AlpineZone Challenge 2004 – 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 on6/18/2004:

eatskisleep: Are there any plans to re-open the lift serviced mountain biking in the future? If yes, will you consider lowering the prices?

Susan Duplessis: That is doubtful. The decision to close the park was difficult, but the fact remains that after 14 years in operation, the park continued to lose money and we are a business, after all. I never say never in this business, but I don’t see it happening. Meanwhile, I hope you do check out our sister resort, Attitash, for mountain biking. All of our Gary Fischer bikes and mountain boards were transferred there.

thetrailboss: Now that all is said and done, how did Sunday River fare this season? I visited several times in 2001 and enjoyed your wide cruisers and steep terrain. Hope to return soon.

Susan Duplessis: It was certainly the most challenging season of my tenure, and many of my colleagues that have been here far more years than me said it was the windiest, rainiest and coldest in their memory. That being said, we had many positives-the 299 and 599 pass brought more people to the slopes midweek, and when the weather was cooperating, our numbers overall were strong. The Season Pass program had the effect that we had hoped in that we did well in other areas on the mountain, such as retail and Perfect Turn. I think that while some people were frustrated at the conditions at times, most acknowledged that given what Mother Nature dealt to us, Sunday River had some of the best and most consistent conditions in New England throughout the season, with the exception of the immediate days following snowstorms that hit NE but missed us up here in the western Maine mountains.

uphillklimber: Any plans to increase lodge seating? Weekends have the lodges so full you may not be able to sit.

Susan Duplessis: This is an excellent point and I think while it has been the topic of conversation among management in years’ past, it became more of an issue this year with the increased volume from Season Passholders. At the end of the season there were some adjustments in the seating arrangement in Barker, following the suggestions of a guest. While there are no plans to expand the base lodges, we’re looking at how to improve the functionality. I think there are some easier steps we can take to alleviate the problem, like having storage lockers for guests, instead of their leaving bags under the table and cramping other guests. This is of particular concern at Barker.

uphillklimber: Any plans to put a lift, t-bar or even a rope tow at the terrain parks? Users are constantly walking back up the half pipe, and the main terrain park users take the real slow triple up Spruce peak. A lift could be a real boon to these parks.

Susan Duplessis: This is a perennial question, and I wish I had a firm answer to provide, but I don’t. I know there has been a renewed discussion in recent years among American Skiing Company about the importance of offering progressive pipes and parks, and I think the hiring of Elia Hamilton last season was an important step toward that goal. While I know there will likely not be anything this season, I am sure this is one of the many aspects of the program that Elia and our resort pipes and parks manager, Josh, will examine.

uphillklimber: When are we going to hear about the next season’s special pass? I am very interested in one with no black out dates. Will you be adding a third mountain? What are the details on the “299” pass?

Susan Duplessis: Another good question for which I wish I could provide more details. All I can tell you is that you will not be disappointed with the Season Pass offering from Sunday River this season, and I highly recommend that you continue to be patient-I guarantee you will be rewarded. Last year’s pricing structure had 16 black-out dates for the 299 and the 599 was completely unrestricted. What we found is that families that traditionally enjoy skiing at SR during their children’s school vacation went for the 599, but many people that had flexibility were able to get great use out of the 299 and visited our other resorts during the black-out dates. Our products this year will be based on the trends we saw last season.

teachski: Being a teacher, it is very hard, if not impossible for me to get to a ski area mid-week, yet all special discounts seem to take place during the mid-week. School vacations are usually blacked out from these discounts and specials. Have you ever thought of having a couple teacher appreciation days throughout the season, including one or two during the normally blacked out school vacations?

Susan Duplessis: No one has ever suggested that before, but it’s an excellent one and it is certainly something that I will pass along. I understand that it’s frustrating that the premium prices seem to be during the time that you have off. Unfortunately, we are a business, we do need to earn our revenue during a very limited season, and the times that you’re off are our peak times. It’s a costly business-SR spends more than $1 million in electrical costs for snowmaking alone-and then we still have fixed expenses during the off-season (like my paycheck!). On the other hand, we, like many others in the industry, are looking at ways to provide a balance because we recognize that consumers are responding to more affordability in the marketplace. I think you’ll see the trend of affordable season passes and great Ski and Stay packages continue in the industry, along with various other promotions. Thanks again for your suggestion.

Greg: How has ASC’s ownership and direction helped and/or hindered the operation?

Susan Duplessis: This is a tricky question for me to answer, but I will speak (or write) from the heart. I think American Skiing Company has been the target of a lot of media bashing, and I am a former journalist, so I don’t say that lightly as I understand what they need to do get their job done. In this respect, I think battling the perception of the company as a sinking ship isn’t helpful to what we’re trying to get across from a resort level-that we’re great places to ski with excellent terrain, ski schools, family programs and more. There are many, many positives derived from ASC, and the vision laid out when this company was formed laid the foundation for many things that we continue to do well. For the consumer, this means things like the Perfect Turn program, the evolution of the shaped ski and multi-resort products such as mEtickets. For the company, there is obviously efficiency in shared resources. As employees, I think we enjoy the camaraderie with our sister resorts and benefit from the knowledge pool, so to speak, which in turn supports our operations.

Greg: Sunday River is one of the few resorts with a message board on their Web site. Many other official ski area message boards have either been shut down, or are filled with immature discussion. What are some of the pros and cons to hosting an official message board on a ski area Web site?

Susan Duplessis: Believe me, some days I am pulling my hair out over the message board. There are some immature posts, some that lose the meaning of the board altogether, and it’s frustrating to feel at times as though I am always on the defense about my resort, which I love, warts and all. And there are many who believe they know all the ins and outs, and therefore become our biggest critics. On the other hand, getting feedback is good and building one-on-one relationships with some of our most faithful guests-critics or not-is rewarding and I think mutually beneficial. I also enjoy the shared love and passion for the sport, and it’s fun to observe the discussions among people who have this common thread despite myriad socio and economic backgrounds.

Greg: Are there any terrain expansion plans for the 2004/2005 ski season?

Susan Duplessis: No, there are no terrain expansions for the coming season. You know, I get this question from dozens of media outlets beginning in May each year, and at times it’s difficult when they don’t want to hear anything else about your resort except for what’s new. I would like to emphasize that Sunday River did a whole lotta expanding for a number of years, while other resorts were stagnant. Everything is cyclical, and despite no new trails, we’re always striving to improve various aspects of our resort operations.

Greg: Are there any other infrastructure improvements/upgrades planned, e.g. lifts, snowmaking, base/summit facilities, etc.?

Susan Duplessis: We’ll spend about $1.15 million this year. The improvements that will be most visible are hotel lobby renovations, installation of wireless internet in the hotels, cosmetic improvements to North Peak, possibly Barker and South Ridge. Other upgrades that are important to our operations but not as obvious to the guest are things like 50 new snowmaking hoses, four new groomers, new vehicles and various infrastructure needs. As aforementioned, there’s a lot of cost in running this business that are not always obvious to the consumer.

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