Northstar’s new leader: Elevating guest experience top priority | SierraSun.com

Northstar’s new leader: Elevating guest experience top priority

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

Beth Howard, who began her career with Vail Resorts in 1985 as a college intern at Beaver Creek, has begun her new role as CEO of Northstar California.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — On Saturday, Beth Howard began her new role as Northstar California's vice president and general manager, overseeing everything from mountain operations to village activities.

The Sierra Sun recently sat down with Howard to discuss her new position, her plans for Northstar and this upcoming winter season.

Below is an excerpt of a Q-and-A:

Sun: Can you tell me a little bit about your career in the ski industry, and how you think that has prepared you to take on your new role?

Howard: I started 30 years ago as a college intern chopping vegetables in the central kitchen in Beaver Creek, so that was my beginning. I immediately fell in love with the mountain resort environment even though I was in the kitchens. I loved the entire experience, so I stayed in the business for 30 years, always on the operational side. I would say (the) areas that I focused on from a career standpoint have been mountain dinning, our private clubs and golf — those were really my primary day-to-day focuses. However, I also had the opportunity to lead best practices across the company on the mountain operation side of things and also on the guest service side of things, and I think that allowed me to broaden and prepare myself for a role such as this. I also served on many HOAs, private club board of directors and was active in the community whenever I could. I don't think you are ever 100 percent prepared for the next job, but I feel that I have a great foundation and skill set that I can bring and be successful here.

Sun: In running Northstar, what might you do differently than Bill Rock?

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Howard: Really my focus this year is to elevate the guest experience. That is a core value and focus of mine and the team here … We just want to elevate (it). We're in such a great spot, but we know we can do better, and we're going to do everything we can to enhance every touch point.

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READ MORE: Beth Howard replaces Bill Rock as Northstar's General Manager. Rock began his new role Saturday as COO of Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort.

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Sun: Can you elaborate or be more specific on what you mean by "elevating the guest experience?"

Howard: We have two new programs this year. Our goal is to make them our new Northstar traditions for our guests … We have S'more Time every day at 3:30 in the village. We have complimentary s'mores that come out that are warm and delicious, and all of our guests really, really enjoy that and that has really become a nice tradition in the village.

This year our goal is to try to create some traditions up on the mountain, to give that guest experience a different element. There are two things — Toast is a program you'll hear about where … a guest could ski in at 2 o'clock and have (a) commemorative toast, and there will be Adirondack chairs, fire pits, warm blankets and an intimate setting and a great spot on East Ridge. Our hope is our guests will really gravitate toward that, and it will be part of what they do in Northstar. It'll just be something on the mountain, and then they can come down and have S'more Time, and it starts to complete these little enhancements, elevations in service — kind of high touch for our guests that I think they are looking for at Northstar.

The second program is a program we're calling Mountain Table. I believe we have seven select Fridays throughout the season where we have identified wineries and spirits and I think we have a craft brew in there, where we will have our new executive chief, Steve Anderson, prepare a delicious, five-course meal to compliment and pair with the beverage selection … Our guests, they have all these wonderful experiences and options in Truckee, in the community to dine in the village, but now we want to give them an option of having a dining option on the mountain in the evening, and this is what we feel Mountain Table can do, and that's another signature program and new tradition we want to create.

Sun: In the Tahoe area there are about a dozen ski resorts, so what do you think makes Northstar unique, or what will you do to help make Northstar stand out from others?

Howard: I think it all comes back to how we execute on guest service. Guest service is broad, but it encompasses everything from their experience on transportation, on the bus here; the greetings in our stores; the rental experience; snow service; every element. I think for us to differentiate we have to execute on a very high level on all those touch points and that will set us apart, and we are so committed to doing that and to elevating guest service this year.

Sun: What role do you think Northstar plays in the economic health for the North Shore/Truckee region?

Howard: Skiing in general is critically important to our region. As you just said, there are a dozen or so ski resorts in such a concentrated area, which is very unique and very special. I think our role in this region is really to be successful. It's not only our goal, but our responsibility to deliver a great guest service and the best experience possible for our guests. I think if that's happening and our partners in the community are executing well, it's a win-win. We all benefit from being successful.

Sun: What role do you think Northstar plays in terms of being a community partner with the North Shore/Truckee region?

Howard: We play a huge role as a community partner. What I've learned in just a short time is that we have very, very strong relationships with our local nonprofits. I think it's just been evident by the people that I've been meeting that they've had a strong connection to us, and we have many of our leaders on our team at Northstar serving on boards … I feel that I want to continue that tradition and partnering with our local nonprofits and hopefully build upon it.

Sun: What are some of your present and future plans for Northstar and why?

Howard: I would say my most immediate focus is snowmaking efforts … and also, I probably sound a little bit repetitive, but it's our commitment to the guest service. It's at our core and with the new signature programs up on the mountain with Toast and Mountain Table, and then building upon our wonderful S'more Time tradition and continuing to enhance every touch point along the way with our guest, is really our most immediate focus.

I would say looking in the future, I really want to continue to build on all the successes here. We have a very strong reputation in the industry for guest service, and I think layering in our focus on culinary excellence with some of these new programs and also just really delivering on our snow surface and guest touch points, it's not only my present focus for the upcoming season, but it's for the future success of this resort.

Sun: What are some hopes for this upcoming winter season?

Howard: I would love to see snow. The one thing that I hear from everyone, whether it's in this resort or in the community, is that it's been awhile since got back to a normalized season from what I'm gathering. I think that would be my first hope and wish, and then being able to implement all these wonderful programs the team has put together, build these new traditions and do what we do best — and that is deliver great guest service.

Sun: If mild winters continue, what precautions, if any, might Northstar take to combat that?

Howard: We have a state-of-the-art snowmaking system, and we are going to continue to use that resource and put out the best snow surface we can for our guest.

Bio on Beth

• Beth Howard served as vice president of mountain dining and clubs at Vail Resorts prior to being named general manager of Northstar California on Oct. 9. She began her new role Saturday.

• Howard began her career with Vail in 1985 as a college intern at Beaver Creek, which led to a 30-year career with the company.

• In 2010, Howard was promoted to vice president of mountain dining and clubs, where she has had operational oversight of mountain dining across all the company’s resorts, including more than 100 restaurants and eight private mountain and golf clubs.

• Howard replaces Bill Rock, who joined Vail in 2010 as COO at Northstar. Rock is now chief operating officer of Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort.

Source: Vail Resorts