The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

Podcast #50: Caberfae Peaks, Michigan Co-Owner & GM Tim Meyer

0:00
1:23:14
15 Sekunden vorwärts
15 Sekunden vorwärts
The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.

Who

Tim Meyer, Co-Owner and General Manager of Mountain Operations at Caberfae Peaks, Michigan

Recorded on

July 21, 2021

Why I interviewed him

In the part of my brain warehousing ski memories there are days and places that live forever. Many of those days are at Caberfae. When I first pulled up to the base area as a novice skier trained poorly at the single-lift bumps downstate I stood in dumbstruck awe of the place, its teeming peaks and lift network sprawling off into the woods. A dozen tumbling freefalls did not discourage me from its charms. Caberfae stood just 90 minutes from my house and I became a regular, returning on swirling weekends and quiet spring weeknights when I lapped empty chairs in long March sunsets after school. I moved away from Michigan long ago, but if I’m there in the winter Caberfae is the first place I go.

It is a special place, quintessentially Midwestern and unusually aggressive in its deliberate decades-long evolution. Opened in the 1930s, the complex grew by the 1970s into what Chris Diamond described in his book Ski Inc. 2020 as “a sprawling series of hills served by 20-plus rope tows, five T-Bars and a chairlift, spanning some two miles from end-to-end.” A 1966 copy of America’s Ski Book describes Caberfae as being equipped with “six T-bars and sixteen rope tows on 270 vertical feet.” Here is the 1980 trailmap, which looks like it was spun out of the ditto machines that stamped out my early grade-school classwork sheets:

Today, nearly everything on that trailmap has been permanently abandoned. In what Diamond calls “the most successful ‘ski-resort contraction’ in history,” Caberfae moved tons of earth from the bottom of two peaks to the top, boosting its vertical drop from 270 to 485 feet. “Their vertical expansion of two central peaks was accompanied by a horizontal contraction from the far-flung borders and the closing of a dozen-plus lifts, which they could never adequately cover with snowmaking,” Diamond writes. By the early 2000s, when Tim Meyer and his cousin Pete inherited the operation from their fathers, who’d had the vision to transform it, Caberfae looked like this:

For context, the Shelter run far skier’s right on the 2004 map sits between the two chairlifts on the 1980 map. But they weren’t done yet. Today, Caberfae looks like this:

The backcountry terrain, which is ungroomed and open only when natural snow allows, brought some of the old Caberfae back into the active resort footprint. They’re far from done: in the podcast, we talk about a massive project that will add a new lift and a third peak for the 2022-23 season, future development of the Backcountry, and more. “We try to do a little bit each year,” Meyer tells me in the podcast.

I’ve been waiting 25 years to have this conversation. Caberfae may be the most constantly evolving ski resort in America. It’s like a mansion that the owners can’t stop renovating. How we went from a ropetow kingdom bereft of snowmaking to a modern resort forged out of vision, willpower, patience, grit, and determination that, four decades after the family acquired it, is still a work-in-progress, was a story I’d been waiting my entire skiing life to hear.

What we talked about

The glory of the wild ropetow-laced and low-rise Caberfae of the early 1980s; lift relics still in the woods; why that terrain was abandoned and why it’s likely gone forever; growing up on the slopes of Caberfae and why Meyer lit out for Winter Park, Colorado - and what finally drew him back; running a ski area as a multi-generational family business; the kind of place where you’ll find the owner roaming the grounds in snowboots and clutching a walkie-talkie; who had the vision to transform Caberfae from an antique into a modern ski area; the incredible engineering feat of building two artificial peaks from Michigan clay and sand; improvisational construction; how the mountain stabilized the peaks; how building South Peak in the 1980s stabilized the business; the nearly 40-year-old South Peak triple is here to stay; why the ski area has changed the grade of select runs over the years; developing North Peak; why the ski area added a new triple to North Peak in 2016 and why it left the adjacent quad in service; the virtues of triple chairs; whether the ski area ever considered a six-pack for North Peak; the quirky I-75 run; why the ski area put a fence up between Smiling Irishman and Canyon; why the mountain re-opened part of the old Caberfae as an ungroomed natural-snow area; the old T-bar line hidden like a secret videogame level in the woods; the potential for chairlifts or terrain expansion in the Backcountry; why the ski area leaves its woods intact; the two retired Hall chairlifts sitting at the base of the ski area and whether they could ever come back into service, possibly as a single lift; the timeline for the third peak, what it will be called, and what kind of lift it will have; which lift is coming down to accommodate the expansion; the return of Bo Buck; the sentimental anguish of tearing the last ropetow out of the former king of the ropetows; why it could return one day; renovations on the Skyview Day Lodge; crockpots in the day lodge: “if you live in Michigan, you should have the opportunity to ski”; why Caberfae has never focused on terrain parks; going from almost zero snowmaking in the early 1980s to a modern fleet; why the mountain doesn’t push for the late spring close; how Caberfae went from selling seven golf season passes to nearly 400 and how they applied the philosophy to the $99 discounted ski season weekend or weekday pass; how that turbocharged the business; why the mountain raised the pass price to $149 last year after more than a decade at $99; the Indy Pass; why season passholders have to pick up a new metal wicket ticket each time they arrive at the ski area; the ski area’s unique lift ticket designs; why metal wickets are probably part of Caberfae indefinitely; the ski area’s colorful trailmap and when they’ll introduce a new one; why the ski area continued its relationship with Liftopia/Catalate after its troubles last year; how the 2020-21 Covid season went at Caberfae; and Covid adaptations that may stick around for future seasons.

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

I actually thought February 2020 was a great time for this interview, and that’s when we initially recorded it. But the audio was compromised, filled with a conversation-from-space crackle that I couldn’t scrub out. The Storm Skiing Podcast was just four months old at the time, and I hadn’t perfected the harder-than-you’d-think art of recording a two-way conversation. I kept thinking I could resolve the issue and delayed posting. Then Covid hit. By the time I’d admitted defeat, skiing seemed small and ski area operators were preoccupied with survival. By the time the 2020-21 season came around, I was embarrassed to go back to Meyer to ask him to re-do a thing he had already done. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I fired off a bashful email asking if I could have another hour of his time. Tim graciously and immediately agreed. This has been an eternal to-do list item and it is liberating to cross it off.

Why you should ski Caberfae

Caberfae was an inaugural Indy Pass partner in the Midwest, a family-owned, family-centric Up North ski area where crockpots line the baselodge ledges and the lifties are not temp workers trucked in from the hinterlands but locals who return to their posts year after year. The place is absolute joy, no pretense, no arrogance, as down-home as Up North gets. As Meyer says in the podcast, their market is the recreational skier. That’s another way of saying it’s mostly absent of hotshots and speedsters and flippidy-doo parksters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is a crowd that just loves skiing for the motion and the thrill of it, for the sensation of downhill freefall. I’ve never been to a happier ski area.

The terrain is unique for the Midwest. The artificial hills create a sensation of above-treeline skiing that is otherwise absent between Sugarloaf and Loveland. At the same time, Caberfae has eschewed the Midwest urge to clear-cut its small hills to accommodate the downhill masses – trails thread through the forest on the lower mountain, especially on North Peak and off the Shelter Chair, and the wall of trees segregating the baselodge from the slopes create a sensation of rambling bigness unusual for the Lower Peninsula. Plus, wicket tickets:

There’s one more thing. Crossing into Michigan by land invariably takes you past signs welcoming you to “Pure Michigan.” The 13-year-old slogan extolls the state’s vast forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, but it has been commandeered by prideful Michiganders to evoke the tireless community DIY spirit of the people themselves. When I arrived in Manhattan nearly 20 years ago, the most difficult cultural adjustment was how reliant average New Yorkers were on paid labor for even mundane tasks. No one in Michigan – at least the community I grew up in in Michigan – pays anyone to do anything they can do themselves. Ever. The concept of hiring movers, for example, still confounds me, and I moved myself – at great hassle but little expense - at least 10 times within Manhattan before settling in Brooklyn five years ago.

My point here is that Meyer and his family are Pure Michigan in that sense. When I say they engineered the most dramatic transformation of a lift-served ski area in the history of U.S. skiing over the course of four decades, I mean they engineered it. They drove the heavy equipment and they transformed glacial bumps into above-treeline peaks one shovel-load at a time and they cut the trees and reshaped the land and made the improbable inevitable. When I met Meyer on the slopes of Caberfae, he was walking across the base area in a snowsuit, carrying a crackling walkie-talkie. And you can tell in this interview, by the way he describes his sense of duty to the ski area and to his family, and maintains a crockpot-friendly Caberfae with ticket prices almost anyone can afford, that this guy and the people around him are Pure Michigan in the most elemental way.

