Saturday, December 3, 2016

December Outlook




Okemo Friends,

December has arrived at Okemo and with that some great early season skiing and riding as well as a strong snowmaking push. While the weather has been up and down, the Okemo Mountain Operations staff has been able to open up almost 80 acres of terrain.

We have had 18 days of making snow since early November and we have made snow on more than 20 trails – with 11 currently open for skiing and riding. While the crew worked hard to get top-to-bottom trails, they also have been working to head into the Solitude area, and now Jackson Gore. The snowmaking game plan is broken down into the Upper Mountain, Mid Mountain and Base area. Imagine the mountain being broken into two sections: trails above the Black Ridge, Solitude and Jackson Gore all being upper Mountain, and trails below the top of the Black Ridge the lower Mountain. As you can imagine, I get lots of questions on what is happening as we head into the holidays. Here are some answers.

What is the snowmaking Plan?  That is a pretty broad question, but I can tell you that we balance the best possible skiing and riding with the addition of new terrain as quickly as possible. Presently, we are working with our patrollers and other departments who are on the slopes to decide if we need to make snow on existing terrain. Some of our capacity is committed to that while the rest is committed to adding terrain. We are headed toward Solitude with snow being made on The Plunge, Heaven’s Gate, Screamin’ Demon, Mountain Road, Sweet Solitude and Roundhouse Run. This will get us into Solitude as well as toward Jackson Gore. 

Why make snow on The Plunge?  The Plunge is an easy continuation down from Sapphire. We use the Plunge for both a way into Solitude, and as access to our Maintenance shop. We need a trail near the Maintenance shop to get the snow cats out on the slopes as well as move food trailers to the Summit Lodge. While we could make on Village Run, the Plunge is a better skiing trail than Village Run is, so it makes sense to head there. It also allows us to make Moguls if we wanted to earlier in the season.

When will Jackson Gore be open?  Snowmaking guns are set up on some of the Jackson Gore trails and we will be making snow there most likely Saturday night. Snow will be made first on Blue Moon, Sunset Strip, Lower Limelight and, if possible with HKD temperatures, Vortex and Quantum Leap. If the temperatures come in like we expect, we will also make snow on Inn Bound, Fast Track and Expresso. The plan is to have the Jackson Gore base area open by Saturday December 12. We will have a better feel by early next week. 

How much longer do we have to ride the Sachem Quad?  I know the ride on the Sachem is not the best, but as I always say, it is better than riding the shuttle bus! I am hopeful that we will be riding the Base Quad and skiing down Lower Arrow within the next couple days. The mountain skis better when the quads are operating, so we want to get there as soon as we can.

What about snowmaking on the slopeside lodging trails?  Believe me, I understand the importance of this.  The plan will be to get to those trails before Christmas or soon after. We want to get more terrain open to give more skiing and riding options, and we will pick off some of those lodging trails when we have some capacity. 

What about Wardance?  Once we have Lower Arrow open we will begin to work on some other mid-mountain trails. This most likely will include Lower Chief, Wardance, Black Out and Village Run. I want to have the racers in their own area so training can begin and Okemo can begin to hold competition events.

What about Terrain parks?  We have discussed where our first terrain parks will be worked on and most likely that will be either the Crazy Train Terrain Park or the Lower Tomahawk Terrain park. Both require lots of snow, so we would be doing this only if, and when, we have colder temperatures.

How long will the features stay on Nor’easter?  Okemo is working hard to create some terrain features and rails to balance out the skiing and riding, and have options for everyone. We plan to have terrain park features on skiable terrain until we have a terrain park built and open.

When will there be beginner terrain? As there are snowmaking temperatures in the base area, more of the base area, mountain road and open slope will be widened. We will focus on the F-10 learning area first and then the Mountain Road from the top of the Base quads.

Is Okemo grooming every night during the warmer weather? Yes, Okemo is grooming slopes and trails every night. There may be some areas with less snow that we are working around, but the majority of every trail is being groomed. When it was colder, Okemo ran some mountain tillers to help the surface. We will do this again as the temperature drops to keep the surface softer. Okemo grooming and snowmaking are making for a great skiing experience.

