AlpineZone Challenge 2005 – Melissa Rock of Shawnee Peak

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. Melissa Rock, Director of Marketing and Communications at Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Maine, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 7/22/2005:

thaller1:  I love night skiing especially at Shawnee Peak. Any chance of expansion of the night skiing terrain? The skier’s right side is absolutely beautiful and I would love the chance to experience it more fully. I don’t get up there during the day much.

Melissa Rock: First off, let me thank the folks at AlpineZone for giving me the opportunity to respond to your questions. As a former marketing person at “bigger” areas, I rarely got the chance to fully elaborate on programs and questions from skiers and riders on the mountain. We were always so concerned with the press and groups, it was hard to stay focused on the needs of the individual. So here goes.

The expansive night skiing is the major difference of Shawnee Peak – with 17 trails (of 40 total) lit for night skiing and riding (including the halfpipe and terrain park), we’ve got the most open in Maine and probably equal several other major players. This year, we will be opening up some new trails for night skiing – the two newest beginner trails to the skier’s left (Evergreen and Easy Turns). To answer the question more fully, thaller1 refers to the East Area, where much of our steepest, most difficult terrain lies. We haven’t lit that side for a few reasons – one is that the current lit terrain services our night skiing crowd pretty well and more terrain isn’t really necessary. Second is from an operations standpoint, it works well to close the East Area at 4pm, and groom or make snow as necessary while still keeping the front face of the mountain open for skiing. This doesn’t mean it will never happen, but we’d have to see a major jump in night visits to justify it.

thetrailboss:  It seems that Shawnee is similar to Black Mountain (NH), Burke, and Mad River Glen in that it is an independent resort that is trying to compete with larger ‘corporate’ resorts. How do you meet rising costs (fuel, insurance, labor) while still offering reasonable ticket rates? What is it that you think makes Shawnee special? How is your expert terrain? Thanks for taking the Challenge (first-time for you I think) and I hope to get over there to visit.

Melissa Rock: Service and snow are our two main focus points. Most of the staff has been here forever – the GM is working on his 23rd year! So we get to know our skiers. We notice when we haven’t seen someone for a few seasons. Our lift attendents can probably tell you where your kids are. Our cafeteria workers remember the way you like your breakfast sandwich. It’s hard to find ski resorts with our amenities where you can still find this level of service.

Snowmaking and grooming are obviously important, too. Moose Pond is a great snowmaking source, right at the foot of the mountain, so we are in an envious position on that front. We’ve got 98% of the mountain covered by snowmaking, giving us great snow from the beginning of the season and on. Our snowmakers are the kings of the mountain (I may be biased – my husband is one). I can’t understate the importance of low turnover. Most snowmakers have been working here for years, so they can hit the ground running from day one in the most efficient way possible. It really does make a difference when you’re skiing at Christmas!

Shawnee Peak’s proximity to major metro areas like Portland and, to a certain extent Portsmouth and Boston, helps us keep a competitive edge. We’re literally one hour from P’land and less than three hours from most points in Boston, so once people understand how easy it is to get here and that the snow conditions are terrific, they usually come back.

Our expert terrain mostly consists of steeps and trees. We’ll also leave 3 or 4 trails to the bumps when we get natural snow. We’ve got our wide, groomed boulevards just like the bigger resorts, but I happen to love classic, narrow New England trails and we’ve kept a good number of those, too.

Bob R: I believe you have a nightly race series, (i.e. a beer league). How does it work and how could one join or get a team going? We’re interested in maybe starting an AlpineZone team and I thought I had heard you had a successful gang involved.

Melissa Rock: Wednesday and Thursday nights are Racing with the Moon nights. We’ve got 20-25 teams of 10 people each (Thursday usually fills up faster) for ten weeks of racing. When we get closer to the season, we’ll have sign up sheets in PDF format on the Racing with the Moon page of the web site.

The cool thing is that we have the results loaded overnight onto the web site, so you can always see how you and your team is doing. Our lounge (Blizzard’s Pub) is usually pretty crowded on Wednesday and Thursday and you get to meet a ton of really cool people. Most folks are from corporations in the Portland and coastal areas, but we welcome anyone!

talisman: Has Shawnee Peak given any thought to changing the name of the mountain back to Pleasant Mountain now that there is no longer an affiliation to the Pennsylvanian ski area with the same name? As a Native American, I am not offended by the use of a tribe’s name for a ski area, but do find a certain irony in the use of ‘Shawnee,’ a tribe from outside New England, is used for the name when there are many Native American tribes from Maine.

Melissa Rock: I wasn’t here when we changed the name from Pleasant Mountain to Shawnee Peak in 1988, but I’ve heard stories. Mass confusion and defiance ensued from long-time skiers. From a marketing perspective, any name change is a real distraction from the core mission of your resort and, unless there truly is a need, I think it’s better to leave it alone.