Additional resources

This 1949 trailmap distills the zany rambling chaos that once defined Caberfae and continues to animate its spirit:

A few more items of interest:

Lift Blog’s inventory of Caberfae lifts

More classic Caberfae trailmaps

Chris Diamond’s Ski Inc 2020 has a wonderful write-up of Caberfae (pgs. 128-132). The book is worth a full and repeated read for anyone interested in the modern lift-served skiing landscape.

I wrote this story about a 5-year-old who hitched a ride on the Shelter Double with me a couple years ago.

Another essay, this one documenting my inaugural ski season rambling over the Michigan flatlands as a teenager:

I have no photographs documenting that season. Not one. But I remember the sequence of days perfectly, the huge snowy canvas of Up North rolling out before me as I traversed the supergrid of state highways and interstates, one by one ticking off the lift-served areas that we all presumptuously called mountains but were barely hills, the largest of them 550 vertical feet from top to bottom.

To me they may as well have been Vail. After a return to single-chairlift Snow Snake, I stood in dumbfounded amazement at the base of Caberfae, four or five chairlifts sprawling across its two humped peaks poking like a giant snowy camel from the flatlands outside of Cadillac. I descended them like an inept paratrooper dropped at velocity over a decline, my gear twirling apart from me in acrobatic freefall with each concussive wipeout.

Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com

Weitere Episoden von „The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast“

  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #57: Boyne Mountain General Manager Ed Grice

    1:14:14

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoEd Grice, General Manager of Boyne Mountain, Michigan and Kari Roder, the ski area’s Director of MarketingRecorded onOctober 12, 2021Why I interviewed himContext is everything in skiing. In much of America’s sprawling ski kingdom, Boyne Mountain would hardly register. In Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it soars. And not just in the physical sense of its vertical drop and 60 trails. Culturally, it stands in for skiing itself, the place that non-skiers think of when they think of skiing. Up North, as everyone in Michigan calls it, is where you go to camp, to boat, to hunt, to canoe, to fish, to snowmobile, to ski. Growing up as a non-skier in a non-skiing family, I didn’t realize until I picked the sport up as a teenager that the state had any other ski areas at all, so ubiquitous were references to “goin’ to ski Boyne.”Once I did start skiing, I saved Boyne Mountain for last. It didn’t feel approachable in the way that Caberfae, Shanty Creek, and Sugarloaf did. It didn’t feel like a place you started. It felt like a place you arrived. Only when you were ready.I probably wasn’t ready the first time I skied Boyne, a mashed-potatoes sunny St. Patrick’s Day with rowdy drunken parties bursting from overloaded warming huts. I must have taken 100 runs off the Victor lift that day and fallen as many times, so stupefying were the springtime insta-moguls for a beginner on Elan skinny skis. But I kept coming back. The place doesn’t have the most interesting trail network and it’s typically the most expensive ski area in Michigan, but it has the intangibles of atmosphere and energy, and a commitment to push the season into May whenever the snowpack allows. Some of my most cherished ski memories are May afternoons at an empty Boyne, lapping the Mountain Express and winding down the bumps of Idiot’s Delight. Over and over in the endless 70-degree afternoon. It’s a place that means a lot to me, and it’s been at the top of my list for an interview since I launched The Storm two years ago. It was time to make it happen.What we talked aboutStarting out as a busboy at Boyne Mountain in the 1970s; learning to ski on a steep mountain in ill-fitting gear; working under Boyne Resorts’ legendary founder, Everett Kircher; the long road to general manager and getting fired multiple times along the way; working at family-owned Boyne; the mountain’s relaxed atmosphere; when and why the ski area began developing glades; new areas Boyne Mountain has been glading over the past summer; creating the Disciples Ridge expansion and how that changed Boyne Mountain; the ski area’s amazing collection of historically significant lifts, including the remains of the first chairlift in the world; how banana boats helped inspire the invention of the chairlift; the future of the Hemlock chair; what happened to the original Meadows chair, the world’s first quad, when the ski area replaced it in 2008; the backstory behind installing the Mountain Express, America’s first six-pack chair; the mountain’s legendary snowmaking capabilities; Boyne’s tradition of the long season; the ski area’s competition with Mount Bohemia to see who can stay open the latest; winning the race to open against Mount Holly; the mid-90s debauchery of St. Patrick’s Day on the mountain; Boyne 2030; RFID gates coming this season; the Midwest’s first eight-person chairlift; the fate of the existing Disciples triples; what may replace the Mountain Express, Victor, and Boyneland; where the current Meadows lift may move and what might replace it; the size and scale of the Skybridge and how people will access it; the Ikon Pass; and Boyne’s build-your-own-pass product and night and spring passes.Why I thought that now was a good time for this interviewBoyne 2030 is going to launch that place into a technological sphere that no other ski area in Michigan can touch (except, perhaps, sister resort Boyne Highlands, whose 2030 plan is on the horizon). Yes, there will be building upgrades, airport enhancements, golf course stuff, a giant pedestrian bridge/tourist attraction. But that’s the garnish on the plate, and we’re here to talk about the meat: RFID, snowmaking, and, crucially, an almost-complete modernization of the lift system. A final-state Boyne Mountain could host at least five modern high-speed Doppelmayr D-Line lifts: two eight-packs, a six-pack, and two quads. That would give the mountain one of the most updated lift fleets not just in the Midwest, but in America. When I skied Boyne Mountain two seasons ago, it still broiled with that old attitude and energy, but the infrastructure was starting to feel antique. Other than the high-speed sixer and the carpet-loaded Meadows lift, the place felt like a Riblet museum, one lift after the next poking up the incline. Not for long. This joint is being retrofitted for rocket fuel. Filler up and get the hell out of the way.Why you should ski Boyne MountainAt first glance, it doesn’t look like much. A big ridge, mostly clear-cut, chairlifts stacked south to north along US 131. But it’s quite the mountain. It’s steep, first of all. Only 500 feet, sure – but that doesn’t make the pitch any less intimidating. You can spend hours skiing from one end of the ridge to the other and back. The mountain has thinned glades and added some other little byways to vary the experience. And then, tucked away, tree-lined and meandering, is the Disciples Ridge section, a spiderweb of greens and blues that may be the most extensive and inviting beginner terrain in the state of Michigan. Before the ski area began building this pod in the late ‘90s, Boyne Mountain was a tough sell for families. Now it’s one of the most balanced and inviting ski areas in the region. The grooming is astonishingly good – Boyne may own Big Sky and Brighton, but this is ground zero of the company’s sprawling empire, and it’s the place where they mastered the arts of snowmaking and snow-care that they export to their other resorts.And you know what? It’s just a damn fun place to spend a day. If you ever find yourself in Michigan in the wintertime, hit this one up. Plus, they have some knockout terrain parks:Additional reading/videosLift Blog’s inventory of Boyne Mountain chairliftsHistoric Boyne Mountain trailmapsMore on Boyne 2030 (personally, I would have put the lift first, but they are very excited about this bridge):A little more about Boyne Mountain: Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #56: Mt. Buller, Australia GM Laurie Blampied

