Golf Wars – at Jay Peak – in a Kingdom Far, Far Away

8:45 AM

To close a condo deal, Stenger has to leave for a bit (we’ll hook-up later). Now I’m sitting with Conrad Klefos, Vice-President, Marketing, in the latter’s office. We’ve never met, but I sense something familiar, only I can’t put my finger on it at first. Then I twig. It’s the Voice of Jay Peak (Klefos does his own radio spots). Now The Voice is saying, “Golf will change things dramatically. It’s really going to even-out our operation.” This is the same guy who I usually hear describe the latest huge dump of snow? What about the storm coming tonight, after the drought of December, I ask? Klefos assures me, without missing a beat, “We’re always focused 6-8 months out. Right now, even though we’re trying to get the skiing here up and running, I’m thinking about how the new Golf course is going to impact our mountain-biking and other programs.”

Klefos directs Jay’s 5-member marketing team, newly bolstered by web-wizard Chris Villiar, and together they put out a whole battery of material, including the 4-color Resort and Ski School brochures, press kits, and magazine ads. “Your best informational resources right now are our web pages (www.jaypeakresort.com & ),” says Klefos. “They give you page after page of detail. For example, every ski in our rental shop is listed, by make and length. The brochure, by comparison, is just a cover sheet. I predict in five years that I’ll just print a color rack card with our web address.”

“This has been a strange week. I’m postponing a lot of my radio ads until after the holidays… people just look outside, see brown fields and can’t get past that, even though we’ve got all sorts of snow up here,” continues Klefos, veteran of Jay Peak’s marketing wars since 1980, and who’s shepherded a marketing budget that has grown from $50K to more than $600K. “This snow storm will pick up the pace, though. Anyway, our team is already looking to the spring ski shows. Our pricing strategy for next season will be approved by the end of March, and printed by the end of April. Then we do a 12-city promotional tour that includes New York City, Tampa, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Toronto. We’ll meet with ski group leaders, tour operators… The destination business that we drum-up at these shows, is more predictable, and benefits a larger proportion of the resort’s facilities, than some of our day markets. And we’re breaking into the international market now – we’ve joined SKI-USA – we’re featured in their Spanish and English European catalogs and we’ve done the London (England) ski show the past two years.”

9:45 AM

I’m sitting on a stool at the back of a very warm First-Aid Building, with Jon Anderson, who’s witnessed a lot of changes at this mountain over the years. “There’s been a dramatic increase in the intensity of the training,” says the leader of Jay’s 65-member Ski Patrol. “Thirty years ago, when I started here, we had 12 hours of first-aid instruction. Now the course administered by the National Ski Patrol is 80 hours long. And that’s just for starters. The mountain also has its own required courses in toboggan handling, rescue, oxygen administration, resuscitation, advanced care…” The temperature outside has risen now to maybe -10 deg. C, but the windows are still frosted over and every time the door opens the room fogs up. In a small alcove, amongst the piles of bandages, signs, toboggans and cordless-augers, we are clear of the melee of incoming and outgoing shifts of patrollers (male and female). We’re also a little removed from the squawking of two-way radios, loud talk and laughter. I discover that what was once two Patrols, the full- and the part-timers, was unified in 1989 under the Directorship of Peg Dohney.

“We don’t see the accidents we had back in the sixties,” Jon is explaining, “maybe it’s the better boots and bindings, but fractures and sprains are way down – which is good. We get a few more serious accidents, though, from a mix of high speed and immovable objects. I think this high-tech equipment gives people a false sense of security. But we’re better equipped now to deal with these situations. We provide quality first care, and then if necessary hand the person over to emergency response teams from the hospital in Newport. The focus now is a pro-active program of prevention, involving signage,” says Jon, pointing to piles of yellow and black rectangles, “trail closings, protective devices on lift towers, and warning-off fast skiers on crowded days… But sometimes all our efforts are futile. Each year a few skiers and boarders ski out-of-bounds alone and get into trouble. Last spring, a snowboarder was recovered, alive but severely traumatized after spending the night in the woods. Fortunately, it was raining and the weather relatively mild. We were lucky. To offset this trend, we’re meeting it head on. We’re part of Jay’s new Ski Adventuring program. We provide backpack-able toboggans and rescue equipment, and instruct groups on back-country safety and techniques.”

10:15 AM

Stenger is ferrying me over to the maintenance garage to meet with Buddy Loux, head of their Lift and Maintenance department. He wants to check the status of the Metro T-bar motor which lost a bearing this morning. They’ve got to pull the motor, get it out to a shop for repair. Loux knows cold weather brings out the worst in equipment (but the best in his team, he assures me). Rick Thompson, head of Vehicle Maintenance and snow-clearing, is here to help out, gathering a rigger’s bucket of tools and an armful of canvas slings. Loux calls out from the back of the garage, “Better bring that snow-making torch” (now, that, I’d like to see).

I’m not going to get to speak to Loux or Thompson today. I’m just going to keep out of the way. First problem was the Village chairlift frozen gear box. Loux his team got that going. Then the Metro T-bar motor quit. (Stenger has arranged for a shuttle service between the two areas). At 9:00 AM the Triple chair (to some of Jay’s best black diamond skiing) still wasn’t running. Wind problem. Chairs swinging too much. (By 9:30 AM they’ve got it going.) The tram is on a wind-delay, and a carrier roller on tower two has miscarried and they’ve got a slack rope condition. Getting that roller replaced at the top of an 80-foot tower at that elevation, in this wind and temperature, isn’t going to be a picnic. And an emergency stop button has grounded-out. Anyway, I got the impression that Loux is smacking his lips at the challenges.

10:45 AM

Driving back to the Tram area, Stenger stops to talk to two young parking lot attendants with face masks. He tells them to spell each other, “Don’t be heroes.” Next we come across Dave Corliss, head of the ten-strong Snowmaking team. They discuss conditions on the Jet and decide the time is right to shift snow-making operations over to the River Quai. But not until the temperature is milder. When I question this, Corliss informs me that, yes, they could make lots of snow in these temperatures but it would be high-risk snow for his crews. And not worth it.