A new direction: Squaw Valley USA’s first non-Cushing leader focused on improvement | SierraSun.com

A new direction: Squaw Valley USA’s first non-Cushing leader focused on improvement

Matthew RendaSierra Sun

Matthew Renda/Sierra SunAndy Wirth, Squaw Valley USA's chief executive officer.

OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. andamp;#8212; Andrew Wirth is the first person to assume the helm at famed Squaw Valley USA ski resort who does not sport the Cushing surname.Wirth, the resort’s new chief executive officer, is understandably excited about the challenge and opportunity; in a recent wide-ranging interview, he passionately and articulately described his first two months on the job, new initiatives he envisions for the resort, his personal biography and his love affair with skiing.Wirth is a child of the U.S. Air Force, meaning he moved around often as his family was stationed at Air Force bases around the world. Born in West Germany before the fall of Berlin Wall, Wirth spent time growing up in the United Kingdom, Southern New Mexico, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. He went to school at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., and upon graduation worked for the Hotshot crew in Colorado andamp;#8212; a group of wildland firefighters.Wirth obtained his first glimpse of the ski resort industry as an intern at Steamboat Ski Resort andamp; Corporation in Colorado, where he made himself immediately valuable by incorporating new computer technologies into the resort’s business practices.andamp;#8220;I’ve always been drawn to the mountains and I’ve always had an interest in business, so getting involved in the ski industry represented the best of both worlds,andamp;#8221; he said. After achieving success at Steamboat andamp;#8212; where Wirth was most recently senior vice president of marketing and sales andamp;#8212; he said he was andamp;#8220;genuinely humbled and honored to be awarded this tremendous opportunity.andamp;#8221;andamp;#8220;There is nothing like Squaw Valley USA in the world,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;It has such a unique history and legacy.andamp;#8221;Wirth cited the fact the five Olympic rings on Squaw’s funitel are from the original 1960 Olympics as one of the more interesting gems of Squaw lore.andamp;#8220;We’ve had world-class skiers, whether it’s big-mountain skiers or alpine racers of every ilk grow up on this mountain,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;With the Squaw Kids program up and running, the next generation is on the way.andamp;#8221;Nancy Cushing, who announced her retirement in July 2010, took over from her husband Alex Cushing, co-founder of Squaw Valley, when he died at 92 in 2006. She served as president of the Squaw Valley Ski Corporation since 1994..Areas of improvementWhile Wirth recognizes the skiing infrastructure at Squaw, in terms of lift placement, number of runs and quality of terrain is largely in place, he said he wants to upgrade guest services at the resort, with a focus on customer service.To accomplish this, he is implementing a program with these goals:andamp;#8226; Enhanced hiring practices.andamp;#8226; An enhanced employee training program.andamp;#8226; The creation of measurable service goals and objectives.andamp;#8226; The implementation of rewards for employees who meet goals.Wirth also wants to upgrade the quality of culinary services on the mountain and in the village, outlining the improvement of food and beverage as one of his top priorities in the initial stages of his tenure.When asked what he thought of the resident perception of Squaw, Wirth said he doesn’t discern among guests of the resort.andamp;#8220;Guests are guests,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;Whether it’s a wealthy family from the Bay Area or a local teenager, we want to offer a great experience. I will say that Squaw makes a great effort to develop effectively priced products, and last year it was more successful than even the company thought it would be.andamp;#8221;Wirth said Squaw’s marketing team is attempting to formulate creative and new lift ticket packages, in some case incorporating hotel stay and plane tickets to accommodate all demographics.He said he is aware of locals’ passionate opinions about the resort, which are sometimes glowingly positive and at times resentfully negative.andamp;#8220;There are as many different opinions as there are people,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;I respect them all. I do feel that at Squaw, skiers of all levels will be able to get what they want for a good price.andamp;#8221;Finally, Wirth revealed a recent experience with his 20-year-old son that exemplifies his love of skiing. During last year’s Thanksgiving weekend, Wirth and his son undertook a run embedded in a heavily treed area of Steamboat and were picking their way through pristine powder enduring shots of snow to the face as they carved their way down to the end of the run.andamp;#8220;I love this sport,andamp;#8221; he said. andamp;#8220;Whether it’s skiing or snowboarding or whatever andamp;#8212; I love it all.andamp;#8221;