AlpineZone Challenge 2006 – Lori Cayouette of Pats Peak

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. Lori Cayouette, Director of Marketing and Sales at Pats Peak in Henniker, New Hampshire, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 5/18/2006:

teachski: How has the re-opening of Crotched Mountain and Granite Gorge impacted Pat’s Peak, if at all?

Lori Cayouette: Not one bit if anything they have helped reenergize skiing in the Monadnock region. Believe it or not, the 2005-06 season was our best season ever…weather and all. Did you know that Mr. Baybutt, the owner of Granite Gorge, skis in our Adult/Corporate Race League at Pats Peak? When we do large purchases we work with Granite Gorge to try and negotiate better rates for both of us. We have also done some vertical marketing with the people at Granite Gorge to boost business for both mountains. The local beginner mountains are very crucial to the long term survival of this sport. It goes like this: Skiing is a sport of choice and leisure. If you have to travel too far to do it then you might not take up skiing. The local kids gets hooked at a Granite Gorge sized mountain and then look for something a little bigger, like Pats Peak. When they are seeking even bigger mountains they go to a skier area like Waterville Valley or Mount Sunapee. This is why we have marketing arrangements with all the areas I just mentioned. If you give your skiers and riders like we do: great snow, great lifts, great experience, reasonable prices…I can’t see how you can lose a customer. Besides we’re not competing against other ski areas, we’re competing against Disney World, Nintendo, TV and the Internet, just to name a few. You would be hard pressed to find another activity where you can have as much fun as a family as you can when you’re skiing!

Bob R: Any chance we could work a program that would allow our board members some discounts/special days or events at your resort? Thanks!

Lori Cayouette: Bob R: send me an email at and we can discuss some possibilities for your board members to get a discount at Pats Peak.

hammer: Some questions about Hurricane. A few years ago, I remember that there was a mogul field on Hurricane. Are there any plans to make one again this season? Do you plan to add lights to Hurricane? It is a great trail and is already partially lit for the chairlift. Plus it would make for some nice night bump skiing under the lift and add one trail for racing, training, or free skiing on the groomed side. Last, how do you groom it if you don’t have a winch cat?

Lori Cayouette: It’s funny you mention that I just asked the GM and he is downstairs right now speaking with several different snowmaking companies on revamping the snowmaking on the Hurricane trail. It contains some of the oldest parts and pieces to our snowmaking system and the GM says it’s time to do a “version” upgrade. We will be installing lights on either Tornado or Hurricane this year. So stay tuned for more details. As for how we groom Hurricane, we use our best operators and conventional snow cats.

teachski: Are there any plans to upgrade some of the remaining doubles at Pat’s Peak in the near future? Any plans to add new trails?

Lori Cayouette: We add lifts as lift capacity is warranted. We pay close attention to our lift lines and parking lots (we use these as leading indicators as to where the day is going to be at for attendance). We’ll fire up additional lifts when needed. There are basically 4 pods on the mountain and we have multiple lifts in each pod. As soon as one pod starts seeing higher usage we turn on another lift. We have ample capacity right now to move people and get them up the mountain timely, it is what we are all about. I guarantee you can get more skiing in here then at some of the other “bigger” mountains up north, after you figure in lift lines you need to wait in up there…at least on a weekend. Over the last decade we have added 5 lifts (2 chairs and 3 surface). There are plans in the work to replace the Peak Double chair, but not for a few more years. As for adding new trails, we don’t have any immediate plans but we are always looking for ways to improve the experience at Pats Peak.

Bob R: Any chance racers from the Corporate league can have the option to recreational ski on other nights for an additional flat fee? How about a special discount day for the racers and their families? I know that some of us would like to check out the rest of the hill.

Lori Cayouette: Your lift ticket on your race night is valid from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. so you can come early and check out the rest of the mountain. As for other discounts, I will discuss it with the director of the program and see what we might be able to do for additional options.

Bkroon9175: What is the plan for the new “pond” at the summit and what are the anticipated snowmaking upgrades? Is there a timeline for this project?