What is Christmas holiday period looking like for slopes and trails?  Whenever I am asked this question I am quick to let everyone know that, contrary to popular belief, Okemo does not have a crystal ball. I will say that Okemo will work hard to get as much terrain open as possible. We will work hard to have a great skiing product on our existing terrain. Our goal would be to have some terrain open in all the different mountain pods.  You can be assured that Okemo snowmakers will be making as much snow as possible whenever possible!  There is no issue with water supply, we have our generators in place, and there is a great snowmaking team that is supported by a strong Mountain Operations team to give all they have every day. 

This is a sample of the questions I hear and am asked. I am hopeful that I have answered some of your questions.  As always, if you have a question send it along. The entire Okemo team will do our best to give you the best skiing and riding possible!

Enjoy your days on the slopes,

Bruce Schmidt

Okemo GM

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween Weekend Update



Greetings,

It is Friday October 28th and Okemo woke up to around 9 inches of new snow on the summit, about 6” at mid-mountain and 2-3” in the base area. The ground is white and looking like winter! This will bode well as we look to begin snowmaking early next week. While the weather is looking a little mild, we are hoping for some colder nights which might allow us to at least test the system.

There have been some questions as to why we did not make snow last week when it was colder. Killington has been aggressive in their snowmaking and opened for skiing this week. While we applaud and congratulate Killington, we have to keep in mind that Okemo has unique weather challenges, especially in the fall.  Killington has a higher elevation than Okemo and it does get colder earlier. When making a decision to “push the button”, I look at a lot of factors and discuss things with our team. We want to be smart and aggressive.  Early season if there is no long-term cold in place (temperatures in the 20s at night and maybe 30 - 40 during the day) the snow does not set and thus there is more loss. The best way to make the decision is to look at different weather models and rely on experience. Okemo is shooting for early November; even if we had made snow last week and received this snow, we would not have been able to get open for skiing and riding next week.  Again, smartly aggressive!

To keep you up to speed on some of the things we do around the resort, I want to talk about grooming. Okemo purchased a 2016 Prinoth Bison X Terrain Park Groomer. It will be great to have this versatile machine in our fleet for both grooming on mountain and in the terrain parks. This new machine is our first of many machines that will be the new “energy-efficient” model. The NEW BISON boasts a 406 HP motor, yet also offers low fuel consumption and a 90% reduction in nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions in-line with the “Stage IV/Tier 4 final” exhaust emission standard set by the federal government. Okemo is excited to be able to have this new machine and be helping the environment also.

All in all, things are coming together for the winter.  Paper products, propane and other storable items have been delivered to the Summit and Sugar House.  It is always good to get those items in around the last couple weeks of October.  Then there are no issues when snow is made on Buckhorn and the road is closed.  Oh, and by the way, the Mountain Road is closed for the winter. Sorry, but we aren’t going to be plowing the road until Spring!!

Get ready for skiing and riding, the time is near!!

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Okemo Winter Preview!

Installing snowmaking pipes at SouthFace Village.


Greetings,

Fall is in full swing here at Okemo and we are enjoying the colors, but at the same time preparing for the winter and getting the resort ready for everyone to do some skiing and riding.

There have been some questions concerning how the lack of rain will affect snowmaking this coming winter.  I want to put everyone at ease that the Okemo snowmaking ponds are full!  While it has been dryer than normal this summer, there was pumping that was done into our storage ponds during the earlier part of the summer and we feel comfortable with what we have and are ready to go.  The weather patterns always balance out and it is likely that we will see some wet weather this fall which should raise the river level before snowmaking begins.

Snowmaking is on track and set to begin around November 1st.  This date is fluid and if we were to go earlier we would need to see some long term cold weather, but it is safe to say we will be ready to light up the guns right after Halloween.  Our plan would be to try to get open as soon as possible with our anticipated opening hopefully in early November.

I am sure there are some questions on the RFID ticketing system and the Real.Easy card and how that will be working this winter.  We understand and realize that there were some challenges this past season. And while some of these can be attributed to a new program, we also realize there were some software challenges, and we have worked hard this summer to hopefully fix these issues. The way we will distribute the 3&Easy cards will be different and the web pages for registering Real.Easy cards as well as loading tickets have been upgraded and are more user-friendly.  There has been a lot of effort this summer to make the RFID system work better and we are hopeful that you will see a difference.

