AlpineZone Challenge 2009 – Jessica Pezak of Hunter Mountain

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. Jessica Pezak, Communications Director at Hunter Mountain in Hunter, New York, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 11/10/2009

Highway Star: Hunter seems to have some awesome cliffs, but not quite enough snow to open them for skiing. Have you ever considered using the cliffs as part of a natural terrain park and blowing some snow on them?
Jessica Pezak: At present time, opening cliffs as part of a park would be a significant liability issue for us; I do not know of any plans to open cliffs as part of our official terrain/trail count. I think if we pointed the guns away from the TRAILS, we’d have some angry customers to contend with! Besides, in all honesty, we plan to open two parks this year (again) and the minipark in Hunter One; there are plenty of features for freeskiers & -riders. Last year, we made a video titled “Our mountain, your terrain park” — not even sure if the video ever went out, as there were so many legal issues with showing skiers & riders jibbing off the rocks. Long story short: as much as we’d love to do something like that, the possible legal ramifications prevent us from doing so.

catskillman: What maintenance is being done to the lifts so the horrendous stoppages do not occur again this season? Any plans to upgrade the existing lifts? Some will be very stressed after running 365 days a year. The quad lift line was a disaster last year, the individuals controlling it – if there was even someone doing it – had difficutly counting to 4 often.

(millerm277:) Is there a timeline in place for replacement of the Snowlite Express? It’s been showing it’s age lately, especially last year.

Jessica Peak: Ouch. There are certainly plans to upgrade; I can’t really be specific about our recent considerations but I will say that we had to pass on a major upgrade due to economic fears. Regardless of the resort (and this goes for any resort) — this economic climate is not one to purchase a million-plus dollar chairlift, or any part of expensive infrastructure. As for the lines — we have new management overseeing lift operations, and I have a lot of faith in change as far as people taking charge and really turning a bad situation into a good one on busy days.

@millerm277: The original plan was that Z lift would be replaced before the Quad; Z lift is older and in more need of replacement than the Quad. The quad undergoes significant maintenance each year; last year it received a new transmission or engine. As for replacing it now, this year, or any time in this economic climate, I would not get my hopes up. In the future, I can say that the Quad and Z-lift are two lifts that we would definitely want replaced sooner than later. Trust me: as a manager at the resort, it’s embarrassing for the Quad to go down.

deadheadskier:  Ever consider offering a ‘state resident’ weekend? I think Sugarloaf did so for NY skiers last year where tickets were either minimal cost or perhaps even free. I know at least one member from here who is a whiteface skier, made the trek to SL for this special to see for himself if it was worth the trip.

Living in coastal New Hampshire, it would seem counter intuitive for me or Boston metro skiers to consider going to southern NY to ski. However, if the product is good, someone like myself who also loves NYC might look at an extended trip to spend a couple of days in the city followed by Hunter. Would be a fun little vacation. Perhaps you have lodging relationships in NY where you could create a city and slopes package.

Jessica Pezak: With enough time to work it out, I could definitely work something out. I am ALWAYS looking for ideas for new promotions and I certainly suggest that anyone with an idea in mind e-mail it to me. A state resident weekend would be an awesome promotion. I can definitely promise to look into it — we would not be able to do ‘free,’ but we could probably give a significant discount on tickets.

kingslug: Any plans to upgrade/expand the west side?

(millerm277:) Any progress/timeline on the West Side expansion? Specifically any new trails or lifts.

Jessica Pezak: As most people know, this is a primary part of the expansion plan, which has been leaked throughout the internet. Please understand that we have every intention of the expansion — for now, we need to wait out the recession. Whether they believe it’s over or not, we believe this season will indicate what we are really dealing with as a resort and an industry. Many of the economic forecasting for the ski industry indicated that the recession would hit the ski industry a year late — in other words, this season. As of now, our pass sales are up — ALL sales are up — which is a really positive indication. I would say, right now, that we absolutely have an intention to expand, but what you’ll find across the industry as a whole is that most resorts are holding off on major infrastructre projects (real estate included) due to apprehension about the economy.

millerm277: Have there been any snowmaking improvements this off-season, and can we expect anything in particular in this area in the future? How come Lower Taylor’s never seems to get any love from the snowmaking? Looking forward to another great season at Hunter.

(dmc:) Can you speak about all the snowmaking pipes laying around on the top of the mountain? Will the Five fingers sign be replaced on the new awesome snowgun tower at middle station? How many of those new snowguns were put up?

Jessica Pezak: This season, we’ve added 20 guns — 14 to snowtubing and 6 across the mountain. As for Taylor’s, I suggest you come back to me with that once the season gets started. We are supposed to get a LOT of snow this winter, and that could change a lot of the terrain & snowmaking plans. I can’t always speak for the snowmakers; there are other trails that deserve more snow, like Highlands, the intermediate parts of Hunter One, definitely chunks of the West Side. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. With new guns coming in for the past two seasons, and a good snowmaking team as I’ve heard this year, we should be able to cover a lot of ground.

