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. Jeremy Clark, Director of Marketing at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 6/20/2005:
Greg: I’m finding more to love about Berkshire East each time I visit. The natural terrain is the best in Southern New England when there is a recent snowfall. However, during a visit on February 20 (a Sunday), a number of AlpineZoners found many of the trails that were marked as “Natural” on the snow report actually being closed (we all interpreted “natural” as meaning they were open). With a race for much of the day on Competition, this only left Big Chief and Flying Cloud as options off the summit for advanced skiers and riders. I understand that surface conditions, especially on natural trails, can deteriorate to the point that they warrant being closed, but why didn’t the online snow report reflect this? We all felt misinformed. We nevertheless had a great day and again, the Beast is hard to beat for natural snow conditions when the Berkshires are blessed with a dump, but why the inaccurate snow reporting?
Jeremy Clark: Thank you again for the opportunity to answer questions from members of your online community. Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed watching the amazing growth of AlpineZone.com in terms of content and volume of great discussion.
Snow reports go out the night before and are, whether or not anyone likes to admit it, guesses. Forecasts. Estimates. On the online trail report we tend to list trails that have only natural snow on them as “Natural” if we think there is a good chance they will be open. With a natural snow base, often times temperature will dictate whether or not a trail will open. During that point in the season, there wasn’t quite enough snow to safely groom the steeper natural trails without wrecking them. While we may expect X trails with natural snow to be open the night before, ski patrol may go out the next morning (obviously after the news feeds have gone out with the rest of the snow reporting) and find that a trail for one reason or another (surface too hard or maybe needs to be slipped) shouldn’t be open that day. Also, sections of trails may be open a classic example is Mohawk, which this year due to the crazy weather during the snowmaking season, was left natural. While the middle section may have been closed, the rest of the trail (almost 1 mile), was open.
This is where large trail counts come in handy. If you have a trail divided into three different names, it’s easier to pinpoint what’s open on a snow report. This is often seen as a cheap way out, however, as people think you’re merely trying to inflate numbers. Nonetheless, we can all hope that next season is as nice weather-wise as the latter part of 2004-2005. I will try and clarify what we mean by “Natural” on the online report better next season.
skizilla: Any grooming improvements on the way for this season? There are several intersections that are historically bad news in terms of ice. Also in regards to the last post I agree that there should be more clarification regarding “natural conditions trails.” Why not just post “natural conditions,” “thin cover,” or “spring conditions” signs rather than closing these trails? Last year I went twice and at least six trails were closed that were supposed to be open.
Jeremy Clark: We’ve put a lot of money into grooming in the past four seasons and have two modern Bombardier cats in our fleet now during the season, along with our former grooming cats now posing as work vehicles for snowmaking. I think you’ll find that in recent years due to large improvements in snowmaking and grooming, the old image of icy trails is a thing of the past. In terms of the signage, it’s ski patrol’s call we don’t hold them to a trail report sent out at 11pm the night before, because things change overnight.
Greg: At times, I see trails at the Beast marked with a small “Closed” sign, but not actually roped off. Don’t you feel this encourages poaching? What is the mountain’s policy on poaching these “pseudo” closed trails?
Jeremy Clark: We’ve decided to start using closed signs on tripods because in some areas, they are more visible than rope to a skier skiing too fast. They’re also portable and rather sturdy. As for poaching, I encourage skiers to be safe and follow the responsibility code.
thetrailboss: I visited the Beast in February with some other AZer’s after a thaw/freeze and the parking lot was really nasty. Any chance you can pave it or put in some stay mat or something? The frozen ruts were brutal. Also, while walking up to the Lodge, I saw lots of junk/equipment in the woods. Any plans on cleaning that up?
Jeremy Clark: Ski area parking lots are rather tough, as you have literally a mountainful of water gathering during a melt or rain storm. We try to maintain it as much as we can, however sometimes the mud comes to close to the freeze (and thus ruts up). Paving a lot of that size would be extremely expensive and also not very long lasting, due to the amount of water that comes off the mountain. You may be pleased to know that access road has been repaved this spring. As for the equipment behind the lodge, all I can gather that to be would be the equipment from either the bridge construction down the street or a tree company, which we allowed to park stuff behind our locked gate while they were in the area.
loafer89: Will you be offering the discount cards for returning skiers/friends like you did this past March? Do you offer this type of promotion at other times during the ski season? Finally, what will your adult ticket price be next year?
