AlpineZone Challenge 2006 – Chris Bradford of Crotched Mountain Ski Area
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. Chris Bradford, Director of Marketing at Crotched Mountain Ski Area in Bennington, New Hampshire, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 7/14/2006:
Jonni: Knowing that this question would most likely come up sometime in the future, but are there any plans of reopening the original Crotched Mountain (Crotched East)? I remember seeing the original summit trails on this year’s trail map. I know that that terrain would be a great addition to what Peak Resorts has already done to the mountain, what is the likelihood that we’ll see the reopening of the summit trails with either another chair lift or a T-Bar?
Chris Bradford: First, I’d like to say that I think these are awesome questions! When Greg first sent these to me, I couldn’t wait to start typing the answers — so thanks to everyone who participated, even if your question didn’t make the cut. Your continued interest in Crotched Mountain encourages everyone here to keep working hard!
Just for the record, Jonni asked me this question in person not too long ago and I wouldn’t tell him because he’s a spy for Sunapee 😉 I guess I have to answer it now though — this question actually comes up quite often. There are a lot of people who would love to see Crotched East re-open, but that’s not something that will be seriously considered until “Crotched West” becomes fully utilized. Although, we have begun a smaller expansion which incorporates terrain in the old “summit t-bar” area along with some new cuts that weren’t previously part of the old Crotched West. The old summit trails have also been cleared in anticipation of the next step in this small expansion. We’ve explored a few different options regarding lift service to the new summit, and the ideal solution would be to extend the current summit lift.
jack97: Is there a plan for more moguls? How about seeding moguls in a different place? Pluto’s Plunge is left ungroom for moguls to form, however it doesn’t form that well and sometimes they are barely tolerable. I think it’s a combination of several factors: light natural snow, the snow towers not reaching that part of the trail and skier/boarder plowing down the bumps. Because of this, seeding moguls would be a great option for consistency. Wachusett has a seeded run on the Tenth Mountain trail that works quite well because of its location. Everytime we go, that trail is crowded. Back to Crotched, along with the two terrain parks and the great cruising trails, I was glad to see that a couple of glades and natural trails were open last season. Adding a decent mogul run would just make the place seem bigger than it is.
Chris Bradford: Believe it or not, we’ve actually had a few discussions about moguls at the mountain. As you saw, there can be at times some good hits beneath the summit lift on Pluto’s Plunge. There’s also a new trail cut last season above Equinox that we intended to leave “natural”. We have indeed set these areas aside for the formation of moguls. However, nice bumps are a bit of a weird snow science and if we could magically make them appear, we certainly would!
The formation of a mogul takes the following inputs – 1) regular natural snowfall, 2) skiers (not snowboarders), 3) time. This past season, there was a definite lack of regular natural snowfall. Our manmade snow, although providing an excellent groomed surface, doesn’t form bumps very well. The second factor is skiers… mogul formation is a result of repeated ski patterns, specifically side-skidding portions of straight-ski technique. Being that Crotched attracts a lot of snowboarders, combined with carving techniques of modern shaped skis, moguls in general just aren’t what they used to be! For me, also being a ski historian, I find this a fascinating part of the development of the sport. There’s enough here to probably write a small book about just mogul formation and the sport’s modern impact on bump skiing.
Angus: There was some press a few months ago about a change in ownership and organization structure. If I have it right, the mountain was sold and Peak Resorts is now the contracted operator. How does this impact plans for expansion? Will this effect the length of the ski season (in particular if you will open earlier)? Will there be any other noticeable changes? Thanks!
Chris Bradford: To make a long story short, the mountain really wasn’t sold — what happened was more akin to re-financing. Just like someone going out and getting better terms on their home mortgage, Peak Resorts was able to achieve favorable terms for Crotched. Other than being a bit more comfortable now, nothing else changes. Same management team, same mountain crew, same snow, etc.