This summer has been a busy one with many projects visible and some not so visible.  Here are a few we worked on:

  • Snowmaking pipe was installed on Cat Nap & the Suncatcher Trail over in the South Face Village area.  Guns were installed on Suncatcher and when we are ready to make snow on Cat Nap there will be guns brought in.  With snowmaking on Cat Nap we hope to have the trail open even more.
  • Snowmaking pipe upgrades on Lower Arrow, Open Slope as well as up to the Mid Mountain pump station.  While this work is not very visible, it is very important.
  • A large scale purchase of rental equipment was completed this summer. Okemo will have all ski and snowboard rental equipment that is less than 2 years old for use by our guests. Gone are the days of the old rental equipment. This year we are upgrading our rental fleet with the purchase of 515 new Volkl skis, 869 pairs of Dalbello ski boots, 153 Burton snowboards and 272 pairs of Burton snowboard boots.
  • Okemo is always looking to have activities for our guests to do when they are not skiing and with that we have purchased an ice mat to be used to make ice in the Jackson Gore Ice house. This glycol infused system has a compressor and chiller to make the ice and with delivery expected by early November we are hopeful for ice around Thanksgiving weekend.
  • As an added feature to our guests we have joined the M.A.X. Pass family. The “Multi-Alpine Experience” pass offers skiers and snowboarders five days at each of the 32 participating resorts with a total of 160 days on the slopes and no blackout dates. From day trips and ski weekends close to home to ski vacations at destination resorts out West, the M.A.X. Pass gives winter sports enthusiasts the ability to dream and travel to mountains they’ve never gone before.
  • We have added a new Prinoth Bison X park cat to our fleet of snow groomers this winter. This snow cat is equipped with a Caterpillar 400hp tier 4 engine. This Caterpillar diesel engine meets all the new federal emission standards with more fuel efficiency and a 40hp increase compared to the previous model.
  • We also have been painting lifts, replacing carpet and sprucing things up to great this coming beast of a winter.  We are getting more snow shovels for this winter.

I hope you are making plans, we are amped up, chomping at the bit and going to make it happen this winter so make sure you are doing the same.

I will be sure to keep you aware of what our plans are and what we are doing.  Thanks for choosing to ski and ride with us here at Okemo.

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Thursday, August 18, 2016



General Manager Bruce Schmidt with an update on what Okemo has been up to this summer.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Weekend Update & Looking Ahead

Greetings,

Spring skiing
Easter weekend is upon us which means we are heading into the final week of skiing and riding for the 2015-16 ski season. There have been many different words to describe this past ski season but I remind everyone that it is a marathon not a sprint and we all have short memories. So while many will tell their grandchildren, “I was there during the ‘El Nino year’ at Okemo,” I am also confident that the reputation of the resort as well as everyone’s support will make next ski season even better.

We are going to be making some changes to our operations here at Okemo beginning on Monday March 28th through our closing day of Sunday April 3rd.  All skiing and riding operations will be out of the Jackson Gore Base area. The Clock Tower base area lifts and operations will not be open for the remainder of the season beginning on Monday March 28th.

The operations open in Jackson Gore will be Culinary, Rentals, First Aid, Retail and Resort Services, as well as normal hotel operations. The Ski + Ride department will be offering private lessons only.Lifts operating will be Coleman Brook Quad, Quantum Four and Sunburst Six.  Depending on the trail count and access into Jackson Gore, we may operate Solitude.

Guests will be able to ski down to the Sunburst Six. They will not be able to ski down past the Sunburst Six into the Clock Tower Base area as there will be no lift access out of that base.It is looking like we will have around 40 trails beginning next week. Signage and staff will be out in the morning to let guests know of the change. We will also post on the website, social media, etc.

Our lift ticket pricing will be adjusted again beginning on Monday March 28th as we make these changes.

I understand that this will be a change to how we have operated in the past, but it is our feeling that we can provide a skiing and riding experience using the Jackson Gore Base Area that is equal to what we have offered at the Clock Tower base area in the past. Our services are similar and many of our guests will be staying at the Jackson Gore Inn.

While we are ending winter, summer isn’t far behind!  Okemo Valley Golf Course will be opening in early April and Okemo’s Adventure Zone is scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend. Our plan is to bring back all the same attractions as well as some great special events including the weekly Friday night concert series, July 4th activities and Hops in the Hills Beer and Wine Festival in August.  Be sure to join us some time during your summer.