It should also be noted that Shawnee Peak is a very different mountain than was Pleasant Mountain. With night skiing, major snowmaking upgrades and lift improvements in the last 17 years, we are appreciative of our past, but recognize that our success lies in the future.

thetrailboss:  One of the things that I have heard about Shawnee is that the lifts are slow. Do you have any plans in the long term to add any faster lifts? Can you do it without altering/changing the character of the mountain? Any plans for new glades or terrain?

Melissa Rock: High-speed detachables are major investments for any ski area, but particularly one of our size. That being said, we realize that we are going to have to make an upgrade to one or more of our lifts in the near future. The most important thing is to improve the experience of all skiers, while keeping skiing affordable. Striking that balance is difficult, but we’ll do it.

Terry: Last winter there were rumors of expansion to the skiers left of Upper Haggets, and the knoll off to that side. Are there any plans in the works? Also, what about a separate lift for the terrain park area? That would cut down on the lines for the triple.

Melissa Rock: It’s no secret that we’ve purchased some tracts of land that way and built an access road. We are unsure of the ultimate shape the new property will take, but we’ll try to keep everyone posted as more info becomes available.

There really isn’t room for a lift in the Terrain Park area, without invading even further on the Race course side of The Main Slope or decreasing the number of Terrain features. I hear what you’re saying about The Triple, but I think we’ll be improving operations there in the near future.

thetrailboss:  Thanks for sending me an E-mail regarding your new Shawnee Peak Promoters Program, which I think is really interesting. How has the response been for this program? Can you provide some details for those here in AlpineZone that might be interested? Is this a new program, or something that you have done before?

Melissa Rock: Small ski areas have two inherent problems: lack of staffing and money. But we still need to compete in large metro areas like Boston. With 15 or more ski areas vying for advertising in Boston, how can we make a case for ourselves in such a competitive market? One thing I’ve noticed about Shawnee Peak is the sheer unadulterated enthusiasm of its customer base. Nearly every season passholder or frequent skier I talk to wants to help the mountain succeed. We know that our customers are our best advertising. The Shawnee Peak Promoters will be a team of loyal, enthusiastic Shawnee Peak skiers who live and breathe in the markets where we know we can’t create skiers through advertising. They will work part-time on a commissioned basis cultivating the contacts in their community to create group visits and corporate ties. It’s a new program, so we’ll see how it works. If you are a passionate Shawnee Peak skier and have 20 hours per week to dedicate, we’re taking applications through July 22 here.

thetrailboss: I’ve checked out your website on several different occasions and recall seeing your display at the Boston Ski Show. Though it’s not a big deal, I was wondering if you are planning on creating a new trail map any time soon? Your current edition is awfully tough on the eyes (lots of dark colors, shadows, small print, etc).
Melissa Rock: Our trail map artwork will be redone next season. Our contract with Sitour (the company that creates all those large-scale maps you see on almost every ski area) allows us to redesign the map once every five years. We did create a larger version of the printed trail map last year, so that might help you with the small type, etc.

thetrailboss:  How has the American Ski Company’s ‘All For One’ Discounted Season Pass program impacted your resort? Have you restructured your season pass program to be more competitive? Has there been pressure to lower your prices? I see that you are a member of the “Mountains of Distinction” program, but have you considered a reciprocal pass program with some of your local neighbors (say, Lost Valley or Mt. Abram)?

Melissa Rock: The first year that pass came out, I had the occasional person ask if we could “match” the price of the ASC pass. We can’t “match” it and it would be irresponsible to try. Our economies of scale are completely different. We have lowered a lot of our pass rates incrementally over the last few years. I still think our Family pass (two adults plus an unlimited number of kids) is the best deal out there for a family of four or more.

We are also comparing apples and oranges. Let’s take Sunday River – it’s open roughly 9am-4pm each day. We’re open till 9pm midweek and til 10pm on weekends – that’s a big difference for someone with normal work or school obligations.

Lost Valley and Mt. Abram are nice mountains, but I would be more inclined to create a reciprocal pass program with a resort that matches our offerings more closely – like Pat’s Peak in New Hampshire. They have roughly the same amount of terrain as we do, offer night skiing and pull from Boston. On a personal note, Lori (Pat’s Peak’s marketing director) and I used to work together at Okemo, so I know that we have the same philosophies. (And I know she’s reading this – Hi Lori! :-)

thetrailboss:  I just took a look at your Daily Lift Ticket Promotions for last season and was really impressed. The deals that you offered were great. Do you plan on offering these same promotions this season? Any other great events that AZer’s should plan on attending? How about an AlpineZone day at your resort (since many of us are not familiar with the place)?

Melissa Rock: We will be offering all the same Daily Specials as last year. Some may go up a dollar or two, but most will stay the same. I would love to offer an AlpineZone day. We could certainly schedule something for early in the season.

If there is anyway you can take Mondays off, try the Carload Special. Just $59 gets you and everyone in your car skiing all day AND night! You just need to get here before 11am. People love it!

We are offering two “Free Learn to Ski or Ride Days” on December 23 and 24. I realize AZers don’t need to learn, but if you have a special someone you want to bring, it may be a good opportunity.

To view forum comments on this Challenge and the Challenge Results, please visit the following page: width=