Regarding the length of the season, this is almost a different subject by itself! Over the past 2 seasons, Crotched has been among the first ski areas in New England to open. We’re definitely going to keep up that tradition. Will we be first this year? That’d be cool, wouldn’t it? Pay attention this fall because we’ve got some big aspirations and a snowmaking system that can seriously deliver.
OldsnowboarderME: Your snowmaking and grooming was the best this past season. I was a passholder last season and already have my pass for this coming season. Can people hike your trails in the summer? If so, are there any rules?
Chris Bradford: Thanks for grabbing your new pass! Glad you’re back again … definitely worth it in my opinion.
People do hike the mountain during the summer, however, please be aware that you do so at your own risk. Keep in mind that the mountain is private property and hikers will be held responsible if caught vandalizing or otherwise damaging the property. Other than that, have a nice hike! There’s an awesome view at the top.
Angus: Who is your target market and how do you compete with Wachusett, Pats Peak, Sunapee, Gunstock, and Ragged? These areas are all about the same time from Boston as you are and some of them are larger. Have you considered networking with any of them? And from what you heard, how did Crotched do in comparison to these competitors in such a tough season as this one? Thanks.
Chris Bradford: Our market is everyone! Skiers & snowboarders, looking for excellent snow without having to travel far and without busting the bank. A lot of people are discovering Crotched for themselves and telling their friends, which is a good thing. Even in this tough past season, we were still able to grow our business over the previous year! From what I understand of the Ski NH results, Crotched was the only mountain in the state to post positive growth, which is really amazing. Obviously, there’s something behind that … YOU!
Bob R: I saw marketing promitions done with Dan Egan and his TV shows in the past. Very entertaining and informative. Anything like that planned again in the future? With regards to promotions, the free ski day seemed to be a big hit. Any thoughts on doing that again? Last, have you considered having an AZ day at the mountain?
Chris Bradford: We’ve been with Dan for 2 seasons now and will likely continue if he has the show another season. Believe it or not, Dan actually likes Crotched and there’s a lot of respect for him here, so it’s always a good time when he comes to make tracks. Even better when the video camera is involved.
There are a number of promotional things we do every year. The TV involvement is just one of many … the free ski day was another big hit, mostly because we we had enough guts to do it on a prime Saturday! Part of the success of the free day was in it’s surprise, so we don’t announce these types of things ahead of time. That’s why it’s worthwhile to be on our email list… we announce a lot of cool things to the email list first. The good part is that we’re also not “evil” and we don’t share email addresses with 3rd parties. (if you’re not on the list, you can join at www.crotchedmountain.com)
An AZ day is a great idea, and in fact, there is something grand in the works for this season, so stay tuned!
teachski: Some areas have “women’s clinics” does Crotched and if so when is it planned for next season?
Chris Bradford: Yes, we started our first women’s clinic series this past season. It ran on Wednesday mornings for 5-weeks and included Rick’s awesome breakfast buffet and a morning on the snow with pro instructors. (Rick is our “food dude”) Everyone had a great time and we’re really looking forward to growing that program more this season. Cheap too! I think the 5-weeks were only $109, not including tickets, or $199 if you didn’t have a season’s pass. This next season we’re hoping to expand our clinic series and offer other programs too, such as rail/park clinics, carving clinics, race clinics, telemark clinics, etc. If you’re interested, please jump onto the email list (at www.CrotchedMountain.com) and we’ll announce the schedule and prices as the season approaches.
If you want to try Rick’s awesome breakfast buffet, he serves it up on weekend mornings too. Big Pile O’ Breakfast ™ for $5 bucks. Can’t beat it.
thebigo: I skied Crotched for the first time this past year. I was very impressed with the snow quality. I showed up around 1:00 on the opening weekend looking to pay $15 – $20 for a few runs. When I stepped up to the ticket counter and found out the price was $34 I was shocked. Have you guys considered discounted early and late season ticket prices? $34 is just too much money for a few hours on one run. Thanks!
