AlpineZone Challenge 2011 – Win Smith of Sugarbush

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. Win Smith, President at Sugarbush in Warren, Vermont, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 10/13/2011:

deadheadskier: There have been Sugarbush master plan renderings in the recent past with significant upgrades including lift/trail expansions. I was particularly excited about two new trail pods and lifts in the renderings for Mt. Ellen; the expanded terrain above Inverness and a lift going down into the Lower FIS valley. Do you have a realistic time table for when these projects will move forward?

Also, thetrailboss asks with the proposed expansions at Mount Ellen, can we expect the lodge to be expanded? (Just a note, this topic received a lot of interest from other folks as well).

Win: We do not have any near-term plans for further trail expansion at Mt. Ellen. The wooded areas that we have created over the past few years have been well received. The long-term masterplan referred to is just that. Someday we might add terrain above Inverness. I agree that it would be sweet!

xlr8r: Win, with all the work Sugarbush has done, it is not surprising that we received the following questions:

xlr8r asks, is the Lincoln Peak Village now complete, or is there a further phase to be built? With the added capacity of the two new buildings added last year, will the Valley House lodge continue to be utilized in the future or are its days numbered?

Teleo had the same concerns about the next phase, but adds, “You had a long range plan for Sugarbush on the old website that included Phase 1, 2, 3 of the long range plan. Now that Phase 1 & 2 are complete, have you updated the plan looking further out than Phase 3? What would be the next major items on the plan?”

Win: We have previously announced a plan to build additional residences and to join our new base area with the original Sugarbush Village. When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, we paused before building additional residences. Last year we built The Farmhouse and The Schoolhouse to complete our base facilities at Lincoln Peak. We have been largely permitted for another 80 residential units. With Clay Brook now 85% sold, we are starting to see demand for additional ski-in/ski-off whole ownership condos, so we are in the early planning of this next phase. If demand materializes, we could begin building next spring. We are not real estate speculators, so we will build only if we have pre-construction buyers.

The Valley House will continue to be used on weekends and holidays. F&B Director Gerry Nooney will be adding some additional food options there this winter and we will also be sprucing-up The Wunderbar. The Mushroom will continue to be used for special functions periodically.

thetrailboss: Win, thanks for several great seasons at Sugarbush. When can we expect the older doubles, such as Valley House, Village, and Sunny D, to be retired and replaced with new lifts?

Win: All three still have life! We continue to do annual maintenance so that they operate safely and reliably. The Village Double was repainted this summer and looks sharp. When we are further into the next phase of development that I spoke about in answer #2, we will likely replace it with a triple. The Valley House Double only runs weekends and holidays, since it is a redundant lift, but it serves a purpose on busy days or if Bravo is down due to weather or maintenance. Someday we will likely replace it, but not for a few years. I think Sunny D at Mt. Ellen is the perfect lift for the beginner terrain that is right off of it as well as for the Terrain Park. We have just installed a new haul rope on it this summer.

Northernflight: Are there any plans to bring more nightlife to the area? The only thing I didn’t like about my trip to Sugarbush a few years ago was that everything seemed to close at 6:30. There seemed to be a lack of things for even family’s to do at night.

Win: We have been keeping the Castlerock Pub open later on weekends and holidays and have booked live music there. We are also looking at a few “”disco nights”" at Timbers this winter. I hope that others like Pine Tree and Slide Brook will see the opportunity and continue to provide late-night entertainment. Big Picture downtown, Local Folk Smokehouse, and Hostel Tevere are other options. The Mad Bus has a late-night schedule so that people don’t have to drive. Regarding family entertainment, we are planning more family nights this year in addition to what we added last winter. Watch our events calendar on the web.

steamboat1: How about replacing the Heavens Gate Chair with one that actually goes to the top so you don’t have to climb herring bone hill to get to Organ Grinder or Jester? Better yet how about a new bottom to top lift over the old Organ Grinder lift line?

Win: This would be challenging because it would likely require blasting and impacting the ridgeline environment which would be difficult to get approved. It was a different world in 1958 when the gondola went to the very top. With what we already have, a bottom-to-top lift would be redundant. And it would be enormously expensive. However, we can do a better job of making more snow there and pushing it around to make the grade better up to Organgrinder and Jester.

steamboat1: Win, we had some questions about late season skiing. Steamboat1, deadheadskier and thetrailboss wonder if you have considered going back to Mount Ellen for late season skiing.