    1:34:23

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoLaurie Blampied, General Manager of Mt. Buller, AustraliaRecorded onOct. 4, 2021 in New York City; Oct. 5, 2021 at Mt. Buller, Australia – weird, right?Why I interviewed himOne of the quirks of living on planet Earth is the fact of its tilted axis. Because of this, we not only have seasons, but different seasons in different places at the same time. There’s a multiverse feeling to all this. Landing in Australia is not unlike stepping through a time ripple into a weird alt-America, one where cars drive on the left and the deer have been replaced by giant bouncing rabbity creatures carrying babies in their pockets. And it’s winter in June. If Australia didn’t exist and Luke Skywalker and his motley band of space warriors landed on a planet outfitted with koala bears and vast deserts and deadly animals of every variety we’d all be like, “yes that looks like the kind of crazy planet I’d expect to find on the remote fringes of space.”But it’s real. And there’s skiing. Less, it turns out, than I’d figured: the whole country has just a handful of ski areas. This seems to be mostly a matter of geography: the treeline is low and the snowline is high. Running a ski area in such conditions is a challenge. No matter: Australia is home to an ebullient ski culture. The five largest – Buller, Thredbo, Perisher, Falls Creek, and Hotham – are aligned with the Ikon or Epic passes. This makes sense. Try taking five lift rides at any Western U.S. or Canadian mountain and not running into an Aussie on a five-week holiday bouncing from one resort to the next on their American megapass. These people ski, travel, live. I wanted to know more.What we talked aboutReflections on retiring after nearly three decades in the ski business; The emerging Chinese ski scene; how a decade and a half as a civil engineer led to a career running ski resorts; raising kids at a ski resort; the evolution of the Australian ski industry from the early ‘90s to today; the surprisingly small number of ski areas in Australia and how they’ve consolidated over time; pioneering snowguns-as-firefighting-gear while under siege by wildfire for 38 days; the family that owns Mt. Buller; Vail’s entrance into Australia; who will replace Blampied after retirement; how Mt. Buller finally solved its snowmaking problem; how the Australian ski model compares to the North American and European models; Australia’s unique geography and how that shapes its ski areas; snow gums!; Buller’s origins as a single ski area served by two separate lift companies, requiring two separate lift tickets; Australia’s history as a center of lift innovation and experimentation; the evolution of Buller’s modern lift system; high-speed lifts on low-rise terrain; why the resort removed the Boggy Creek T-bar and what may replace it; shout out to SMI in Midland Michigan represent; the amazing gondola proposal that could knit the entire resort together; average snowfall at Mt. Buller; how snowmaking and snow preservation works above treeline; the art and science of snowmaking in Australia’s marginal temperatures; Buller’s Olympic and World Cup legacy; why the mountain joined the Mountain Collective and Ikon passes and what it took to make that happen; whether Buller passholders may get an option to add on an Ikon Pass, as many U.S. partner mountain passholders now can; Australians know how to live; Mt. Buller’s ISO certification; how Australia reacted to Covid and what that’s meant for the ski industry; and the earthquake that hit Buller last month:Why I thought now was a good time for this interviewI hadn’t thought to proactively reach out to an Australian resort for an interview. I’ve never skied there, and I just expanded the scope of the podcast from the Northeast to the rest of America – that seemed like quite enough terrain to cover for the moment. But Mt. Buller reached out, and this seemed like an excellent chance to learn about a part of the ski world I was more or less ignorant of. Laurie was retiring after a long career and had a unique perspective on how the Australian ski industry had evolved in tandem with and outside of the global ski machine. The story of Mt. Buller itself was compelling – a family-owned mountain latching onto North American megapasses and aggressively upgrading its infrastructure to stay relevant in a whacky, warming world. There was no way I was turning down the opportunity to learn more.It’s a big, big world, and there’s an awful lot of skiing out there. My focus, for now, is the United States, and that’s where I’ll continue to do my deliberate resort outreach. However – if you run a ski resort anywhere in the world, and you want to come on the podcast and talk about it, get in touch with me and we’ll make it happen. What I love about the world of lift-served skiing is the wild and unpredictable variety of it, the way different versions of the same thing can manifest themselves across vastly different cultures and environments. There is no part of this universe that doesn’t interest me, and in an internet-connected world, there are no boundaries we can’t step across to explore.Why you should ski Mt. BullerLike a lot of Australian ski resorts, Mt. Buller seems to be Europe from the waist up, and America from the belt down:I asked Laurie which version of skiing Australia hewed closest to: the yee-haw off-piste American style, or the skinny-skis groomer swishy Euro style? Neither, he said. It’s a thing all its own.And it’s a thing I’d like to explore one day. It’s gonna take me a while. As much as I love skiing, I also love summer, and we don’t get much of it here in the Northeast. And you have to miss a lot of summer to go to Australia. It takes like a week to fly there and a week to fly back and by then you’ve missed two years of work because they’re already in like 2032 over there. And even if you do want to forfeit summer for some skiing, you - like most U.S. Americans - probably only get two to three hours of vacation time per year and it’s not to be taken consecutively, you know, which is not quite enough time to get to Australia and back. Until teleportation is invented. Which it probably already has been in Australia since they are already living in the 23rd century.Extra creditOne of the quirks of Mt. Buller’s history is that two separate lift systems, run by two separate companies, once served the same mountain. That meant you needed two lift tickets to ski the whole area:Over time, the two systems united, but the mountain was left with a ton of redundancy – here’s what the unified lift system looked like in 1992, shortly before Laurie took over:Today, the place is slick and modern, with high-speed burners and big plans for a bomber gondola. With no room left to expand, Mt. Buller is wholly focused on improving the on-mountain experience.A few more items of interest:More historic trailmaps of Mt. BullerA complete historical inventory of Mt. Buller’s chairliftsMt. Buller’s Legends and Personalities Wall (referenced in the podcast) Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Verpasse keine Episode von The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast und abonniere ihn in der kostenlosen GetPodcast App.

    iOS buttonAndroid button
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #55: China Peak, California CEO Tim Cohee

    1:17:20

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoTim Cohee, Managing Partner, CEO, and General Manager of China Peak Mountain Resort, CaliforniaRecorded onSeptember 28, 2021Why I interviewed himBecause China Peak, an independent operation situated on the Southwest side of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, sits at the bullseye of multiple issues shaping the modern lift-served skiing landscape. Climate change is descending in all seasons: seven winter snow droughts in the past 10 years; wildfire scraping the resort’s edges and damaging buildings in 2020. The mega-resorts with their super-cheap megapasses beckon the local Fresno skiers that are China Peak’s core constituency. And not just California’s many Epic and Ikon gems – Palisades Tahoe, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar – but the resorts dotted all around the West – it takes the same amount of time to fly to Salt Lake City from Fresno as it does to drive to China Peak. But, like most mid-sized ski areas around the country, China Peak is stamping out a model to survive and hopefully thrive in this era of consolidation, cheap travel, and climate catastrophe: banding together with other independent mountains on the Indy Pass and Powder Alliance, and investing in a powerful New England-style snowmaking system capable of burying the place and (hopefully) fending off fires. And if you’re going to initiate such massive and dramatic change, it helps to have a charismatic leader with more than 40 years of experience dealing with every possible circumstance a snowy mountain can churn out. Skiing needs the China Peaks to thrive if skiing itself is to survive long-term, and I wanted to see how Cohee planned to do that.What we talked aboutThe Southern California ski scene in the 1970s; the Cohee family ski diaspora and their potential future at China Peak; the 1970s vacuum in ski-area marketing; the surreal reality of Southern California skiing; when the massive city below doesn’t know about the abundant skiing in the mountains above; what it took to get same-day snow conditions video from the mountain to the local news station 40 years ago; working for Bill Killebrew at Heavenly; the smartest guy in the history of skiing; quadrupling skier visits at Bear Mountain né Goldmine; how “skiing’s dream team” emerged from a 1990s version of Bear Mountain to run some of the largest ski areas in the country; moving east and working under Les Otten in the heyday of the American Skiing Company; reviving a declining Kirkwood; leaving the ski area after 17 years to buy China Peak (known at the time as Sierra Summit); what happens when a ski area ignores the customer; How and why China Peak overhauled its snowmaking system and how that’s going to change the resort; and what happens when your snowmaking manager quits over Christmas break.Why I thought that now was a good time for this interviewFor most of its first two years, The Storm Skiing Podcast focused mostly on the Northeast. In order to capture the true breadth and spirit of the region, it was important to me to maintain a balance between monster, conglomerate-owned ski areas and the-owner-drives-the-Snowcat family-owned hills. So episodes featuring Killington, Sunday River, Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, Loon, and Mount Snow lived alongside interviews with the folks running Plattekill, Berkshire East, Bolton Valley, Titus, Whaleback, Mad River Glen, and Lonesome Pine. The ski world is big and messy, and the podcast had to reflect that.As I expand the pod’s focus from the Northeast to the entire country, I will deliberately follow that same template. My first two western interviews – Taos and Aspen – are ski-world A-listers, checkbox items for the Ikon set, places with deep resonance and meaning for generations of locals and tourists. China Peak is something different. Once knowns as Sierra Summit, it’s a local bump that no one’s flying across the country to ski. But that’s exactly why I’m here: what the hell is this place, this mysterious Indy Pass partner wading in a purgatory south of the Sierra badboys? It’s been there for 63 years and no one outside of Fresno has ever heard of it. But like all ski areas, it means a tremendous amount to a lot of people out there, and it’s an important part of this American ski story that I’m trying to tell.Questions I wish I’d askedFor a typical Storm Skiing Podcast interview, I’ll write 25 to 30 questions and manage to get to around 80 percent of them. This time, I got through six. Cohee’s 40-plus-year journey through the ski industry during its decades of explosive change was so compelling that we didn’t even get to China Peak until we were nearly out of time. So all of my normal questions about chairlifts, trail networks, local markets, snowfall, fire danger, the Indy Pass, the Powder Alliance, and the wild world of Covid will just have to wait until next time – and you will want there to be a next time after you hear this.Why you should ski China PeakChina Peak is an interesting place. It’s more or less at the end of the road, on the way to nowhere, close to nothing at all. Mammoth, 30-ish miles away as the crow flies, is a five-hour drive. Because it’s not big enough to merit destination status in a state overloaded with alpha ski resorts, it’s mostly a day tripper’s hill for Fresno, an hour-and-a-half southwest. But there’s no rule that it has to be. An Indy Pass and Powder Alliance member, China Peak is a walk-up proposition for many skiers on their existing passes. The trail map looks fun, especially after a big snow, but the mountain’s new megahose snowmaking system ought to guarantee more stable conditions even when the snow fails to materialize. This would make a nice stop on any California ski tour.Additional reading/videosLift Blog’s China Peak lift inventoryHistoric China Peak/Sierra Summit trailmapsSome Slopefillers love for CoheeSAM($) profiles China Peak’s new snowmaking system Fires approaching China Peak last September:Cohee on video: Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #54: Aspen Skiing Company CEO Mike Kaplan