Thanks again for your support and loyalty this past winter season.

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spring Operations Update

Greetings,

I’m sure many of you are enjoying this weather.  It is spring weather, but isn’t a lot different from the entire winter we have had!  I wanted to thank you for the many comments I get from guests who read my blog.  I don’t receive many written comments so it is good to hear personally from guests.

I get asked several times a day about our closing date.  Okemo will look to close on Sunday April 3rd for the 2015-16 ski seasons. The asterisk is always the weather.  Right now we are working on keeping the Glades Peak and South Face areas open.  We are leery about moving snow too much when the weather is such as it is. Moving the snow adds air to it and then it can melt even quicker.

Our job is to constantly look at our operations and evaluate which ones are the best to keep operating or operate on a limited schedule. We fully realize the need to have some culinary services open -- the question is always how many? We also are aware of the need for restrooms around the mountain, and so do our best to keep that in mind.  Operating of lifts is another area where we spend time debating the merits of each of them.  Sometimes the decision is made for us by Mother Nature, but other times we have to really contemplate our choices.  In the end we work to do our best to please as many guests as possible and as always communicate. While we may make some decisions on the fly, we do work to let you all know.  Okemo.com is the best place to find out the most up to date info.

 You may wonder how a decision is made on when a trail is on hold vs closed?  While there is not a science or any “ski resort rules”, I will tell you my philosophy.   If I believe that a trail will be closed for just the day or possibly a couple days, then I will put it on hold.  Because some of our trails are used for different events etc. there is a need to have them used for the event and we can’t have skiing guests mixed with the event.  It is important that we have an accurate trail report and it is also important that the trail count not fluctuate up and down with trails opening and closing.  While I understand there may be some frustration with why and when a trail is on hold, we do work hard to communicate our changes.

Guests ask about ticket pricing and when a decision is made to adjust the day ticket price?  Again there is no science.  During the shoulders of early and late season most likely the ticket price is adjusted at some point.  What we look for here at Okemo is what the product we are offering on the mountain is like?  How is the market reacting and what will a price adjustment  do to other packages we might have available? We also watch what other resorts are doing.  Very seldom during the early and late season will price make a decision as to whether a guest is going to come to the resort to ski and ride. Many guests have coupons so they won’t be paying full price anyway and others are coming on days when we have certain promotions going on.  As this season comes to a close we will be looking at adjusting our pricing as we head towards Easter weekend.

While we are ending winter, summer isn’t far behind!  The Okemo Adventure Zone is looking to open on Memorial Day weekend and will bring back our complete menu of attractions as well as some great special events including the weekly Friday night concert series, July 4th activities & the Hops in the Hills Beer & Wine Festival in August.  Be sure to join us some time during your summer.

I want to thank you for your support, positive comments and suggestions on improvements this season.  The guest support that Okemo receives is second to none in the ski resort business and I can’t thank you enough for making Okemo your mountain and for spending your winter days with us.

Bruce Schmidt

Okemo GM

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bouncing Back!

While we did get some wet weather on Tuesday, it is looking like we will be bouncing back pretty well on Wednesday.  Today we and riding on 87 trails and 18 lifts. Some trails opened late as grooming continued this morning. Grooming began around 6pm last night and we had all the machines we own out grooming. Work is continuing in the terrain parks and most  opened on time with the exception of Crazy Train Terrain park which we knew would open late. The temperature gradually fell during the night which is positive so there wasn't a quick temperature drop to really tighten things up. There is no doubt that there will be some trails where the surface will be chunky, but that should ski out during the day.  
Tuesday is gone and we are on to the rest of this week.  The weather sure didn’t help things, but there are some things you can’t control in the ski business. 

Snowmaking will be happening by the early afternoon and our plan is to resurface across the main mountain. This should include Upper and Lower World Cup, Sapphire, Upper and Lower Arrow, Base area, Upper and Lower Chief and maybe some other areas. We also will be doing heavy grooming with mountain tilling and power tilling happening. I am hopeful that the surface will soften up somewhat during the day.

Okemo remains committed to working hard to provide the best possible skiing and riding experience. While there are weather challenges, no doubt, we don’t let that be an excuse for at least trying and working our hardest.  Thanks for your support.

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM