Sunday, February 15, 2015

President's Day Weekend Update

There are always challenges that we face during different vacation weeks, and this year will be no different.  There is great snow all around the mountain, which is making for some great skiing and riding.  Unfortunately, there is the forecast of some significant cold weather. It is what everyone is talking about. The media is talking about how cold it will be and the wind.  It will be cold, but it is winter in VT.  Okemo understands the concerns that our guests and staff have with regard to the colder weather.  The skiing is going to be great, if guests dress appropriately.  Guests need to cover exposed skin, wear layers and take frequent breaks.  The entire Okemo staff will work hard to keep the lifts operating when there are windy conditions.  Our main concern is always safety of guests &and staff, as well as the equipment. We plan to have extra staff available to work at keeping the line moving at the Sunburst Six to help keep the lift moving.  In the event that there are lift shutdowns, we will do everything possible to communicate to staff and guests what is going on around the resort.

Okemo offers a Take 60 program, in the event that guests are not enjoying the skiing and riding. This means that guests have 60 minutes after they purchase their ticket to return to the Resort Services desk to receive a voucher for a return visit.  Those with multi-day tickets have until 10am to get their Take 60 voucher.   If guests feel they don’t want to ski, there are other options such as Nordic skiing, ice skating, tubing, mountain coaster or the Spring House, which call all be accessed with the purchase of a day or usage pass.

All of us here at Okemo want to do what we can to help make the resort experience the best we can. Below are some other things we have put in place:
  • Ski Patrol staff are going to be on the lookout for guests who might be struggling and perhaps having exposed skin and not appropriately dressed for the conditions.
  • We will have Free Family movies at the Springhouse on both Sunday and Monday for guests to take a break.
  • Sunday, February 15th 
    • 1:00pm The Nut Job 
    • 3:00pm Warren Miller Ticket to Ride 
  • Monday February 16th 
    • 10:00am How to Train your Dragon 2 
    • 1:00pm Warren Miller Children of Winter
  • The Fire pits around the resort will be lit and working. These are located at the Clock Tower base in front of the Sitting Bull and the Jackson Gore Inn. There will be a temporary fire pit set up around the Sugar House for our guests.
  • Extra staff will be in the Spring House and hotel pool areas to help with guest questions and towel pick up and general monitoring.
  • Guests can purchase day passes to the Spring House, as long as they have not met the occupancy level in the pool area.
  • The Ice House will have extra staff to keep the skating and skate rental going smoothly.  An effort will also be made to Zamboni the ice quicker to keep guests skating as much as possible.
  • The indoor golf facility at Okemo Valley Golf Club is open. Guests can sign up for or get more information by calling 228-1396.
  • The front desk of the Jackson Gore Inn and the lodging department as well as the Jackson Gore concierge has a list of area activities and attractions
  • The Torchlight Parade and Fireworks that were scheduled for Sunday 2/15 have been postponed to Saturday 2/28.
The weather is looking like snow tonight into Sunday morning. We are forecasted to pick up 3-5 inches of new snow.  The temperatures for Sunday are looking to be 8 – 12 degrees with the temps falling in the afternoon.  Monday is forecasted to be mostly sunny with temperatures in the single digits around the resort.  Beginning on Tuesday we are expecting to see a warm up with Sunny skies on Tuesday some light snow possible on Wednesday.  We don’t want to dismiss or diminish the challenges that you may face or perceive when it comes to skiing when it is cold.  The snow is great with all the natural snow we have had. Regarding our children’s learning programs, we also take the utmost responsibility for your kids.  They will take frequent breaks, they will work hard to make the experience enjoyable, drink plenty of hot chocolate, and the safety of all our guests, young and old is always our first priority.  While we are offering a winter sport in the mountain of Vermont, we also need to balance this with the adjustments our guests need to make.

Here is to a safe, enjoyable and fun Presidents Day weekend.

Bruce Schmidt
Vice-President & General Manager

Saturday, January 10, 2015

News and explanations, as we head into January...


I wanted to take some time to talk about a few things here at Okemo, as we come out of the Holiday week and head full bore into January.

Okemo will continue making snow aggressively.  During this time, we most likely will make snow 5-6 days a week and take a day or two off, depending on several factors, such as weather, where snow should be made, skier traffic and planning of trail usage for the Spring.  Over the next 10 days, we are planning on making snow in the South Face area, mostly on Dream Weaver and a couple others, opening Triple Sec with snowmaking, making snow on Big Bang and finishing Timberline, and we also will be making snow in the Jackson Gore Base area to create the snow playground area.

This past week saw some different weather events, as well as cold weather.  I know there was some grumbling about last Sunday’s opening after the weather we had, which included, snow, sleet, freezing rain and then some rain.  At our 6:30am briefing, we knew there might be a few lifts that might open late, but I never expected what ended up transpiring.  The temperature never went up much and thus the trails had a slight glaze even after we groomed them.  The issue was less a lift issue and more about re-grooming.  Our staff adjusted, and we groomed and got slopes and trails open as quickly as possible. 