Lori Cayouette: I default this answer to Kris Blomback, our general manager and snowmaking guru:

Part of the charm of Pats Peak is how we keep lift tickets low and affordable for everyone. All of our improvements that are done each year are based on not borrowing money….it’s our Yankee business DNA. If it’s a slow season, then we don’t do as much. If it’s a great ski season, we rock. Pats has pumped more then 5 million dollars into the area over the last few years (two lodge expansions, two new lifts, massive snowmaking upgrades, new Rental shop, etc) and we’re proud to say we have not borrowed a whole lot of money to do it. Remember, we are still a family owned ski area (44 years and counting same owner btw. No one else in Northern NE can say that with the exception King Pine, we believe). With that said with “big ticket” projects like the snowmaking upgrades we work at them by slowly digesting them. The pond is still on track but instead of paying a contractor and the big bucks associated with do that, we pay our mountain guys, which in turns creates a couple of benefits: it allows us us to keep on skilled personnel, we pay them year round full-time benefits and it actually saves us money. Here’s what we’ve done over the last few years regarding the pond: we have purchased the land, surveyed it, cleared the trees, removed the stumps, built the pump station, built the pond substation, sifted and removed topsoil and we have all the rocks in giants piles for our guys to turn the boulders into rip-rap – via a portable crusher. The rip-rap will be incorporated into the finished product. So we’re pecking away at it slowly but surely. For this year we will be replacing about 5,000 feet of snowmaking pipe, purchase additional fan guns, some additional HKD towers and perhaps a pump or two.

thetrailboss: Some questions concerning POP. That program is great and something that others should follow (Bolton Valley has). The price is still reasonable for what is offered, but last season saw a sharp increase in price ($23 to $29). That results in a big increase for two or even four people to ski or ride. Was this increase due to the fact that the overall day rate is as high is it can go for what is offered (710 vertical, 23 trails)? As to the quality of the nightskiing terrain, in 2004 I asked Kris if he would consider closing runs and doing a quick grooms of each of them (with the help of ski patrol) to insure top conditions. This is done at Wachusett, Gunstock, and Stowe and they advertise this “grooming” program. Two of these resorts are direct competitors of yours. I think that the grooming before/during night sessions would help the clientele who come to POP (mainly novices, school/church groups, and those who get out a couple times a season) while justifying the increased price. To be honest, when we were passholders, we rarely came at night because the snow was better in the AM and because at night things got downright treacherous due to the volume of traffic from the day sessions. Any reconsideration for next season? I think this would really improve the Pats Peak product and make nightskiing safer and more enjoyable.

Lori Cayouette: Trailboss – Great questions: Let me answer them on each point. The POP package price, which includes a lift ticket, rental equipment, lesson tips and snowtubing is priced very aggressive. I think you would admit that only one component of that ticket would be $29 during the day, except maybe the tubing. We had to invest considerable resources into the Rental Shop to handle all the people who wanted rental equipment. So, I can see how you think a $6 bump is aggressive but in reality it is still very aggressively priced program and there certainly isn’t a better deal anywhere out there in ski country with all things being equal. On the day ticket and price increase in general, it’s a reality of business that expenses increase every year. We as an industry are sensitive to price increases regarding lift tickets. But if you really get down to the “nitty gritty” of running the business, the cost of a lift ticket does not really cover the cost of running a ski area. Our business model (a banker’s nightmare by the way) is one where we have a grand total of 100 days, more or less, to make money. Of those specific days, maybe 50, you actually make money. And when you get to those 50 days where you need good weather (Friday night rains storms followed by artic plunges $!*^) you better have the “horses in the barn” to get out after it and make the skiing great again. I can’t tell you how many people come into our office and tell us how great the skiing exceeded their expectations, considering all the inclement weather that plagued the region, just 24 hours prior. The bottom line is that it all takes money and lots of it to invest in snowcats, snowmaking guns, pumps, compressors, fan guns, tower guns, hoses—and that just the snow surface component. Compound the daily expenses of running other aspects of the ski area and you throw in the volatile costs of insurance, fuel, etc and you can see why bankers run from the ski business. Please also bear in mind that we have 365 days worth of labor and expenses. Did you know that Pats Peak has more then 22 YFT employees? Now, I don’t want to paint a doom and gloom scenario of the business but when you price our cost of admission and compare it to golf, movies, boating, night out to dinner, etc all of sudden skiing is not so bad. Not inexpensive by any stretch but you sure do get some horsepower out of your recreational dollar. To answer your final point: Grooming. Our management staff skis a lot and we are always looking at improving the product. We don’t believe that we have the time to re-groom all the trails and have the snow “set up” but perhaps we can groom a few select runs. We also try and run the snow guns on some of the advanced terrain and provide for some fresh “pow” on select trails at night. Our thoughts on this is the expert doesn’t mind the guns going.

snobababunny: I skied Pat’s Peak in college at St. Anselm’s years back—it is a fun place. St. Anselm college is so close & yet there was never any deals for the St A’s kids to come and ski at Pat’s Peak (at least there wasn’t when I was there). There’s a bunch of kids who would come if the price fit into the college kids budget. Are there any programs? Have you considered tapping into this market, especially with nightskiing? How about “College Nights” on Fridays or something?