    1:13:34

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoMike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing CompanyRecorded onSept. 24, 2021Why I interviewed himVail may rule the American skiing economy, but Aspen remains king of the nation’s popular skiing imagination. From Aspen Extreme to Dumb and Dumber, the town and its mountains serve as the stand-in for big-mountain Western skiing as a whole, one word that communicates to skiers and non-skiers the essence of the sport. And there is something spectacular about it. This city at the end of the road, hovering just past the gravitational pull of Denver and the I-70 disaster seeping beyond it. Those narrow expert mountains with their unrelenting fall lines and absence of greens. Buttermilk with its lazy empty groomers and lost-in-plain-site underdog patina. The wild labyrinthian variety of burly Snowmass. The city itself, bleeding as one into Aspen Mountain, some invigorating mashup of town and city, luxe and lowbrow, skibum and jetset. Aspen doesn’t have the wildest terrain. It doesn’t get the most snow. It doesn’t have the most vertical or the most skiable acres. But it may just be the best total ski experience America offers. What we talked aboutArriving in Aspen in 1993; how the city has changed over the past three decades; going from ski school instructor to CEO of one of America’s great ski companies; celebrating 75 years of skiing at Aspen; the significance of Aspen’s original Lift 1, the present-day Shadow Mountain lift, and what may replace it and when; the return of Ruthie’s restaurant; the scope and status of the proposed Pandora expansion off Aspen Mountain’s summit; what could be developed on that land if the county denies the expansion permit; what the expansion could mean for the Gent’s Ridge quad and the rest of Aspen’s lift fleet; Snowmass lifts: the new high-speed six-pack on Big Burn, a timeline to replace Coney Glade, the latest thinking on a possible Burnt Mountain lift; whether we could ever see a lift up Highland Bowl at Aspen Highlands; whether the Bowl Cat will return for the 2021-22 ski season; where we could see future expansion at Highlands; how the Deep Temerity expansion at Highlands could inform the Pandora expansion at Aspen; the status of the Golden Horn surface lift at Highlands; a different point of view on Buttermilk; the interplay of the four mountains to create a distinctive Aspen experience; why Aspen didn’t become part of Alterra; the Mountain Collective Pass and Ikon Pass origin stories; why Aspen pulled off the Ikon Base Pass and how the move to the “plus” tier has worked out; the future of the Mountain Collective; what happened with the $2 million that Liftopia owed Aspen for Mountain Collective Passes; Aspen’s plan to “stay in business forever” amid a changing climate; why Aspen is requiring all employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to the start of the 2021-22 ski season; and the tangle of problems Covid brought along with it last season.Why I thought that now was a good time for this interviewAspen, under Kaplan, has evolved. It is: a leader in the fight against climate change, a model for implementing creative employee housing solutions in the modern mountain town, a crown-jewel of two transcontinental ski pass products, a voice in skiing’s struggles to diversify, and an uncompromising partner in the battle against Covid. There was nothing inevitable about any of this. Fifteen years ago, Aspen was a fun town with a pack of fun ski hills. The Epic Pass didn’t exist and issues of diversity, equality, and environmental catastrophe were minimized or ignored. Aspen could have just kept being Aspen and that would have probably been good enough to keep on existing. But Kaplan had other ideas. Lots of ideas. And while a phalanx of market and social forces, innovators, and disruptors would likely have forced the company into some version of its 2021 self, Kaplan no doubt accelerated the change. Aspen Mountain, by skiable acres, is only the 20th largest ski area in Colorado – smaller than Monarch, Sunlight, Eldora, Wolf Creek, Powderhorn, A-Basin, Purgatory, and Loveland. Yet in its purpose and its presence it is bigger than all of them. Now seemed as good a time as ever to find out why that continues to be true.Questions I wish I’d askedI had wanted to discuss the origin and influence of the X-Games at Buttermilk, whether the locals backlash against the Ikon Pass has subsided as Aspen changed access levels and started giving out a Base Pass with an Aspen season pass, whether Aspen would continue rationing season passes, how the company’s various diversity initiatives are evolving, whether post-Covid employee benefit cuts had been restored, how short-term rentals and urban Covid refugees were impacting the local housing market, Aspen’s employee housing initiatives, how the Covid fallout compared to the aftermath of The Great Recession, whether the company expected last year’s skier visit declines to continue, and which Covid-era operating changes were most likely to hang around. We ran out of time. Next time.Why you should ski AspenBecause Aspen will give you the best total ski week in America. The skiing, yes: the mountains, teetering above the valley, four poles balancing one another like a perfectly assembled sports team. The steeps that are not too steep to manage and the greens that are not too flat to lean into. The lost-in-time-and-space feeling of the Hanging Valley Glades or Deep Temerity or Bingo Glades. But it’s everything else, too. The free and frequent shuttlebus connecting town and mountains. The incredible variety of lodging options that make the place more affordable than you’d think. And the city itself, a pedestrian-friendly human-scaled relic salvaged from Colorado’s Wild West ancestry and outfitted with T-shirt shops, celebrity-chef eateries, weed emporiums, surly bars, grocery stores, Prada shops, and antique stores, like the most bizarre Lego set ever invented. And you go because you have to. It’s just one of those places. If you’re a skier you must ski Aspen because it’s Aspen. I really don’t know how else to say it. Just go.More AspenLift Blog’s lift inventories for:Aspen MountainAspen HighlandsButtermilkSnowmassHistoric trailmaps for:Aspen MountainAspen HighlandsButtermilkSnowmassArchival footage of Lift 1, the single chair that stood from 1947 to 1971 and took 40 minutes to rise from town to the Aspen Mountain summit:Get stoked on Aspen Extreme: Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #53: Taos Ski Valley CEO David Norden

