Beyond the lift lines: A look at how resorts get ready for the ski season | SierraSun.com
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Beyond the lift lines: A look at how resorts get ready for the ski season

Lara Mullin, Sierra Sun

While the seasoned skier or snowboarder may have an inkling of the immense preparation that contributes to a resort’s success, Squaw Valley’s public relations coordinator, Katja Dahl, explains, “One cannot possible begin to catalogue every facet of ski season priming. It is virtually miraculous that everything manages to come together in such a brief time frame.”

While there is year-round preparation and work to be done at any ski area, the resorts still scramble to prepare the mountain for opening. Dahl looked around the base of the resort and noted that, “Everywhere you look, there is something going on, or a project to be done.”

To name a few: launch snowmaking efforts, complete all repairs and improvements to ensure proper lift operation, overhaul the entire computer system to incorporate new season prices, receive all the newest apparel and gear to fill shop windows, order food and supplies to stock the restaurant and refreshment areas, have all new staff trained and oriented with the mountain in addition to refreshers for returning employees, affix the bindings to every rental ski/snowboard/ telemark ski, distribute information and materials to local hotels, prepare for the worst – ski patrol and lift maintenance training, and on and on.

Many of these tasks can only be done mere days before the first skier or rider swooshes down the mountain.

Northstar Public Relations Director Erin Bernall revealed similar preparatory action at Northstar this week.

“There is a considerable amount to be done before Saturday,” she said.

In the Tahoe-Truckee area, the dense competition of neighboring resorts is as intense as any region in the United States. While a bad reputation is always a curse in the ski industry, it can equate to instant ruin when another ski area lies just minutes away.

At Squaw Valley’s employee orientation last week, the message was clear: Customer satisfaction is everything. Each November, new and old employees alike undergo extensive training in everything from how to handle disgruntled guests to more mundane issues involving parking and lost and found.

The goal? Make sure each and every visitor is happy or, at the very least, feels as though he/she has been heard and helped as much as possible.

Senior Squaw Valley representatives reminded their recruits that although people do not always share good resort experiences with their friends, co-workers or family members, they always mention the negative experience.

Consequently, a few visitors who are unhappy with an unfriendly lift operator or soggy nachos could mean a considerable loss in revenue for the resort as a whole. Therefore, Squaw Valley orientation leaders reiterate one point to the new recruits – no small detail can be overlooked.

“An operation as massive as Squaw Valley must employ over 800 employees for the winter,” Dahl notes, with each person playing an integral role in the resort atmosphere.

A poor job of adjusting bindings or fixing them to a pair of rental skis could easily result in an injured guest. This guest in turn, may need the aid of the ski patrol, who then must successfully deliver the injured individual to the medical area employees. The medic department, at this point, can either assist the injured skier and amend the situation, or exaggerate the days’ frustration and confirm his/her negative opinion regarding the resort.

While every resort is not as large scale as Squaw Valley, even the small operations feel the pre-season time crunch. Sugar Bowl, which is scheduled to open Friday, is also working around the clock to prepare for the big day and ensure customer satisfaction. Bill Hudson, marketing director for Sugar Bowl, remarked that “the general public rarely understands the rushed preparations that occur prior to opening day.”

Employing 75-80 seasonal employees, Sugar Bowl places even more individual responsibility on its staff, as they work 24 hours a day to make snow, adjust computer systems, ready ticket scanners and order fresh food to refuel famished snow lovers.

Northstar, which is scheduled to open Saturday, is still in the process of providing uniforms for every employee and will be finalizing details up to, and most likely, after opening day this weekend.

Bernall says she and her staff will be conducting “walkthroughs” this week, to indicate the areas that need to be adjusted before visitors arrive.

As residents pull out their dusty skis and snowboards, and visitors contact travel agents or consult the newest guide books, ski resorts everywhere will be working at a frenzied pace to make sure everything is ready to go for opening day.

Ski Area Opening Dates

Squaw Valley- November 18

Sugar Bowl- November 17

Kirkwood- November 18

Alpine Meadows- Open

Northstar- at- Tahoe- November 18

Boreal- OpenDonner Ski Ranch- November 18


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