@dmc: I don’t have numbers for what was put up, but there were a ton of improvements in the underground system made this summer. As someone had said before either on here or on, there was a large leak in an airline under the Belt. They found it, fixed it, and replaced some other piping elsewhere. A lot of the time people see pipes and tubes and think that we’re doing something new, when in reality we spend a lot of time keeping all of our stuff in 100% working condition.

deadheadskier:  How has the local community embraced large scale summertime music events like Mountain Jam? Do you view these as sustainable?  I ask as ‘back in the day’ I used to attend similar large events at Stratton, Sugarbush and Stowe. All of these areas have scaled back and no longer offer entertainment that draws a crowd like Mountain Jam. I think it’s a great thing that Hunter puts on such an event and hope to see it continue as many of my friends look forward to it every year and I hope to make it someday myself.

Jessica Pezak: Hmm…this is a good question. I’d say it’s mixed. We’ve had issues in the past with law enforcement, with security, with people taking a very hard line approach to the Mountain Jam crowd. Realize that Hunter is only providing a venue and staff for the event. As someone who takes a break from marketing to bartend at the festival for 12-16 hours per day, I’ll say that we love hosting the event, we love having it here. I think it’s a good opportunity to showcase the Catskills, the community, and I think we’re really all on the same page with Mountain Jam. We are in talks to host a few others; no word as to whether or not they will work out or come to fruition. Hunter, in the past and presently, has taken the position of only wanting to provide a venue; not to actually be the promoter.

ta&idaho:  Have you guys considered any creative solutions for dealing with the traffic jam near the top of the AA lift, where snowboarders stop and buckle their bindings? That area can be a mess (especially when the top of Upper K-27 is closed, so some of the F lift traffic can’t go that way from the top). I don’t have any great ideas, but prioritizing Upper K-27 snowmaking

Jessica Pezak: I actually spent some time last season sitting on a bench at the top and watching the snowboarders. I am not sure why a majority of them cannot manage to hobble over to the benches, out of the way of other customers, but I think that’s something that we need to figure out how to stop. I don’t know if it’s an issue of signage, or stationing an Ambassador there on busy days and having one of those guys gently nudge people over to the benches. I definitely recognize that it can be an issue and will have to revisit that and see what can be done when the season gets started.

First off, thanks again for participating and for doing the Big Lift again. I hope it adds many powdery midweek days to my season!

mattlucas:  My question isn’t sexy, but snowmaking doesn’t seem to be the priority it used to be at Hunter. The depth wasn’t there at all like it was in the 90s, some trails at West are now barely open. So, what happened to the firepower? I heard rumors of leaks, and pumphouses breaking, did you do more than basic maintenance this year to keep the area a more covered and open? My skis really felt it on a few occasions last year, even if I personally had a great time anyway.

Jessica Pezak: Completely honestly, what happened has nothing to do with firepower: it has more to do with the cost of utilities, the weather, more science and less ability to say “well, it’s kind of snowmaking weather. Let’s crank it!” People don’t like this answer, but this is the nature of the business today. As a family-run area in a tight economy, there’s simply no room for frivolous snowmaking anymore. We do what we can, everything we can, I do believe our snowmaking is still first-rate. If you knew what one month of sporadic snowmaking costs us in respect to what we bring in with lift tickets, you’d see there is not a giant profit margin.

180:  Tell us more about the 365 day operation of the Zip line.

Jessica Pezak: What would you like to know? I am 100% open to doing a complete Q&A just on the Zipline in the future, if there is interest, since what we will be doing here is really the first of its kind anywhere in the world (the combination of different amenities, length of the lines, structure, operation structure, etc). There will be 2-3 press releases going out in the next few weeks; after the initial press releases go out and the ground is broken, I would definitely be happy to sit down here again and do a “Zipline Area Challenge!”

catskillman:  Last year you let season passholders ski the day before opening day, but did not let anyone know about it. This was great for the few with inside connections but not fair to the others who also paid. Will the unfortunates know this year?

Jessica Pezak: Ha, yes, we do have that silly passholder arrangement; I have not heard about its feasibility this year. Quite honestly, we wanted to open on or around 11/20 — snowmaking temps are simply not present right now, and we are in no position to blow snow at 30 degrees only to watch it melt away the following day; that said, I am not sure if we are even doing that this year. Second, I don’t think it’s unfair — it’s one of the benefits to purchasing a season’s pass. I don’t really think it’s something that ticket buyers should take personally…it’s something nice we like to do for our passholders.

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