Deadheadskier notes, “under your tenure, Sugarbush has been one of the most aggressive areas on the East Coast in offering skiing late into the spring. Any chance of altering the plan and moving spring skiing operations to Mt. Ellen? Without question, Mt. Ellen has the BEST set up on the East Coast to offer skiing as late as possible. The product you’ve delivered on Lincoln late season has been good, but without a doubt, Ellen is the better set up with the high elevation lift.” He also notes that Ellen could trump what Jay and Killington offered and that “combining an epic spring skiing season on Ellen with your current 420 pass promotion would create serious buzz that Sugarbush is THE PLACE to be for diehard skiers and riders in the east. Spring skiing on Mt. Ellen is a competitive advantage that can’t be beat by any other area in the east.”

Win: This is not being considered. We made the decision five years ago to focus our extra snowmaking at Lincoln Peak and to keep it open through April if possible. We have actually seen an increase in April skiing, Last year we skied until May 1st last year. I know that Mount Ellen offers some great spring skiing and has its devotees. However, we can’t economically keep both areas open in April given the number of skiers that time of year. Since the larger bed base is at LP, most prefer to have us keep LP open. We do offer the Lincoln Limo at Mount Ellen and we might consider opening for a private group ion a nice spring day if the numbers were large enough to justify it.

jimmywilson69: Have you considered converting the Slidebrook express to a bubble quad? I don’t know if that kind of modification is possible with the current lift setup (towers, cable, etc) due to the additional weight. It would make that lift ride a bit more attractive as it would essentially be a gondola.

Win: Too expensive. We looked at it. I would rather invest our dollars elsewhere.

ThinkSnow: Win– Thank you for the great job you’re doing as the resort’s current caretaker, and for listening to the customers’ voices & opinions. With so many people these days being involved with “”fantasy”" sports, I was wondering what your “”fantasy ski-resort”" would be, and if you hope to incorporate any of those details into Sugarbush in the future?

Win: I am a big fan of Deer Valley because of their service and Stein (and I like the new terrain there too at Lady Morgan and The Mayflower Bowl). I really like the terrain at Alta, Jackson Hole, Big Sky. I like the feel of a Telluride and a Taos. That said I like resorts that are as authentic as possible within their environment, have fun, challenging and diverse recreational options, have a good cuisine, are staffed with friendly and helpful people and attract guests that are genuine and love and respect the outdoors. Amusement parks with mechanical rides and water parks are not my idea of a thrill. Since my family and I would not want to own any place other than Sugarbush, you might conclude that Sugarbush is our fantasy resort.

WWF-VT: Tropical Storm Irene damaged the snowmaking pond, German Flats Road sustained damage and there has been ongoing repaving of the Access Road. What impact, if any will there be on snowmaking this season based upon these events? What improvements to snowmaking and recovery from the inevitable freeze/thaw cycle are planned for this season?

Win: We will have both snowmaking ponds repaired so their will be no impact from Irene other than on our P&L after spending $700,000 repairing them. We have rebuilt three of our electric compressors, done a lot of valve repairs on the mountains to stop air leaks, and we have purchased forty new revolutionary low-energy mobile snow towers that will allow us to make more snow in marginal temperatures. These should help especially in getting more terrain open early and also with recovery after a thaw/ freeze. We also have a new Pisten Bully winch.

jimmywilson69: As I understand it, Slidebrook Basin was not able to be developed into ski slopes due to Black Bear Habitat. However, you guys were able to secure a permit to operate guided back country tours in there. Is there a possibility in the future that Slidebrook could be opened up to everyone similar to bracket basin at Sugarloaf? I understand this would require the installation of lifts and trail network to enable people to return to Lincoln Peak or Mt. Ellen.

Win: The Act 250 permit conditions to protect bear habitat in Slide Brook Basin are not going to change. The permit does allow limited tours in specified areas, but development of a lift and trail network is specifically prohibited. However, Sugarbush has an open woods policy for off-trail skiing and riding and there are approximately 4,000 acres within the boundaries of Sugarbush. No one else has anything near that.

As always please email me directly with any further questions, comments or suggestions. ( See you on the slopes soon!

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