    1:12:41

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoDavid Norden, CEO of Taos Ski Valley, New MexicoRecorded onSept. 13, 2021Why I interviewed himIt’s a map dot perched improbably in the nation’s southwest pocket, in a state that evokes and largely is scrubland and desert. Seated at roughly the same latitude as Nashville, Tulsa, and Las Vegas, it seems impossible that there could be skiing there. But there’s skiing there. And not in the technology-overwhelming-nature way that there’s skiing in Maryland or New Jersey or Tennessee; this is big-mountain, serious stuff. Taos is one of the best ski areas in the country, floating 9,200 above sea level – at its base. The skiing is wild and intense, deep and meandering when the snow allows. Much of it requires hiking. It’s a bit remote, but that’s an asset – no I-70 approach-road messiness, no liftlines backed up to Utah. It’s also a place that, for much of the past three decades, seemed determined to stay frozen in time. Skier visits plunged from 350,000 in the 1990s to 160,000 by the 2005-06 season. That began changing in 2014, when billionaire Louis Bacon bought the joint and started emptying his money bin into new lifts, stringing a controversial triple up Kachina Peak and upgrading the legendary Lift 1 with the resort’s first high-speed detachable. Taos also became North America’s first ski resort to earn the coveted B-Corporation environmental ranking, and has been a leader in forest fire mitigation through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service. But the renaissance is just getting moving: the mountain recently released a master plan that would modernize its entire lift fleet while preserving its existing trail footprint. I wanted to get a sense of where the mountain was headed and how it planned to get there, and the man running the show seemed like the best place to start.What we talked aboutHow the mighty Taos of the 1990s lost its swagger; the legacy of mountain founder Ernie Blake and his family; why they finally sold the resort in 2014 and why they chose Louis Bacon as the buyer; Taos’ environmental focus and B-Corporation status; the initial controversy over the Kachina triple and how sentiment has evolved over time; how the resort manages that intense high-altitude terrain; subtle tricks to keep the blue-square crowd off that lift; reaction to replacing Lift 1 with a high-speed detach, the mountain’s first; managing crowding over the long-term; why the resort overhauled its beginner area with new lifts and progressive graded terrain; easing the trauma of ski-school drop-off; what Taos’ extensive glading efforts have to do with fire mitigation and water quality; where those efforts have been focused this summer; Taos’ master development plan; where the resort wants to put a gondola and how that would transform the resort; creating a clean-energy transportation system from the town of Taos up to the resort; whether lifts 2 and 4 will be replaced with high-speed lifts; potential upgrades for lift 7 and why lift 7A may stay exactly as it is; potential upgrades for lift 8; when we could start seeing some of these new lifts in a best-case scenario; why local support is so key to resort upgrades; the fate of the once-proposed West Basin lift; the future of snowmaking at Taos; the high, dry, north-facing snow-retention miracle that is Taos Ski Valley; why Taos joined the Ikon Pass and why the locals haven’t pushed back as they have at other Western destinations; why the mountain never intends to return to its mid-90s heyday of 350,000 annual skier visits; the 2019 inbounds avalanche and how the mountain is moving ahead from that incident; how Taos honored the two skiers killed that day; prepping for another potential season in the midst of Covid; and working with the state to forestall a return to on-mountain capacity and 14-day quarantines.  Why I thought now was a good time for this interviewTaos is deep enough into its turnaround to know that it’s working, but has enough ambition ahead that it hasn’t yet fully become what it will be. And what it will be is a pacesetter for how a major ski resort will need to operate in a world that is increasingly conservation-oriented, environmentally attuned, and gun-shy on development. And in a West now-annually scorched by massive wildfires, Taos is also modeling how to fortify all that expensive infrastructure against a rogue inferno. In the end, Taos will be about as close to a model modern ski resort as you’re going to find in America. With momentum behind the master plan and no question about whether funds will be available to make it happen, this seemed like a good time to take stock before the work really accelerates.Questions I wish I’d askedTaos, interestingly, was the last ski area in the United States that lifted its snowboard ban (three, of course, still ban snowboards). That happened in 2007, before Bacon bought it and before Norden’s time, but it still would have been an interesting discussion point. Norden also brought up a really cool concept for a clean-transportation energy system starting with electric buses departing from the town of Taos and leading all the way up the mountain, and I would have liked to have gotten into that a bit more. I also wanted to ask about Taos Air, the only commercial airline, as far as I’m aware, that’s run by a ski resort. Next time.Why you should ski TaosWell it’s on the Ikon Pass, first of all, and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already have one. Facebook posts soliciting destination suggestions often read something like, “Hey me and my nine friends are taking a trip in December and we’re looking for a place that gets nine feet of powder per week and where you can stay slopeside for less than $4 per day, and we want to fall out of the back of the plane and land on the chairlift.” The comments section inevitably leads these bargain hunters to Utah, Colorado, or Tahoe. No one ever mentions poor Taos. Good. This is one of the last uncluttered alpha dogs in American skiing, a place with all the mystique of Jackson or Little Cottonwood Canyon, but very little of the boozy chaos. And with the overhauled beginner zone hard by the base area, Toas now caters to families in a way it wasn’t able to in the past. Go out of your way for this one. It’s worth it.Additional ResourcesThis New York Times article is an excellent overview of Taos’ evolution under Bacon.Lift Blog’s inventory of Taos liftsHistoric Taos trailmaps2019 avalancheAn analysis by veteran ski writer Marc Peruzzi of the 2019 inbounds avalanche at Taos that killed two skiers.The families of each of those skiers has set up foundations in their honor. Click through below to donate to each:Live Like Z, set up in honor of 26-year-old Matthew Zonghetti, provides scholarships to graduates of Mansfield Massachusetts High School.Corey’s Foundation, set up in honor of 22-year-old Corey Borg Massanari, provides outdoor safety gear and training for schools, nonprofits, and ski resorts.This video of Borg Massanari’s Organ Donors Walk of Honor through the halls of the University of New Mexico Hospital is both devastatingly sad and uplifting.Taos named runs after each of the deceased skiers – the only inbounds avalanche victims in the resort’s history. The runs – “She Gone” for Borg Massanari and “Z-Chute” for Zonghetti, run off Highline Ridge and are listed on the resort’s trail-status page, but do not appear on the most recent trailmap. Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #52: Lutsen Mountains Co-President/Co-Owner & Granite Peak Owner Charles Skinner

    1:17:44

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoCharles Skinner, Co-President and co-owner of Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota; and President and owner of Granite Peak, WisconsinRecorded onAugust 30, 2021Why I interviewed him Because my God, these mountains:They are improbable enough in the Midwest that few have had the audacity to even imagine ski areas of this size and variety. Enormous and interesting places, cut with endless glades and high-speed lift systems sparkling like some Sim City fantasy of what a built-from-scratch ski area could be. But Lutsen and Granite Peak are not what could be. They are what is: two of the best ski resorts in the Midwest. And there was nothing inevitable about that. This is what Granite Peak looked like in 1996, four years before Skinner took over:The ski area was “tired and old,” Skinner told me in the podcast. “It was like starting a whole new ski area.” Indeed, driven by his willingness to invest and his commitment to crafting mountains that are actually interesting to ski, Granite Peak is now one of the most up-to-date ski areas in the country.Skinner has vision. Many people do. But what makes him special is the tenacity, creativity, and organization to actually construct something tangible. Big, wild ski areas where they have no business being. I wanted to understand how he did it and what was happening next.What we talked aboutThe legacy of Skinner’s late father, Charles Skinner III, the founder of Sugar Hills, Minnesota and onetime GM of Sugarloaf and owner of Lutsen; skiing Minnesota as a child in the ‘60s; Lutsen in 1980; why the ski area installed the Midwest’s only gondola and why it makes sense even though it only rises 300 vertical feet; where that original gondola came from; what happened to Sugar Hills; how Skinner acquired the ski area from his father in the early ‘90s; how glades finally landed in the Midwest and the importance of a balanced mountain; bringing Mystery Mountain back from the dead; why Lutsen expanded onto the North Face; why Lutsen advertises a 1,088-foot vertical drop but only an 825-foot lift-served vertical drop; the gondola and Moose Mountain six-pack upgrades; which Lutsen lifts may be next in line for upgrades and what kind of lifts we may see; Lutsen’s mammoth expansion plan; what to expect out of the mass of new trails, glades, and lifts on Moose Mountain; creating an expansive beginner pod off of Eagle Mountain; the virtues of green-circle glades; how new baselodges would fix the mountain’s remote-parking problem; the advantages of drawing your snowmaking water from the largest body of fresh water on planet Earth; a potential timeline for the expansion and which parts of the project they would build first; why Skinner passed on Granite Peak the first time it came up for sale and what finally sold him on it; the “tired” and run-down Granite Peak of 2000 and how the ski area evolved into one of the Midwest’s largest and best ski complexes; Granite Peak’s huge expansion ambitions, including visions for new trails, chairs, and lodges; what may replace the Blitzen lift; why the mountain may build a mountain bike-only pod; why this expansion proposal is different from the one that fizzled half a decade ago; a potential expansion timeline and what may come first; the joint Lutsen-Granite Peak pass; why the two mountains joined the Indy Pass and why they added so many blackouts this season; the M.A.X. Pass and why Granite Peak and Lutsen didn’t join the Ikon Pass; why no one understands the Midwest; why Skinner considers his true competition to be Western destination resorts; whether he would ever buy another ski area; and whether the mountains will continue to be family-owned.Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview Because as big and built-out as they are, neither ski area is even close to finished. Both Granite Peak and Lutsen are working on expansion plans that would essentially double their trail footprints. Granite Peak would add four new pods of much-needed beginner and intermediate terrain to the east and west sides of existing trails. Most of the new lifts, Skinner told me, would be detachables:Lutsen would cut trails and glades along the rest of Moose Mountain and drop a large beginner pod off the back of Eagle Mountain. Lutsen’s lift network isn’t the Jetsonian marvel that Granite Peak’s is, but it would see substantial upgrades:These are two of the most transformative expansion projects underway in American skiing – and they are happening at what are already some of the most well-cared-for and thoughtfully developed and updated mountains in the Midwest. I wanted to see where Skinner was in these projects, when we could see the trails start to materialize out of the wilderness, and what it would take to nudge these plans into existence.What I got wrongIn the intro, I identified Skinner as the chairman of the board of the Minnesota Ski Areas Association, a position he’s since resigned from. When we discussed Lutsen’s expansion, I was looking at an old version of the expansion plan – the current one, and the one Skinner refers to in the podcast, is embedded above. In prepping for this interview, I’d studied old trailmaps and concluded that Skinner had added Mystery Mountain shortly after taking ownership, but what he actually did was revive it from its grave – the pod had been taken off the trailmap for several years for the simple reason that the lift serving it was broken. A close inspection of archived maps reveals that Lutsen simple de-emphasized Mystery Mountain the 1993 trailmap (left), and, once they installed a new lift in 1994 (right), the peak reappeared:Why you should ski thereBecause these may be the best ski areas between Whiteface and Winter Park. Set the singular Mount Bohemia aside here – most people couldn’t ski that wild and remote slice of gladed freefall if they tried. Granite Peak and Lutsen are true everyone mountains. Families like them. Radbrahs like them. People who wish they were skiing out West like them. In a Midwest where half the ski areas are clear-cut hillsides with 18 lifts climbing 250 vertical feet on a 10-acre footprint, these feel like something transplanted from another region, sprawling and tree-lined, with lifts that (mostly) don’t feel like they were stapled together A-Team style from a World War II scrapyard. The Upper Midwest is one of the world’s great ski centers, cold and snowy and filled with the hearty and the adventurous. It deserves ski areas like Granite Peak and Lutsen, and if you’re anywhere near them, they need to be on your list.Additional resourcesLutsenLift Blog’s Lutsen lift inventory - the gondola pics are especially goodAn archive of Lutsen trailmapsThe Star Tribune obituary for Skinner’s father, Charles Skinner III, who once owned Lutsen and passed away earlier this year.Granite PeakLift Blog’s Granite Peak lift inventoryAn archive of Granite Peak trailmapsGranite Peak GM and Marketing Director Greg Fisher on The Storm Skiing PodcastThis Ski article from 2002 captures the rapid-fire pace of Granite Peak’s transformation Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #51: Alpine-X CEO John Emery

