At the end of December 2008, after 28 years at Killington and SKI Ltd and another 12 years at Stowe Mountain Resort, I decided it was time to let the next generation develop and incorporate their dreams for the future of mountain recreation.
At the May 2009 NSAA convention, I became concerned and somewhat disappointed at how the "experts" were describing that future. They were probably factually correct in their comments on the faltering economy, aging demographics, climate warming, passive electronic entertainment, high gas prices, difficult air travel, and other challenges. But I reject their predictions of negative outcomes when compared to past achievements.
Where was the optimism? Not one person talked about the industry's strengths in the face of these headwinds. No one extolled why we do what we do, why our lifestyle is so special, why the youth working at mountain resorts should be excited and committed, or why the future will be full of challenges successfully met-just like the past 50 years. I wondered aloud how I would feel if I was a young adult, embarking on a dream job for a lifetime commitment and attending these seminars to learn and develop business relationships. Would I leave with a can-do spirit of "damn the torpedoes" excitement, rather than a head full of gray clouds and doom-and-gloom?
So, on the third day of the conference, when I had a chance, I summarized six priorities for future success. These have worked in the past when times were equally challenging. In the past 50 years or so, we faced 18 percent inflation, no gasoline for travel, winters with small amounts of snow, auto workers out of work for months, droughts that left no water for snowmaking, airlines on strike, savings and loan bankruptcies, and more. We have been successful despite these roadblocks and will continue to be successful despite the current challenges if we keep the following priorities in mind.
1. Be an educated risk taker. Successful results require thoughtful, progressive, and creative solutions. Today's minimum expectations for ski resort operations are defined by changes inspired by the challenges of the past. This applies to snowmaking, steep grooming, high capacity lifts, slope safety initiatives, ski/ride equipment designs, warm/breatheable soft goods, ski/ride schools, and many other developments. Those who lead the push, the leaders who dream and focus with positive energy-at times faltering, but who persevere-they define the future through their successful solutions.
2. Take care of your employees. In most instances, it isn't just about pay, it is about why many came to the mountain in the first place-their passion for skiing/riding opportunities, a desire for a youthful spirited outdoors environment, and yes-enough pay to live close to the mountain and have some fun! When the aforementioned is highly prioritized, employees become your most important asset, as they are much more reliable, responsible, and respectful of special/quality outcomes.
3. Treat customers as your friend/neighbor. Huge marketing expenses are wasted annually through poor communications, both spoken and written. It is critical to communicate regularly and openly with customers (it is a two-way process), just as you would with your best friends and neighbors. Many of today's electronic communications are timely and cost effective, but also impersonal and one-sided. Friends and neighbors always remember that special relationships are enhanced only through personal and regular efforts.
4. Skiing and riding is a lifestyle. Skiing and riding differ in key ways from other recreational activities. Our sports are centered on a real and natural activity, significant social interaction, considerable physical challenge, continuous family bonding, and take place in an outdoors healthy environment. They create a spiritual tie to the mountain. No other sport or recreational activity encompasses so much for so many for so long during one's lifetime.
5. Listen to your passion. What draws us back to the mountain time and time again? It isn't the real estate, the hot tubs, the food, the hotels, or the special deals. It's the enjoyment experienced only on and within the mountain environment. It is the excitement, the views, the weather, the raw natural mountain challenge that keeps us coming back. It is only the mountain that reenergizes us, rewards us with a sense of accomplishment, and satisfies us with memories of friends, families, and a special place. Your passion comes from the mountain!
6. Take time to have fun. Our lives are overloaded with responsibilities, consumed by schedules, and filled with challenges. We need regular breaks from the hassle, and a bit of fun is the best medicine. A ski run down the mountain, a coffee break with an employee, a hike with Mother Nature, a book with a child, a laugh with your spouse-fun contributes significantly to reduce stress, improve effectiveness, and support positive outcomes. That's the ultimate win-win proposition.
Ed. Note: Hank Lunde presented his six points during his acceptance speech for the NSAA Lifetime Achievement Award.