Robert Chacon

Assistant Director of Mountain Operations
Mountain High, Calif.

Six-word bio: "A neck tie = dog leash.”

A powderhound and seasoned patroller, Chacon is skyrocketing up the ranks at Mountain High, with an eye for efficiencies and a ready ear when people need it.

For Robert Chacon, the early mornings required of a ski patroller aren’t a sacrifice, but the main reason to come to work.

“My favorite memory? It’s probably powder every morning and skiing when no one else is,” he says.

The longtime patroller, who is now assistant director of mountain operations at Mountain High in California, has already had a lengthy career at the resort. He started there in 1996 as an introductory patroller and has been rising up the ranks since, moving to patroller in 2000, patrol director in 2005 and finally, to the ranks of mountain management last year (2010). In the midst of that, he earned a double major in finance and business, skills he’s used “every day” in his Mountain High role.

“He’s a natural leader who people are drawn to,” Karl Kapuscinski, president and CEO, Mountain High, tells SAM. “He’s very good at identifying problems and coming up with a solution, and people look to him when they have problems in other areas, in everything from personnel to mechanical.”

In all the times Chacon has been promoted, Kapuscinski says, no one has ever questioned the decision, nor complained about it. When he did an informal poll around the company to find out who some of the most helpful managers were, Chacon was at the top of the list.

In fact, Kapuscinski says, he counts himself extremely lucky, because Chacon is second in command to another youthful superstar, the resort’s VP of mountain operations, Ben Smith—who is in his early 30s.

Together, the youthful duo oversee everything from snowmaking to vehicle maintenance, snow removal, patrol, lift ops and maintenance, and on-site risk management. It’s a pretty big role for staff still early in their careers, but Chacon has been at the resort for so long, he takes it all in stride.

Although, like many of the others featured in this list, he finds managing the wide range of personalities at Mountain High his biggest challenge. The second-biggest challenge he’s had to face since becoming assistant mountain manager is of a more pedestrian sort: “Not spending as much time out on the mountain as I used to,” he says, a bit ruefully. “I spend a lot more time sitting at a desk than I did before.”

That time, however, has been well spent.

“This last season, my first season as assistant mountain manager, we’ve made huge leaps and bounds as far as cutting budgets, monitoring labor, streamlining programs and running as efficiently as possible,” he says. He and his team have dedicated many hours to examining resort data, focusing on peak guest periods against specific department needs and employee levels.

He’s also been a part of moving Mountain High to a paperless model, a big part of which has included moving patrol and risk management reportage to iPads, with a goal toward digitizing files and records in order to build a database for ease and accessibility.

When asked what skills have helped him achieve so much success in such a short time, Chacon says it’s taking the time to listen even when things are crazy.

“I’m a listener—so regardless of whatever is going on, I’ll hear you out 100 percent from beginning to end, and then I’ll rationalize with my manager and we’ll figure out a solution together. I rely a lot on my employees’ feedback.”

—Katie Bailey