Lori Cayouette: We offer a great option for college students with our College Season Pass. It is an unlimited season pass and students need to present a valid student ID at Skier Services to obtain their pass. If their pass is purchased on or before 9/1/06 the cost is only $169, which is a great deal. We also offer a discount off our daily lift tickets for college students with a valid college ID: $5-off Any Full-Day or Night Skiing Weekend or Holiday Lift Ticket, Excludes POP and $10-off Full-Day or Night Skiing Midweek Lift Ticket. We also work with student activities and college ski clubs at different schools for group season passes, group trips and bulk ticket purchases. Buses of students from Boston College come up many times during the season for Saturday Night skiing and they have a great time.

hammer: A repeat question, but an important one. Would it be possible to change the line going into the Valley double lift? Making the 180 degree turn into the enclosed area can be a bit awkward, especially for less experienced skiers.

Lori Cayouette: We understand that making the 180 degree turn into the Valley loading area can be difficult. The problem when the lift was side load was the guest had to make all adjustments at the same time they were loading the lift. Naturally, being a beginner lift and asking first time skiers and riders to load and make adjustments at the same time had the net results for MEGA lift stops. We decided about 5 years ago to make this a two step process. One was to make the turn (the 180 degrees that you refer too) about 6 chairs ahead of when you had to load. Then you get everything straightened out and all you need to concentrate at the loading area is well….loading. This little tweak has reduced stops on that lift by approx 35%, as compared to how we used to load it.

thetrailboss: I was really happy to see that the management reproduced and framed some black and white photos from the earlier years of Pats Peak. The articles, pictures, and the old trail map in the Sled Pub really show how much history and human drama lies behind Pats Peak. The fact that the same family has run it for over 40 years is great. I wish that other places would take the opportunity to show skiers and riders their heritage. I am wondering what you think was the most defining moment in the resort’s history? Why do you think so many places are moving away from their heritage? In moving forward with more work and improvements, will you continue to focus on preserving the character of the place (“a place where family and friends can ski?”)? I think this is what draws a lot of people to Pats (many AZer’s said Pats is their favorite Small Hill). I just don’t want to see the friendly, familiar, warm atmosphere to become victim of corporate homogenization that has hit other ski areas.

Lori Cayouette: Another great question to default to general manager, Kris Blomback:

Trailboss, by your questions I can tell you have true passion for skiing. Cool. Hmmmm….most defining moment at the ski area. I popped the question to the owner and he said: We were one of the first ski areas in the state to make snow seriously. In fact, with our first years we were able to cover more then 50% of the terrain. That % was unheard of back in the early 70’s. With that snowmaking we were asked to host 1974 United States Slalom Championships, when the areas up north didn’t have any snow. The mountain was mobbed with world class skiers. Other defining moments of our existences: opening day, installation of a real snowmaking system, on one of the toughest Race Trails in New England, we have had some pretty awesome skiers here over the years calling Pats their home mountain. Why ski areas lose their souls? Great question. IMHO opinion you get a manager in there that does not have passion for the sport and looks at too much like a business. I can assure you we need to look at our business through the “fiscal glasses” but we don’t EVER lose sight of the passion to keep the industry alive. There are few things that we do at Pats that I can assure you a budget conscious bean counter would surely cut. They are things like having our mascots (Snowball, the Snowtiger and Boris, the Bear) greet you in the morning, having “bootfitters” in the rental shop who just roam around and make sure everyone is putting on their ski boots correctly. The stuff we see as a beginner mountain: jeans, 3 pairs of heavy wools socks….oh I could go on. So extra personnel in the rental shop to make sure the process goes smoothly and their introduction to the sport is nice and pleasant. We love making snow so much we make it in two of our glades! Training and associates: we probably run heavier then most ski areas in terms of staffing levels. We want to guarantee that when a guest comes to our ski area they have a great experience. Also, we run our beginner area with a moving carpet and two handle tows for FREE. So those examples are couple of the ideas that we do here that give Pats Peak its soul. I think the real soul though is our employees who make thousands of micro decisions each day which set us apart from the others. Our motto we always tell the employees is to make it right with the customer.

Thanks for the opportunity to answer all the questions. If you guys are ever in this neck of the woods – stop on in and say hi. We would love to see you!

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