Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Okemo Winter Preview!

Installing snowmaking pipes at SouthFace Village.


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


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


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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Early February Update


February is upon us here at Okemo and this milestone usually marks the halfway point of the winter season. We are around day 70 for skiing and riding here at Okemo.  I can’t thank the entire staff enough for all they have done to make Okemo the leader of terrain in Vermont and New England with 520 acres.  We are pushing hard to maintain the terrain and keep our grooming top notch.  

I wanted to mention a few things to keep the lines of communication open.

Snowmaking will continue through February.  Our plan is to make snow when possible the entire month. It most likely won’t be 7 days a week and maybe not around the clock, but we are going to be aggressive.  If there are some good temperatures we will be going for it.  Surface conditions are very important and this will be a priority.  We also have some other trails to make snow on and those include Dream Weaver, Triple Sec, Lower Fall Line, Eclipse and possibly Ledges.  I know that everyone has their favorites, but most likely we won’t get to all the snowmaking trails we have.

Guests have asked about the construction of the Amp Energy Superpipe.  I can assure you we had some discussions about this and in the end it was decided that we wanted to provide different experiences for our guests.  Making snow in the Superpipe is actually pretty easy because of the snowmaking pipe arrangement and there is always water going up the Superpipe and Sel’s Choice trail.  This allows the guns to be turned on when it is cold. The snow we made there was made when it was very cold.  The building process does require snowcat time, but we do have our longest-employed operator Bill, who works the day shift for us, available to do most of the work.  So we aren’t taking an employee off of a night grooming shift.  There is some expense to making the Superpipe and our Terrain Parks, but we do feel that having the only Superpipe in New England and the best Terrain Parks around are worth the grooming and snowmaking time.  We hope you will agree, too.

No doubt you will see some operational changes which we will be making around the resort. These changes have been thought through and discussed due to skier and rider levels as well as midweek vs weekend volume.  With these changes we have taken into account options -- we work hard at providing options for our guests.  If there is a change we try to provide something similar or another option for our guests.  When it comes to the operations of lifts we do try to provide a way to get to all the trails.  I realize that it may not always be the most convenient and may take a little more time, but the options have been reviewed, and between me and our mountain manager, we have tried to find a balance.  We will be communicating any changes as timely as possible.

Our RFID ticketing system is improving, but not perfect.  I’m sure there are some stories about reload issues or 3&Easy challenges, but rest assured we are working on making the process better and easier.  Some of these fixes will be longer term in that we need to work on them in the off season and some are being done immediately.  I do realize there have been some longer lines than I would like to see as well as our guests.  This is being discussed at the highest levels of Okemo and we are trying new solutions and working on problems.  There is some frustration all around, but I feel things are getting better.  We have in the 10’s of thousands cards registered and more every day.  Reloads are happening 24 hours a day and this in turn is allowing skiers and riders to bypass the ticket windows.  It will get better -- I promise.

Snow grooming is happening every night.  We are mountain tilling almost all our trails every night as well as power tilling them.  There are normally 5 or more Snowcats out on the mountain and we run two shifts, 3pm – 12am & 12am – 9am.  Each night a decision is made on where grooming will begin as we switch from starting in Solitude/Jackson Gore Area, to starting in the South Face area. We switch start locations so that different areas can set up more.  The quality of skiing morning can be impacted with the set up time during the night.

Your support of Okemo is appreciated.  No doubt what we provide to our guests can always improve.  We strive to have the best possible skiing and riding experience and that experience is encompassed by the grooming, the ticketing, the lifts you ride, where you eat and where you sleep.  Thanks for supporting us through this season.

Bruce Schmidt

Okemo GM

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Snowmaking Update

Bruce Schmidt VP/GM gives us an update on the snowmaking that's been going on all over the mountain for the past ten days.