Ethan Austin

Communications Manager
Sugarloaf, Maine

Six-word bio: "PR guy, photographer, writer, skier, Sugarloafer.”

Poised, articulate and tuned into modern communications, Austin expertly managed a communications crisis when worldwide news of a chairlift derailment put him in the hot seat.

You can blame it on the Appalachian Trail. The legendary hike sucked in Ethan Austin one summer. “I hiked over Sugarloaf, and the trail put me in the area,” says Austin of how he happened to end up working up at the Maine resort. “I was out of money after hiking for five months, the snow reporter job opened up, and I got it.”

The snow reporter job would lead to a position as the ski area’s communications manager, a job he held when the circumstances surrounding the resort’s Spillway chairlift derailment last December ended up putting him in the hot seat. It was how he handled that crisis, as well as several other PR challenges, that led former 10 under 30 profilee and current Sugarloaf marketing director Brad Larson to call Austin “poised and articulate.”
“The obvious challenges in my position are the crisis management situations you encounter,” says Austin. “The Spillway accident and the national media exposure, that was clearly the biggest challenge over the past year. Skier deaths, skier injuries and coming up with creative and effective ways to make your voice be heard are the other tough parts of the job.”

“But overall we’ve been successful with dealing with the Spillway incident,” adds Austin. “We’ve had a few media outlets say they’ve appreciated the open honest, available way we’ve been forthcoming.”

But for Austin, not all the news is bad, and not all of the job has been crisis management. Larson says Austin is “tuned into modern communications.” And the numbers back up his assessment. “Our growth in social media has been a success,” says Austin. “Sugarloaf has the largest social media presence of any eastern ski area, with 26,000 Facebook fans, and we have 4,000 followers on Twitter.”

One reason for Austin’s deft touch has to be his familiarity with Eastern skiing, and Sugarloaf in particular. “I’ve been a Sugarloaf skier my entire life,” he says. “My family has been in the area for years, and what led me to work here is that I strongly believe that Sugarloaf has the best skiing in the East. We have some great new terrain, and we’re exploring a lot of terrain that no one has ever attempted before. It’s a really exciting time to be here.”

Aside from the family connection, he’s also been blessed with a high level of support from his peers. “I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had a lot of supervisors here at Sugarloaf who have showed me the way,” says Austin. “Bill Swain was my first boss, and I was able to learn a lot from him. Brad Larsen, I’ve learned a lot from him, too, and he’s been a supportive mentor.”

Finally, there’s the skiing. “I tell people that it is a really great job,” says Austin. “If this is something they are interested in, it’s a good position to aspire to. There’s a lot of freedom and chances to get out to ski. He laughs. “That’s the reason why we all are in this industry!”

—Tom Winter