    1:11:20

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoJohn Emery, CEO of Alpine-XRecorded onAugust 2, 2021Why I interviewed him It’s such an odd conceit, isn’t it? Skiing indoors. Like surfing or mountain climbing or hunting or riding a bike, skiing belongs, in our collective imaginations, to the wide world and all its temperaments. But, as with climbing gyms or stationary bikes, technology has found a way to compartmentalize our outside pursuits, to give us a version of wild nature that’s completely walled off from it. As far as technology goes, it’s not exactly the Millennium Falcon: a big freezer on a hill covered with snow. In fact, the rest of the industrialized world has had indoor skiing for decades. Why not the U.S.? It has the population, the open land, the cultural default to canned experiences, and the wealth both to build these things and to visit them. Sure, there are plenty of ski resorts here, but they are concentrated in a few places. Thirteen states – including Florida and Texas, where a combined 50 million people live – don’t have a single ski area. And while these states have plenty of skiers of the annual-trip-to-Keystone variety, how many more would they have if anyone who wanted to try skiing could drive 20 minutes and do so? And how many of those, delirious from the rush down the decline, would then start to eye the distant snowy mountains and say, “let’s do this?” So why, so far, has no one done it? Gone big on an experiment in U.S. indoor skiing? After Big Snow finally hummed to life nearly two years ago, Snow Operating discussed expansion south, possibly in Miami, but Covid muted such talks. When Alpine-X materialized out of ether this past January, they made their ambitions clear: to plant 20 indoor ski resorts – resorts, not areas – across the continental United States. It’s a bold and ambitious plan, and I wanted to know more.What we talked aboutHow a string of corporate jobs outside of skiing readied Emery for a job running an indoor-ski startup; when your target demographic is “everyone”; the underappreciated and quirky world of Mid-Atlantic skiing; Covid upends the world in ways large and small; the global indoor-skiing landscape; how Ski Dubai changed the international conversation around domed skiing; the Great Wolf Lodge of skiing; tamping down the intimidation and embarrassment factors of learning to ski; avoiding the fate of the infamous Tokyo snowdome, which cost hundreds of millions to build and even more to tear down less than a decade later; the importance of an interesting ski experience; making skiing affordable; the necessity of terrain parks; why indoor skiing has yet to take off in the U.S. three decades after the technology debuted; Alpine-X’s potential U.S. footprint; what a good Alpine-X market looks like; imagine making after-work turns in Dallas or Miami; a skier-generation factory; why the first Alpine-X facility will be in Fairfax, Virginia; an option to get around Washington, D.C.’s impossible traffic problems; why it takes so long to built big things; the art of building atop a disused landfill; the difference between building on an existing hill versus building a steel ramp for skiing; the potential to build on natural hills; stats on the yet-to-be-built Fairfax hill; use of indoor skiing as a training facility; what kind of lifts we could see in the dome; a potential expansion timeline; how to avoid making the McDonald’s of indoor skiing; would an indoor ski dome work in a major outdoor ski market like Salt Lake City?; making indoor skiing beautiful; is there room for a second snowdome in the New York City metro area?; Alpine-X as a warm-weather feeder to outdoor ski resorts around the country; could indoor skiing draw 10 million skier visits per year?Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview Skiing, like all things outdoors, is having a moment. Covid did a lot of damage, but it also crushed a lot of bad habits and inspired a lot of good ones. Suddenly, the antiseptic indoors around which the core of American life revolves was the most dangerous place you could be. What else is there? In the winter? Well, skiing. As anyone who’s long made a habit of the sport knows, hordes flooded toward it this year as though it were a thing newly invented. Some will drift away, but many won’t. And as liftlines moderate with stuffed-full chairs this coming winter, that will probably be mostly a good thing.What this past winter suggested was that if people are presented with an option to ski, they will try it. That’s what’s so compelling here. Southern U.S. cities are stuffed with people and money. Give them the option to ski, and they will. It’s a bit of the opposite of the Covid effect – the pandemic narrowed choices and forced would-be hibernators outdoors; indoor domes will expand options by taking skiing inside. Nonetheless, the outcome will be similar: more skiers. We are at the very beginning of indoor skiing in the United States. These domes could very well become, within a decade or two, the primary pipelines feeding the nation’s sprawling resort network. They could also fail spectacularly. Either way, I wanted to tell this story from the beginning, when optimism and possibility were at their apex.Questions I wish I’d askedThese facilities are expensive: Emery estimates the Fairfax facility will run $200 million. Alpine-X wants to build 20 of them. That’s $4 billion. I would have liked to talk a bit more about how the company planned to raise that kind of capital and how long it would take to pay off in a best- and worst-case scenario. That enormous upfront cost is, I’m assuming, why indoor skiing has yet to take root in the United States, and it would be interesting to hear how Emery solved that problem (though one would assume he plans to follow the same basic model he did to launch the now-established Great Wolf Lodge chain of similarly ambitious facilities).Additional reading/videosSki’s overview of Alpine-XA list of indoor ski areas around the worldMy Storm Skiing Podcast interview with Big Snow VP of Marketing & Sales Hugh Reynolds (recorded in March 2020, just before the Covid shutdown)Apparently there’s an outdoor snow-tubing operation in Florida already. Who knew? Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #50: Caberfae Peaks, Michigan Co-Owner & GM Tim Meyer

