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January 2015

Blue Pages :: January 2015


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While some prepare to celebrate vintage cats (see next story), others mark the latest evolution of the breed. After years of talk about green snowgrooming machines, they are finally here. In early December, Aspen put the first Tier 4-compatible snowcat into use, a Prinoth based on an entirely new platform that borrows from the 350 and Bison. Other details remained under wraps at press time. Tier 4 engines will become standard over the next several years as all manufacturers begin to phase them in. And Crystal Mountain (Wash.) took delivery of two PistenBully 600 E+ electric diesels, another technology aimed at producing cleaner, more efficient grooming.

The Prinoth Clean Motion Tier 4 engines meet the most stringent emissions standards, cutting NOX and particulate emissions by 90 percent. At the same time, engineers managed to increase power and dozing capability. Aspen will demo the new machine all season long; four other demo cats will see action this winter.

The PistenBully 600 E+ uses a diesel engine to drive two electric generators, which in turn power electric motors that turn the tracks and the snow tiller. The system develops 400 horsepower while reducing fuel consumption, and therefore both CO2 and NOX emissions, by 20 percent. Some of that reduction stems from the capture of electric energy created from the braking effect of the electric drive motors when going downhill; that energy is used to power the snow tiller. Another advantage: Power can be tapped at low engine RPM, which also helps reduce noise.

Want to relive “The History of Cats” (page 56)? Oregon’s Timberline Lodge will host dozens of vintage machines April 23-26 during The Cat's Meow Jamboree, a gathering that is gaining traction among ski industry folks and private snowcat owners (of which there are many).

The Jamboree will feature speakers, meals and three days of on-hill driving. “Think of it like a vintage car show,” says organizer Jinn Davis. “It’s a chance to get out some older machines and see them operate.”

At least 50 classic machines have been confirmed for the event, with more expected. The roster includes a Snow Trac featured in Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining;” a fully operational 1956 Tucker Model 743 that was used (and abused) in a famed 1956 Vivian Fuchs Antarctic expedition; Tucker’s first four-pontoon machine, circa 1949; and several early Bombardiers, including a B12 once used to shuttle Yellowstone tourists around Old Faithful.

Davis says the plan is to have the very first production Tucker there, from 1944, all the way through current machines from various manufacturers. “I suspect we’ll have every known make out of the ‘60s in attendance, and I’m sure there are some I’ve never heard of that are coming.”

Davis and co-organizer Scott Russell are big-time Tucker enthusiasts who own about 40 snowcats between them. Russell’s father bought a Tucker in 1960 and drove it to Timberline to go skiing. Davis’s “family car” growing up in Sun Valley was a Tucker. Fittingly, Timberline also has a long history with Sno-cats; the resort was one of the first in North America to use one, in the late ‘40s.

“Whether you’re a history buff, have a ski industry background, or just like snowcats, it will be a unique event,” Jinn says.

On the heels of escalating urging from NSAA—most recently in the form of a 10-page Journal article and a host of special workshops at the association’s upcoming winter shows—more than a few ski companies unveiled leadership succession plans this fall. In many cases, the passing of the baton will take place in 2015 (see “Industry-Report” for details).

It was inevitable that at least some resorts would take succession planning seriously. The oldest of the Boomers--the 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964--began to hit retirement age a few years ago, and by the year 2020, roughly 25 percent of employees will be at least 55 years old. The mid-range of Boomers will hit age 65 that same year.

Notable announcements in recent months have come from Boyne and Vail Resorts, Mt. Hood Meadows and Intrawest, where in most cases a longtime employee-cum-upper-manager has been tapped to segue into a--or the--top position. Interestingly, with the exception of Meadows, each of these successors (Karl Strand at Sugar­loaf; Tom Marano and Sky Foulkes at Intrawest; Pat Campbell at Vail Resorts) falls into the “young Boomer” category, i.e.: early-to-mid 50-somethings, who all happen to have 20-plus years’ experience at their respective companies. Meadows is the trailblazing exception, recently appointing 33-year-old Jake Bolland as COO. Bolland, who has an accounting background, has been with Mt. Hood for only five years. Part of his role will be to free up time for CEO Matthew Drake, another young Boomer, so he can focus on long-range growth opportunities.

Aspen Skiing Company also announced an internal reorganization aimed at keeping pace with changes in the industry, notably new tech­nology and shifting customer and employee expectations. In it, former mountain division SVP David Perry was named COO, expanding his responsibilities to include oversight of ski school and F&B; former CFO Matt Jones became CIO, overseeing ticketing and guest services in addition to finance. This rounding out of responsibilities is no doubt a move towards grooming for the top spot.

So what happens in 10 years when the youngest of the Boomers hit retirement age? It’s a fair guess that’s a topic the resort industry will keep front-and-center.

Winter sports have been flummoxed by the challenge of increasing diversity among participants. The non-profit National Winter Sports Education Foundation aims to change that by introducing 1,200 minority teens to skiing and riding this winter. And it seeks to increase that to 6,000 in 2016 and subsequent years.

To achieve its ambitious aims, the organization has leased the mothballed Hidden Valley, N.J., a prelude to eventually purchasing the property, and is renovating the facilities to create a National Winter Activity Center. Improvements include a new conveyor lift, refurbishing the lodge, and, eventually, upgrading both the snowmaking system and lighting. NWSEF is working with local schools, the YMCA, PAL, and others to recruit newcomers and get them to Hidden Valley for five weekly sessions with instruction. The area will be open only to the instructional groups. Programs are scheduled to begin about Feb. 1.

NWSEF executive director Schone Maillet hopes to convert about half of each year’s beginners into lifetime participants. “We want to help build lifetime family sports,” he says. “We’re bringing a lot to the industry, but also, we’re changing lives.” To do so, NWSEF is looking for partners who can help provide both rental equipment and the instruction itself, or instructor training.

The organization is also raising funds for the purchase and operation of the area. But Maillet emphasizes that most participating organizations will pay a fee, and that the program will have positive net operating income. That will allow NWSEF to support some of those who would not be able to afford the introduction to winter sports.

NWSEF still has many details to address, but it hopes the Hidden Valley venture can meet its goals and become a model for other metro areas to emulate. That would be the breakthrough that solves the diversity riddle.