) for only $25
The Day-and-a-Half Midweek Special
Buy a ticket for the next day and ski the afternoon before free! What a great way to get out of town for a quick getaway! This special is available after 12 noon Sunday through Thursday and is not offered during holiday periods.
The 30 Day Ticket
Ski for 30 consecutive days from the day you purchase your ticket for only $270 or $210 for juniors & seniors.
Also, if you show up any day during the season our window ticket rate is only $50 per day, not too bad especially on a weekend. We are working as hard as we can to keep skiing as affordable as we possibly can.
eatskisleep: Now I know that Mad River Glen is not extremely concerned with money but would you consider a “Boarder Day” (like say a non-holiday Wednesday) where snowboarders would be allowed on the lifts (but maybe not the single chair) just to generate some extra funds for the day and add a fun event that would probably generate a magazine article (free advertising at the same time)?
Eric Friedman: Actually we are VERY concerned about money! This is a very competitive industry with relatively slim margins and we take nothing for granted. I am constantly trying to find ways of increasing revenues and traffic, especially in our slower times. I have actually brought up this very idea to the co-op’s board of trustees once or twice over the years (I have been MRG’s marketing director for 10 years). My idea was to do it ion April Fools Day! The idea kind of went over “like a fart in church”. The co-op board members are elected by the 1,700 odd skier-owners of the mountain. The shareholders CLEARLY do not want to allow snowboarding and the board reflects their views. While there was some very limited support for the idea the concern over the backlash and the “slippery slope” (allow this, then what?) more than offset any potential financial or public relations benefit.
thetrailboss: One of the things that MRG prides itself on is being an independent resort. That is a crucial part of your identity and a real draw to most of your market. What are the challenges that you face being an independent resort in an era dominated by chain resorts? What do you feel is the future for independent resorts in Vermont, such as MRG, Burke, and Bolton? How do you cope with rising expense costs including insurance and fuel costs?
Eric Friedman: What a great questions. I was hoping that someone was going to ask some like this. Yes, we are independent, and very proud of that fact. The industry as a whole has many challenges to deal with; spiraling insurance costs, labor issues, sustainability questions, etc… Some of these challenges we share with everyone. For us the biggest challenge is to remain viable over the long-term while relying on season passes and ticket sales for the vast majority of their revenues. Most ski areas can not sustain themselves on ticket and pass revenues alone. That’s why the get involved with real estate development, property management, retail, lodging, restaurants, etc… At Mad River Glen we don’t have these options as we do not have slopeside, real estate development potential. The co-op is dedicated to keeping skiing as affordable as we possibly can, but this is increasingly difficult. We simply can not afford to go toe to toe with the corporate mountains (and some independents too) on season pass prices. It was interesting that when the cheap pass phenomenon began out west a few years back, many ski operators were horrified about the prospects of it coming east. It did, of course led by the corporate owned mountains, who are best suited to make these kinds of offers .We are simply not sustainable charging $200-300 for a season pass. Mad River Glen used to be THE least expensive place to ski in VT and that is no longer the case. To be sustainable for the long haul we need to attract skiers who appreciate the experience for what it is and are willing to pay a certain price for it. Our goal is to focus on delivering a great experience and if we can do so we’re confident a large enough segment of the skiing market will appreciate it to make it viable for the long term. Mad River Glen is kind of like going to the food co-op or the health food store instead of the Wal Mart Superstore. The prices on some things may be a bit higher, but the produce is organic, the service is great and the stores ethos is one its customers buy into. I encourage skiers to vote with their pocket books like they do with any other good or service that they buy. Don’t always just shop price, a case can be made for supporting the places that reflect your values.
I thought AZ participants would be interested in taking a look at Vermont ticket window prices from last season. Just to give some perspective to the conversation.
2004-05 Vermont Weekend Day Ticket Window Prices
2004-05 Vermont Midweek Day Ticket Window Prices
skizilla: How have you recovered from the Ice Storm of 1998? How have the glades changed? Have you found that they are now better as a result of the storm damage?
Eric Friedman: Before answering the question I wanted everyone to know that as far as I know Mad River Glen is the only ski area on private land that I know of with a detailed forestry management plan. This plan was created to help the co-op fulfill its mission of protection and preservation of the land under our stewardship and is evaluated and tweaked by our on-staff forester each year.
The recovery from Hurricane Floyd and the 1998 Ice Storm has been remarkable. These storms drastically changed the woods skiing at Mad River Glen, but it also was a blessing. It gave us the opportunity to harness the tremendous potential of our co-op volunteers. The mountains owners sprung into action after these events to clean up and get the recovery process going. Our on-mountain staff and our volunteers under the leadership of our co-op volunteer coordinator, Jay Appleton, went to work, always mindful of the co-op’s mission and the forestry management plan.
That being said the tree is certainly better in places I’d prefer not to mention specifics as I always risk being crucified by locals for divulging MRG’s “secret stashes”. Some areas of the mountain are still in rough shape, the section of woods above Gazelle Glades comes to mind. The key thing is that our forestry management plan will ensure that MRG has great tree skiing for generations to come.
thetrailboss: Do you see Pass Prices (for both season passes and day tickets) rising in the foreseeable future? If so, how much do you think?
Eric Friedman: Thankfully we will be able to hold the line on pass prices for the 2005-06 ski season and they will remain the same as last year. As our costs increase, which they invariably do, we will need to make adjustments to our pricing structure. Rest assured we always do what we can to keep our prices as affordable as possible.
eatskisleep: Are you still trying to purchase land where “The 20th Hole” is located so you can do some legal cutting in there but still keep it off the trail map too? Thanks!
Eric Friedman: We are not actively trying to acquire the land. The co-op has a right of first refusal on the purchase of the property and is preparing as best it can for the eventuality. Certainly nothing is imminent.
thetrailboss: What do you think it takes for a ski area to be successful in this era? To echo Skidork’s question a few weeks ago in another challenge, “is it possible in today’s economic climate to run a ski resort for the die-hard/fanatic skiers any more?”
Eric Friedman: To answer this I’d really have to go back to what I said in question #5. It is all about the experience. While many of our skiers are “die hard/fanatics” for sure, the vast majority are not. We have loads of intermediates, retirees and less avid skiers that all appreciate the atmosphere, camaraderie, and ethos that Mad River Glen espouses. For us to remain successful for the long-term we simply need to stay true to our values and mission. Is it possible? You bet, just watch us. Better yet, come ski us!
thetrailboss: Are shares still available for the general public? How would members of AZ get information about joining the cooperative? What is the demographic profile (age, sex, income level, ability level, etc) of the coop?
Eric Friedman: You bet shares are still available. They cost $1,750 each. Click here for more information on the co-op and email me with any questions you may have. You can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Demographically the co-op is a pretty diverse lot. Shareholders range from in-utero to nearly 100 years old, we have a few more men than women, incomes range from ski bums to multi-millionaires. They range from non-skiers to the best experts you’ll see anywhere. 35% are from VT while the rest are from out of state. We have shareholders in 30 odd states, as well as England, Switzerland, Spain, Hong Kong, Canada and Brazil. Whatever the differences we all have a common love and appreciation for the Mad River Glen ski experience.
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