Chris Bradford: This is actually a very smart question and the answer comes straight from the core of business philosophy. On opening weekend, Crotched was 1 of only 3 or 4 ski areas in New England open – and the conditions were very good at the time. At such an early date in the season, with limited skiing opportunities (supply) and a large number of people wanting to hit the slopes (demand), there’s no real reason why we would have to discount tickets! (We actually did discount tickets on day #1, but then it went to regular price on day #2.)
Think of it this way… you would have driven 2 hours further to reach the next open ski area, and paid at least the same price, maybe more, for the same amount of terrain with conditions that were probably not as good as what our fan-guns can produce. Still with me? So really, you made a wise decision to make tracks at Crotched! We have a little saying: “friends don’t let friends ride bad snow”, and I think $34 bucks is one heck of a deal to make tracks in early November!
Another aspect of the “early season discount” concept (really the full-price concept) is that opening a ski area is extremely expensive. Our crews work hard to get the mountain open with top conditions right on day #1 and the philosophy is that due to it’s expense coupled with the low supply/high demand situation, the tickets are very much worth full price, maybe even more. Likewise, it can also be said that discounting tickets early season doesn’t make sense because we don’t want to establish a pricing precident in which customers would come to expect discounted tickets whenever there’s less than 100% terrain open.
So really, it’s simple. Our product costs X. We work hard to provide the best quality product we can at a fair price. Isn’t that the goal of any business? We really mean it though. Plus, an early opening is a great bonus for season pass holders.
teachski: Sometimes a key to attracting more than just the day skier, but not always done by the the mountain itself, is the development of lodging and night life in the area. Has this happened near Crotched?
Chris Bradford: This is also a very good question, so lets step back quickly to the previous history of Crotched Mountain. When the original ski area was in operation, it was an active combination day/destination mountain. There was a lot in the way of amenities right around here… restaurants, lodging, etc. Since these business relied heavily on the ski area for their livelihood, when the ski area went out of business, they couldn’t make it.
Flash forward to modern times… when the new ski area opened in 2003, these previous establishments were all but memories. However, there are now signs of growth and activity in the vacinity of the ski area. Property values are rising and we are now seeing businesses just beginning to be born again. For example, there’s a large hotel/motel directly across the road from the ski area that is being fully renovated and shows promise of being back in business for the new season. In addition, there are already a number of lodging establishments right nearby that have enjoyed a boost in winter business. Some of the adjacent commercial properties are up for grabs too (to buy and/or lease). For example, directly across from the ski area are 2 mothballed restaurants and a general store, in addition to other generic commercial units that could house any number of retail businesses. These places were once thriving businesses when the old Crotched Mountain was alive, and now are just waiting for someone to recognize the new opportunity and seize the moment. (hint, hint)
This is a very exciting time to be in this area, to watch it all come back to life. We’re in the early steps now, but in a few more years, this area will be active economically once again, and that’s exciting!
thetrailboss: Chris, as you know from Alpinezone and other ski/snowboard chatrooms, we all do a good job playing “armchair resort operators.” Most of us have little or no experience working for the industry or understand what our favorite resorts have to do in order to survive. Since going to work for Crotched, what was the biggest thing that surprised you about running a ski area? What do you think skiers and riders should know about the “behind the scenes” of New England ski areas? And what do you think it takes for a resort to be successful?
Chris Bradford: I think it’s awesome that enough people are interested in the sport and what happens “behind the scenes” that we can have entire discussion forums dedicated to it! It is indeed a fascinating industry and I’ve learned an immeasureable amount since jumping to this side of the fence.
Ski area operation is a very complex endeavor and demands a good sense of balance and direction. It requires dedicated, skilled and smart people who love the business. In fact, they say a lot of relationships are ruined by the ski business, and that’s very much true. That’s just a token of how much dedication is required! You’ll also find that at most ski areas, top level management works 7-days at week, and it’s really a 24-hour-a-day job. It truly is only something to do for the love of the sport and the challenge, because it’s certainly not going to make you rich.
So keep up the good work, my legions of “armchair resort operators”. A lot of top ski industry figures do indeed read the forums and learn from your perspectives and feedback, so thank you very much and I hope to see you at Crotched this winter!
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