Jeremy Clark: We offer frequent ski cards in late February to our school programs and then in March to our through the window skiers. We also offer many discounts online through out the year, as well as various coupons that appear all over. We’re still working on planning the magnitude of our expansion this year, however, at this time I do not expect a change in the adult ticket price. We like to keep our ticket prices lower than the rest of our market.
thetrailboss: I enjoyed visiting your new Wilderness Peak area and on the map your additions will be nice when they are complete. As I skied down Roundabout, it was cool to see where you will be adding terrain, but the cut trails and ‘future expansion’ areas were closed to skiers and to be honest were a real eyesore with stumps, clear-cut areas, and bad erosion. What is the timetable for this expansion? When is the new lift going in? Any hopes of clearing up those runs and allowing people to ski on them rather than letting the undergrowth come back?
Jeremy Clark: Wilderness Peak is actually an interesting area, as you’re seeing three different places “cleared.” Some are planned trails, some are from a failed housing development from a previous owner of the land, and lastly some are old trails that are being allowed to grow back. We put in a quad chairlift two seasons ago that serves the currently open trails (another lift over there is years away, as we have yet to even fill up the quad once). As for the rest of the open area (from the three aforementioned clearings), we intend to only open a trail or two as needed over the next few years. As a side note, we doubled our snowmaking firepower to Wilderness Peak last year and intend to increase it again this season.
loafer89: I rediscovered Berkshire East last February, after having last skied the place in 1995. It is an easy drive from Long Island. My question is if you plan to increase your advertising to New York skiers? The area is relatively unknown down there.
Jeremy Clark: We have no plans to increase (or for that matter directly advertise) our marketing in the New York City area. One of the reasons we can keep our ticket prices so low is that we try to hold advertising costs to a minimum. We simply cannot compete with the marketing budgets of some of the mega-resorts up north. Nor will we try to. The amount needed to run a few television slots down south can buy a brand new snow gun.
thetrailboss: Many ski areas are partnering up with other neighboring mountains to offer joint season passes in order to counter growing competition from larger resort conglomerates that are offering season passes at rock bottom prices. Have you considered offering season pass promotions with other mountains? I did note that your pass prices are very competitive, but maybe this might help to bring more skiers and riders to the Berkshires.
Jeremy Clark: Our season pass sales have been strong, so we will continue to offer our full, unrestricted, day and night season pass as we have for many years.
atomic68: I fell in love with your area this year and I like everything about it. My family & I contributed 7 days to your totals this year. The one question I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get an answer on is simple: What’s the vertical of the west quad? My guess is 750 feet.
Jeremy Clark: I’m glad you enjoy the mountain as much as I do. In regard to your question, it’s a very good one and sadly, I don’t have a tramway report or the engineering report handy. I do have the numbers from a double chairlift that was slated to go into a similar location a few years back that was going to be about 650 vertical feet. I hope that helps.
thetrailboss: Many people are starting to return to the smaller, independent ski areas having been turned off with large crowds and high prices. What are the challenges that you face being an independent resort in an era dominated by chain resorts? How do you cope with rising expense costs including insurance and fuel costs?
Jeremy ClarkL To an extent, I see it as an advantage to not to be in a large chain of resorts. While a business student might think the bigger the better, it doesn’t quite ring true and if you look at the financial documents of some of the larger companies, you’ll see that. People are pleasantly surprised with Berkshire East, as we don’t have the cookie cutter trails, high prices, or crowded slopes/long lines, yet we offer unique trails, great snowmaking & grooming, and modern facilities. As for insurance and energy costs, our new snowguns are more energy efficient than our old ones were (snowmaking makes up a large portion of the power bill). Beyond that, it’s certainly not easy for anyone in the business to deal with these increased expenses.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the challenge.if you have any further questions, feel free to drop me a line via the feedback form at www.BerkshireEast.com. Have a great summer and I hope to see you on the slopes this winter!