General Manager (former),
Casey Bingham was nominated by one of SAM’s 2012 10 Under 30 profilees, Kyle Martola, and we were immediately impressed with his description of this extremely ambitious 25-year-old. In 2011, Bingham, a former terrain park and lift operations manager at Tyrol Basin, Wis., and his business partner, Brent Milkey, realized a dream of running their own ski area: they signed a lease to operate the Highlands of Olympia ski area in Wisconsin. In Martola’s words, Bingham “poured his heart and soul” into fixing the area up, re-certifying the lifts, upgrading the snowmaking system, improving the terrain park and wooing the surrounding community. “He definitely has a ‘can-do’ attitude, and reaches for the stars on a daily basis,” Martola says. “I feel Casey really represents the new generation of the Midwest ski industry.”
In April 2013, the ownership of Highlands of Olympia changed hands. Bingham and Milkey decided the lease terms available were not in line with their vision for the area and decided to step away. Bingham, however, remains dedicated to his goal of owning and running a mountain operation.
What attracted you to the idea of running a ski area? It’s a pretty risky move for such a young person...
I have wanted to buy into the ski business since I was 13. I loved snowboarding and I thought snowcats looked fun to operate. What attracted me to the business [as an adult] was the opportunity to build something up and say that I helped bring it to a new level. Taking Olympia from a place people didn't enjoy coming to and turning it into a place they were proud to call their home area was risky, but well worth the experience and the knowledge I gained.
Tell us about your philosophy for building a successful ski area business.
I guess my philosophy would be to keep things affordable. I wanted to try and make sure everyone had the chance to learn to ski or snowboard. We did things like having a “Teach Me How to Turn Tuesday” for $30, which included rentals, lift ticket and group lesson, and a $10 Thursday that included $10 rentals, $10 lift tickets and $10 group lessons. I really wanted to show the community the upgrades we had made to the hill and what Olympia offered. We did a lot of lesson programs for local schools, we did a PTO fundraising night and we joined the Chamber of Commerce. Groupon and Liftopia also worked great!
What was the most rewarding aspect of running Olympia? The most challenging?
The most rewarding was building the area back up and the customer compliments we received. It was a lot of fun reviving Olympia from what it once was. I met a lot of amazing people that were very happy with what we where doing. I will miss everyone, from the ski patrol to customers to contractors. The most challenging? Employees and Mother Nature. Employees are something I have yet to figure out; I spent a few too many hours filling in for people who didn’t show up. Nature is something that you can’t control, but it can be so frustrating.
Why is being a young entrepreneur an asset in this industry:
Plain and simple: we are the future of the industry. In the Midwest, owners and GMs are getting older and looking to retire. Being young, motivated and passionate about the industry, I hope to own or general manage another area soon.