AlpineZone Challenge 2005 – Susan Duplessis of Sunday River

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. Susan DuplessisDirector of Communications of Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 5/26/2005:

tree_skier: My family usually makes a 3-4 day trip to Sunday River the first week of March because my wife loves your groomed cruisers. However I have found that the expert areas are just awful (generally a combination of being bullet proof and extremely thin cover). On this past year’s trip the only bumps that were worth skiing were on Agony. My question is what is being done to address the poor conditions on your most advanced terrain so I can feel more confident about me enjoying your mountain as well as my wife does in any future trips?

Susan Duplessis: The two seasons prior I won’t get into simply because they were two of the most challenging seasons that the northeast has ever faced–the terrain wasn’t as consistent as we would have liked, but I would contend better than most. As for this past season, I suspect that you are mostly referring to the conditions on Eureka, Lost Princess, Vortex, Quantum Leap and Shockwave. I skied just about all of our advanced terrain regularly this season and recall those trails as being the least consistent for conditions, particularly those on Oz, which wasn’t open half the season. Despite great late-season snowfall amounts and early-season snowmaking efforts, we experienced five thaw-freezes by mid-January that really battered some of our steeper terrain. Upper Eureka was the most hard hit with glacier-like conditions, and a stretch of bitterly cold weather worsened the problem because of our challenge in pumping water to that area during extreme cold. We were also forced to resurface all major trails each time we experienced a thaw-freeze, and these trails were not intentionally neglected in the process. As far as expert terrain, I felt there were plenty of opportunities. White Heat was good for much of the season and in February and March Ruby Palace, Caramba and the glades were phenomenal.

kickstand: Since it’s May, I feel the need to ask the question: any plans for terrain expansion, not necessarily for 05-06, but maybe within the next 5 years?

Susan Duplessis: Good question. We do not have any plans at this point for terrain expansion as we are undertaking a long-term and admittedly much-needed plan to upgrade all of our base facilities. From 1985 to 2000, about 70 million was invested in the Sunday River expansion, and a good chunk of that was for lift and terrain expansion; it’s now time to improve the overall resort experience. With that said, there have been very informal conversations here about cutting new trails in the outback area-there’s certainly plenty of space to do so-but I don’t see it in the foreseeable future.

thetrailboss: I’m a fan of Sunday River, as is my girlfriend (I often can be seen wearing my ‘River sweatshirt). Another question about conditions: we had a great vacation week and enjoyed the terrain, but we found ice and the worst conditions in the entire resort on every one of my visits to Oz that week and even back in 2001. All of the locals I’ve spoken with say that this is pretty much the case for most of the season. Why is this? Can anything be done about it?

Susan Duplessis: Agreed, and I think my response to Question #1 addresses this. I see it as an anomaly based on a bad confluence of weather events, but we will certainly be paying attention to it this coming season.

ga2ski: Susan – Great job with the improvements at the Barker and South Ridge lodges last off-season. What are the plans for improvements this year? Any chance of getting a free basket check at Barker, like the one you have at South ridge?

Susan Duplessis: There will be almost $2 million in improvements across the resort this year, some of which you’ll notice and many that you won’t. Among those that you will are things like renovated bathrooms on the second floor of South Ridge (thank goodness!), new paint on the Summit (thank goodness again!), new carpet at North Peak, more new signage and other similar upgrades to freshen our look. I don’t see a basket check at Barker on the list, but know it’s been discussed and I will follow up and try to get you that before the season begins.

Bob R: Susan – also am a huge Sunday River fan. My questions relate to JD’s comments after the season in relation to the May 1st closing date and the length of the season. How will Ski Maynia work next year and does this mean an extended Season? What are the plans for a tentative opening date? Are there plans to open earlier than last year and when will the ASC passes be offered again at the new price levels?

Susan Duplessis: So would this be a good time for us to tell everyone that we were on the high school ski team together in Vermont?

The reason I backpedaled on JD’s post shortly after May 1 is because operations-wise it may not make sense to have a two week interim period between our regular closing date and SkiMaynia. It was something I wanted to discuss with management based on a conversation with another person from ops. So, no, there isn’t a definitive answer yet only because I haven’t followed up, but for now, management plans for the first Saturday of May each year. We’ll let you know as soon as that’s finalized, which should be sometime this summer since its included in the winter brochure.