    1:23:14

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoTim Meyer, Co-Owner and General Manager of Mountain Operations at Caberfae Peaks, MichiganRecorded onJuly 21, 2021Why I interviewed him In the part of my brain warehousing ski memories there are days and places that live forever. Many of those days are at Caberfae. When I first pulled up to the base area as a novice skier trained poorly at the single-lift bumps downstate I stood in dumbstruck awe of the place, its teeming peaks and lift network sprawling off into the woods. A dozen tumbling freefalls did not discourage me from its charms. Caberfae stood just 90 minutes from my house and I became a regular, returning on swirling weekends and quiet spring weeknights when I lapped empty chairs in long March sunsets after school. I moved away from Michigan long ago, but if I’m there in the winter Caberfae is the first place I go.It is a special place, quintessentially Midwestern and unusually aggressive in its deliberate decades-long evolution. Opened in the 1930s, the complex grew by the 1970s into what Chris Diamond described in his book Ski Inc. 2020 as “a sprawling series of hills served by 20-plus rope tows, five T-Bars and a chairlift, spanning some two miles from end-to-end.” A 1966 copy of America’s Ski Book describes Caberfae as being equipped with “six T-bars and sixteen rope tows on 270 vertical feet.” Here is the 1980 trailmap, which looks like it was spun out of the ditto machines that stamped out my early grade-school classwork sheets:Today, nearly everything on that trailmap has been permanently abandoned. In what Diamond calls “the most successful ‘ski-resort contraction’ in history,” Caberfae moved tons of earth from the bottom of two peaks to the top, boosting its vertical drop from 270 to 485 feet. “Their vertical expansion of two central peaks was accompanied by a horizontal contraction from the far-flung borders and the closing of a dozen-plus lifts, which they could never adequately cover with snowmaking,” Diamond writes. By the early 2000s, when Tim Meyer and his cousin Pete inherited the operation from their fathers, who’d had the vision to transform it, Caberfae looked like this:For context, the Shelter run far skier’s right on the 2004 map sits between the two chairlifts on the 1980 map. But they weren’t done yet. Today, Caberfae looks like this:The backcountry terrain, which is ungroomed and open only when natural snow allows, brought some of the old Caberfae back into the active resort footprint. They’re far from done: in the podcast, we talk about a massive project that will add a new lift and a third peak for the 2022-23 season, future development of the Backcountry, and more. “We try to do a little bit each year,” Meyer tells me in the podcast.I’ve been waiting 25 years to have this conversation. Caberfae may be the most constantly evolving ski resort in America. It’s like a mansion that the owners can’t stop renovating. How we went from a ropetow kingdom bereft of snowmaking to a modern resort forged out of vision, willpower, patience, grit, and determination that, four decades after the family acquired it, is still a work-in-progress, was a story I’d been waiting my entire skiing life to hear.What we talked aboutThe glory of the wild ropetow-laced and low-rise Caberfae of the early 1980s; lift relics still in the woods; why that terrain was abandoned and why it’s likely gone forever; growing up on the slopes of Caberfae and why Meyer lit out for Winter Park, Colorado - and what finally drew him back; running a ski area as a multi-generational family business; the kind of place where you’ll find the owner roaming the grounds in snowboots and clutching a walkie-talkie; who had the vision to transform Caberfae from an antique into a modern ski area; the incredible engineering feat of building two artificial peaks from Michigan clay and sand; improvisational construction; how the mountain stabilized the peaks; how building South Peak in the 1980s stabilized the business; the nearly 40-year-old South Peak triple is here to stay; why the ski area has changed the grade of select runs over the years; developing North Peak; why the ski area added a new triple to North Peak in 2016 and why it left the adjacent quad in service; the virtues of triple chairs; whether the ski area ever considered a six-pack for North Peak; the quirky I-75 run; why the ski area put a fence up between Smiling Irishman and Canyon; why the mountain re-opened part of the old Caberfae as an ungroomed natural-snow area; the old T-bar line hidden like a secret videogame level in the woods; the potential for chairlifts or terrain expansion in the Backcountry; why the ski area leaves its woods intact; the two retired Hall chairlifts sitting at the base of the ski area and whether they could ever come back into service, possibly as a single lift; the timeline for the third peak, what it will be called, and what kind of lift it will have; which lift is coming down to accommodate the expansion; the return of Bo Buck; the sentimental anguish of tearing the last ropetow out of the former king of the ropetows; why it could return one day; renovations on the Skyview Day Lodge; crockpots in the day lodge: “if you live in Michigan, you should have the opportunity to ski”; why Caberfae has never focused on terrain parks; going from almost zero snowmaking in the early 1980s to a modern fleet; why the mountain doesn’t push for the late spring close; how Caberfae went from selling seven golf season passes to nearly 400 and how they applied the philosophy to the $99 discounted ski season weekend or weekday pass; how that turbocharged the business; why the mountain raised the pass price to $149 last year after more than a decade at $99; the Indy Pass; why season passholders have to pick up a new metal wicket ticket each time they arrive at the ski area; the ski area’s unique lift ticket designs; why metal wickets are probably part of Caberfae indefinitely; the ski area’s colorful trailmap and when they’ll introduce a new one; why the ski area continued its relationship with Liftopia/Catalate after its troubles last year; how the 2020-21 Covid season went at Caberfae; and Covid adaptations that may stick around for future seasons. Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview I actually thought February 2020 was a great time for this interview, and that’s when we initially recorded it. But the audio was compromised, filled with a conversation-from-space crackle that I couldn’t scrub out. The Storm Skiing Podcast was just four months old at the time, and I hadn’t perfected the harder-than-you’d-think art of recording a two-way conversation. I kept thinking I could resolve the issue and delayed posting. Then Covid hit. By the time I’d admitted defeat, skiing seemed small and ski area operators were preoccupied with survival. By the time the 2020-21 season came around, I was embarrassed to go back to Meyer to ask him to re-do a thing he had already done. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I fired off a bashful email asking if I could have another hour of his time. Tim graciously and immediately agreed. This has been an eternal to-do list item and it is liberating to cross it off.Why you should ski CaberfaeCaberfae was an inaugural Indy Pass partner in the Midwest, a family-owned, family-centric Up North ski area where crockpots line the baselodge ledges and the lifties are not temp workers trucked in from the hinterlands but locals who return to their posts year after year. The place is absolute joy, no pretense, no arrogance, as down-home as Up North gets. As Meyer says in the podcast, their market is the recreational skier. That’s another way of saying it’s mostly absent of hotshots and speedsters and flippidy-doo parksters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is a crowd that just loves skiing for the motion and the thrill of it, for the sensation of downhill freefall. I’ve never been to a happier ski area.The terrain is unique for the Midwest. The artificial hills create a sensation of above-treeline skiing that is otherwise absent between Sugarloaf and Loveland. At the same time, Caberfae has eschewed the Midwest urge to clear-cut its small hills to accommodate the downhill masses – trails thread through the forest on the lower mountain, especially on North Peak and off the Shelter Chair, and the wall of trees segregating the baselodge from the slopes create a sensation of rambling bigness unusual for the Lower Peninsula. Plus, wicket tickets:There’s one more thing. Crossing into Michigan by land invariably takes you past signs welcoming you to “Pure Michigan.” The 13-year-old slogan extolls the state’s vast forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, but it has been commandeered by prideful Michiganders to evoke the tireless community DIY spirit of the people themselves. When I arrived in Manhattan nearly 20 years ago, the most difficult cultural adjustment was how reliant average New Yorkers were on paid labor for even mundane tasks. No one in Michigan – at least the community I grew up in in Michigan – pays anyone to do anything they can do themselves. Ever. The concept of hiring movers, for example, still confounds me, and I moved myself – at great hassle but little expense - at least 10 times within Manhattan before settling in Brooklyn five years ago. My point here is that Meyer and his family are Pure Michigan in that sense. When I say they engineered the most dramatic transformation of a lift-served ski area in the history of U.S. skiing over the course of four decades, I mean they engineered it. They drove the heavy equipment and they transformed glacial bumps into above-treeline peaks one shovel-load at a time and they cut the trees and reshaped the land and made the improbable inevitable. When I met Meyer on the slopes of Caberfae, he was walking across the base area in a snowsuit, carrying a crackling walkie-talkie. And you can tell in this interview, by the way he describes his sense of duty to the ski area and to his family, and maintains a crockpot-friendly Caberfae with ticket prices almost anyone can afford, that this guy and the people around him are Pure Michigan in the most elemental way. Additional resourcesThis 1949 trailmap distills the zany rambling chaos that once defined Caberfae and continues to animate its spirit:A few more items of interest:Lift Blog’s inventory of Caberfae liftsMore classic Caberfae trailmapsChris Diamond’s Ski Inc 2020 has a wonderful write-up of Caberfae (pgs. 128-132). The book is worth a full and repeated read for anyone interested in the modern lift-served skiing landscape.I wrote this story about a 5-year-old who hitched a ride on the Shelter Double with me a couple years ago.Another essay, this one documenting my inaugural ski season rambling over the Michigan flatlands as a teenager:I have no photographs documenting that season. Not one. But I remember the sequence of days perfectly, the huge snowy canvas of Up North rolling out before me as I traversed the supergrid of state highways and interstates, one by one ticking off the lift-served areas that we all presumptuously called mountains but were barely hills, the largest of them 550 vertical feet from top to bottom.To me they may as well have been Vail. After a return to single-chairlift Snow Snake, I stood in dumbfounded amazement at the base of Caberfae, four or five chairlifts sprawling across its two humped peaks poking like a giant snowy camel from the flatlands outside of Cadillac. I descended them like an inept paratrooper dropped at velocity over a decline, my gear twirling apart from me in acrobatic freefall with each concussive wipeout. Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #49: Lonesome Pine Trails, Maine Board of Directors President Mike Lavertu