We will be aggressive in opennig as early as possible in November while keeping with our new style of opening top-to-bottom terrain. Expect our guns to go as soon as the temps allow with a goal of opening early to mid-November.

As for season passes, we hope to announce the new pricing within the next week. We’re waiting word from the head hunchos :)

Monkey Boy: Following up on last year’s challenge, are there any plans for lift upgrades? How about adding rope tows in the parks or on Rocking Chair?

Susan Duplessis: There are no immediate plans for lift upgrades. As far as a rope tow, it has not been discussed this past season as it has in the past. I know the terrain park plan is something management will be taking a look at this summer, but my hunch is that we won’t be doing that. If you know what other resorts have that, I would certainly be interested so we can take a look for comparison.

kickstand: I understand Harris Golf is pretty much running the golf course, but is ASC/SR in any talks with Harris about potentially offering a “year-round pass” that would cover both lift tickets and greens fees? I see something like this as an offer quite a few people would take advantage of. Also, with the Harris course eventually going in at Attitash, that opens up the door to tons of possibilities, if ASC and Harris can come to an agreement. Thoughts?

Susan Duplessis: It seems like a great idea but with it being two distinct companies with very different operations, I don’t see it happening. With that said, there are a lot of things that we are going to be looking at and a lot that we’ll learn as we head in to the full operations of the course in late July, so I’ll go with the old “never say never” line.

awf170: How much snow did you make this year compared to past years? It seems that not as much has been made as in the mid 90′s from what I’ve seen and heard.

Susan Duplessis: This past season we pumped more than 323 million gallons of water and logged nearly 1,100 hours of snowmaking. This is a bit more than in recent seasons but less than the mid 90s. Each season fluctuates slightly according to what we feel we need to make based on weather and traffic. In the 90s, Sunday River was exploding with growth and carving out its niche as the snowmaking capital of the east. Today, our snow quality is still consistently ranked among the best in New England and it continues as the number one priority in maintaining our brand identity and retaining our loyal guests. As an example, last season we made snow 30 out of 31 days in December, and terrain was expanding at a comfortable pace. When we were hit with the freeze-thaw cycles that I previously mentioned, it meant the crews going back and resurfacing major trails several times instead of turning to other trails to improve or even open. So the bottom line is that we’re trying to be smart about the decisions we make that affect the overall health of the resort so we can continue to reinvest in all aspects of the operations, but we’re well aware that our loyal customers will take notice and respond accordingly if we don’t deliver on the hill. Hope this makes sense to you.

ga2ski: Now that golf course is almost complete, what is status of the Jordan village? Speaking of Jordan, are plans still in the works to build a lodge at the base of Jordan? My wife likes sitting in by the fire in the Jordan Grand, but I know the owners and guests of Grand are not fans of “day” skiers huddled in the lobby by the fire.

Susan Duplessis: I understand that it is disconcerting to some that the Jordan village plan has not come to fruition, but we are certainly excited about the future of the golf course and the development that will enhance the Jordan area. We are currently on a long-term plan to improve the overall guest experience at the resort (as previously mentioned) and that means improving upon the facilities that we have for the immediate future. This includes capital totaling $575,000 at the Jordan Grand alone this season. We have a map of what we need to do and if we succeed at the immediate goals, we will be able to work on the bigger picture items. So I know this doesn’t directly answer your question, but it’s the best answer I can provide right now.

thaller1: Susan – my husband and I are Sunday River supporters. My question is… what is the possibility of introducing some “healthier” food options such as a juice bar, salad bar or options such as pre-made sandwiches and soups containing all natural ingredients and no hydrogenated oils?

Susan Duplessis: 
As someone who prefers healthy fare, I understand your concern. We have certainly tried to incorporate more healthful foods in to the menu in the last two seasons with the introduction of wraps and salads. We’ve had the salad bar at South Ridge since I have been here (five years) and we offer pre-made salads at Barker. The wraps are available at all three lodges. The vegetable-based soups are a healthful choice as well. As far as introducing organic foods, I am not sure if there is enough of a demand, but since the current trend is toward those foods, it may be looked at since it is a mission of American Skiing Company to improve our food offerings and stay current at all of our resorts.

Thanks for the great questions and your continued support of Sunday River. I recognize most of you and am warmed by your passion for the sport.


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