    1:17:29

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoMike Lavertu, President of the board of directors of Lonesome Pine Trails, MaineRecorded onJuly 13, 2021Why I interviewed him If you’ve ever skied Maine, you probably felt as though you’d arrived at the end of the earth. And if you’ve skied Maine, you’ve probably skied Sunday River or Sugarloaf or Saddleback. And sure, they’re all remote. But from the point of view of New England’s largest state, you’re just getting moving: Lonesome pine is another five hours and 40 minutes past Sunday River, five hours 10 minutes past Sugarloaf, and five and a half hours from Saddleback. When you finally get there, you’re reached the top of America. Fort Kent sits hard by the St. John River, across the water from Canada. The ski area rises directly over the town, 500 vertical feet and a dozen trails and 10 snowguns and a T-bar. It’s a simple operation, but one that’s served its community for more than 50 years, and without the bankruptcies and debts and harebrained owners that have sunk operations large and small across New England. It is at once homey and exotic, a snowy town square perched across the street from a neighborhood, north-facing toward the world’s longest frontier. I’ve never skied there, but I’ve long wondered about this humble-brash little mountain that sits quietly in the snowy north, pushing operations into April as larger mountains shut down across New England. When Mike reached out to see if I’d be interested in an interview, I agreed immediately.What we talked aboutLonesome Pine as labor of love; the small ski area’s surprisingly robust race program; how to transform a 1960s T-bar so it doesn’t jerk its riders up the hill; Lonesome Pine’s unique ownership structure; the mountain’s huge volunteer squad; how Fort Kent supports Lonesome Pine; how the tiny ski area stabilized its finances; yes it can even get too cold for Maine skiers; season passes; everyone needs a bar (the kind with alcohol); how a small ski area wrangles something as spectacularly expensive as a replacement groomer; how Saddleback’s Cupsuptic T-bar became a pile of parts at the base of Lonesome Pine; the caravan that carried the lift across the state; trying to figure out the origin of the T-bar that the ski area installed used more than 30 years ago; whether the ski area would ever replace the T-bar with a chairlift; dreaming of a magic carpet upgrade; the possibility of adding tubing and skating to the ski area; using volunteers to run the snowmaking operation; pushing skiing to April; the mountain’s limited operating schedule; operating during Covid; why the Canadian border closure may have worked in Lonesome Pine’s favor; and the expansive and mysterious Canadian ski world. Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview A few months back, I put out a call at the end of one of the podcasts: if you ran a ski area anywhere in America, I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t care how small or remote it was. I am here to tell the full story of lift-served skiing in America. I love the Epic Pass and its flagship Western cloud-scrapers as much as I love the cowboy indies like Plattekill and the town bumps like Lonesome Pine. Mike took me seriously, and I’m glad he did – it’s far easier to track down the GM of Killington or Sugarbush or Sunday River than it is to figure out who runs Titus or Whaleback. The former, after all, are parts of conglomerates and have all the modern communications and marketing infrastructure that comes with that. An end-of-the-road bump with an antique website, run largely by volunteers, it’s never been obvious to outsiders who ran Lonesome Pine. I’d tried, in the past, to figure it out. But it’s a good story and I was thrilled when Mike reached out. If you’re the Mike of some other little ski area in the U.S. or Canada or hell Slovenia or Japan, hit me up. I want to share what you have to say.What I got wrongThe origin of Lonesome Pine’s T-bar seemed like one of those mysteries lost to time. A 1960s-era Hall 1000, it arrived at the ski area in the mid-80s. On that, there is consensus across various online sources. But where was it for the two decades prior? In the interview, Mike speculated that it came from Vermont. In follow-up emails, he had leads telling him it came to Lonesome Pine from Pennsylvania via a Vermont broker. More digging revealed the true source: Victor Constant, the little-known but still-operating ski area at West Point, New York. This made sense: that ski area’s triple chair arrived in 1983. While I believe this is correct, I can’t find a historical trailmap showing a T-bar at Victor Constant – just this 2016 trailmap, which is the same one in use today. If anyone has any additional information on the Victor Constant T-bar – year of installation, old trailmaps, general memories – please let me know.Why you should ski thereFor all its bucolic coziness, there are not a lot of in-town ski areas in New England. Cranmore and Bousquet are two of them. Are there others? It’s one of the great shortcomings of eastern skiing. At Aspen or Park City, you ski to the bottom and walk to the bar in a city that predates lift-served skiing by half a century. In most of the Northeast, ski areas sit isolated in the countryside, a car ride from everything. Lonesome Pine is one of the few that defies this template. It’s feasible that a kid could grow up across the street. It’s right down the road from the local school. Bars and downtown sit within walking distance. A visit to Lonesome Pine will give skiers a pretty good sense of what a more imaginatively human-scaled version of Northeast skiing could be. Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com
  • The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast podcast

    Podcast #48: Whaleback Executive Director Jon Hunt

    1:04:24

    The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.WhoJon Hunt, Executive Director of Whaleback Mountain, New HampshireRecorded onJune 16, 2021Why I interviewed him Because when Talks-Loudly-About-His-Personal-Life-In-The-Elevator-at-Work Guy brags about his upcoming ski trip, he is never going to Whaleback. He is going to Killington or Sugarbush or Stowe. Which is fine. All of those places are incredible. But they owe more to places like Whaleback than places like Whaleback owe to them. Skiing needs small ski areas. It needs places that care about beginners and families and almost nothing else. And it needs creative models to help make such ski areas sustainable. Whaleback is all of those things, an approachable sapling in a forest of redwoods. It wasn’t always so. For decades the ski area flailed along, one round of debt and foreclosure bleeding into the next, a tale nearly as tragic as Moby Dick. In 2013, a local named John Schiffman purchased the ski area under the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation, stopped trying to be Cannon Junior, and turned the whole operation into a nonprofit. It’s a story I wanted to hear.What we talked aboutHow someone who has never worked in the ski industry ends up running a ski area; why Whaleback created an executive director position instead of hiring a general manager; how Whaleback has retained its character even through decades of apocalyptic closures; Whaleback’s new strategic plan and how it will improve the ski area; aiming for an earlier opening and 100-day season; how much life the 50-year-old summit double has left in it; why the chairlift broke in early March 2020, ending the season prematurely; upgrades to the chair this summer; where the mountain may put in a new surface lift and what it would be; coming snowmaking improvements; potential night-skiing expansion; whether the mountain could add more trails or glades; why expansion outside the current borders is likely impossible; “the coolest first day ever on any job I’ve ever had”; recent mountain improvements; how much the ski area relies on donations to stay afloat; whether ski area-owning New Hampshire and its ski area-owning governor contribute to the ski area’s operations; a professional fundraising primer from a professional fundraiser; whether fundraising has rescued a perennially indebted ski area from chronic debt; how much Whaleback relies on volunteers versus paid labor; learning from other nonprofit ski areas; the ski area’s long and brutal history of bankruptcy, bank seizure, and closing; finding an identity as a small ski area in a state stuffed with huge, developed ski resorts; how the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation finally put Whaleback on a path to sustainability; the active role of the ski area’s board of directors; why Whaleback’s season pass only runs $180; how much season pass sales increased last season after the ski area dropped prices for Covid; the Freedom Pass; and Covid-era ops that may hang around for future seasons. Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview Because while the nonprofit approach seems to have brought some stability and purpose to the ski area, problems lingered – Whaleback’s 2019-20 ski season ended early not because of the Covid cataclysm, but because its summit lift simply stopped working in early March. Like a car without its engine, a ski area without its alpha lift is more decorative than useful. To forestall such issues, Whaleback’s board of directors created a new executive director position, an individual who could supercharge the ski area’s fundraising and heave its physical plant into the modern winter world. Jon Hunt is that person, and I wanted to talk to him about the huge challenge ahead.Why you should ski WhalebackLet’s start here:While small by New Hampshire standards at 700 vertical feet, the mountain has legitimate pitch and terrain, with a bundle of glades raking down midmountain. Then there’s this:If you want to spend $1,000 on a weekend teaching your family to ski, you can punch down U.S. 4 to Killington. Or you can set up shop at Whaleback until they figure it out.A lot of Northeast skiing is barely managed chaos, something between a stampede and a four-alarm housefire. Whaleback is not that. It’s skiing without a lot of the things that make modern skiing appealing – high-speed lifts, megapasses, snowmaking firepower that could recreate Glacier National Park in under half a day – but also a lot of the things that make it frustrating, like lift lines containing enough people to feasibly colonize the moon. When the midwinter hoards descend on New England after a snowstorm, Whaleback may be the best place you can be.Additional reading/videosNew England Ski History documents Whaleback’s harsh pastLift Blog’s inventory of Whaleback liftsL.L. Bean created this incredible Whaleback mini-doc last year:Some Whaleback night-skiing stoke: Get on the email list at www.stormskiing.com

Hol dir die ganze Welt der Podcasts mit der kostenlosen GetPodcast App.

Abonniere alle deine Lieblingspodcasts, höre Episoden auch offline und erhalte passende Empfehlungen für Podcasts, die dich wirklich interessieren.

iOS buttonAndroid button
© radio.de GmbH 2021radio.net logo