On Thursday, the temperature was cold, what some might call a mid-winter Vermont ski day!  Unfortunately, due to an electrical issue which may or may not have been a factor of the cold temperatures, the Sunburst Six was down for an extended period of time during the day. We had put half the chairs onto the cable and then the problem developed.  No doubt a solid inconvenience for many of our guests, and especially those participating in the in college ski race Okemo was hosting.  I apologize for what happened. We are hopeful that this was a one-time issue and are monitoring all the systems to prevent a reoccurrence. 

January brings with it many racing competitions programs, and Okemo supports these programs with the use of our trails.  There will be some times when some trails are on hold.  I want to thank you, in advance, for your support of this.  Okemo tries to not have a significant impact when we put the trails on hold for competitions. There is a balance, and we work with the Okemo Competitions department and try to not close too many trails. 

The extended weather forecast is for some nice weather with sun and winter temperatures.  This should make for some great skiing and riding.  The Amp Energy Superpipe is scheduled to open by Saturday January 17th.

Best in 2015

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holiday Week Updates...


The Holiday week is in full swing, so a good opportunity to talk about a few things.

Snowmaking is looking to return Sunday afternoon into the evening.  The first priority of snowmaking will be to head to existing terrain.  We will light up guns on Lower Arrow, Sapphire, Upper World Cup, Nor’easter, Count Down, the base areas of both the Clock Tower and Jackson Gore, and get as many snowguns going as we can.  The next step would be to get guns going on Easy Rider, Rimrock, Lower Limelight and some others.  Once we are satisfied with the existing terrain, we will head to new terrain, such as Quantum Leap, Vortex, Black Out, Sel’s Choice and the Halfpipe. Our plan will be to make snow 24 hours a day. We will be making snow on some slopes and trails that are open for skiing and riding, more than likely higher-level terrain.  We will also try to make snow on lift lines while the lifts are running, as long as the impact is not too uncomfortable for those riding.  We are not planning on closing many trails to make snow, although we might end up doing this on Upper and Lower Chief on Monday afternoon.

The skiing has been spring-like no doubt, and we are mindful of the difficulty that some skiers and riders have seen.  During these warmer temperatures, the groomers have been grooming all the terrain, with the exception of a few natural trails each night.  In some instances, it is probably better that we don’t put a groomer on the trail, to preserve the snow.  Guests may have a perception that the trails have not been groomed because of the spring like conditions.  I can assure you that we have been grooming, the issue has been that the temperature has not been cold enough to have the snow set at night, and thus the surface remains granular when skiers come to ski in the morning.  We also have been looking at doing a noon groom, which has been helpful to smooth things over.  Lower Arrow has been a trail we have concentrated on to try and help make the experience better.

We had a lift issue on the Jackson Gore Express on Sunday, and the lift has been on hold during the morning. The lift maintenance staff is hard at work with freeing an adjusting bolt on one of the towers.  We needed to stop the lift to do the work.  We really appreciate your patience, as we worked through this.  Our shuttle bus staff was Johnny-on-the-spot in getting the buses over to Jackson Gore and getting guests skiing and riding.  We appreciate the support of the Winterplace condominium management, as they allow us to drop off guests at the top of Quad B, which saves us time also.  Thank you for your understanding, as we repaired this problem.

In closing, Snowmaking will be happening hard and heavy beginning Sunday night and 24 hours a day through the week.  We will work hard to provide the best skiing possible here at Okemo…

Happy Holidays to all

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays!


Happy Holidays to everyone!  I wanted to take some time, as the Holiday week approaches, to give an update as to what is happening around the resort.

The weather that has been around for the past couple of days has now moved on, and we are looking at some winter weather returning.  The good news is that the mountain and trails held up pretty well.  As the temperatures get colder, we will no doubt end up losing some of the natural trails and most likely the gladed trails.  Grooming should be able to bring back some of the trails as they harden up.  The moisture in the snow will be draining out and with more skier usage and grooming; the surface should remain Machine Groomed.

Snowmaking is looking to return this afternoon into the evening.  The first priority of snowmaking will be to head to existing terrain.  The temperatures will force snowmaking up on the top half of the mountain.  We will light up guns on Sapphire, Upper World Cup, Nor’easter, Count Down and get as many going as we can.  The next step would be to get guns going on Easy Rider, Rimrock, Lower Limelight and some others.  The plan is to get to the base area of both the Clock Tower and Jackson Gore.  As we are making on existing terrain and those trails that have snow made on them, we will head to new terrain, such as Quantum Leap, Vortex, Black Out, Sel’s Choice and the halfpipe.  Snowmaking will be a priority for all of us here at Okemo for the next 10 days.

Many guests have been very appreciative of the new SPT-designed terrain parks that have been built at Okemo. We are very excited about our partnership and happy with the outcome.  Our plan with the terrain parks is to make more snow on Black Out, so we can get the Crazy Train (Progression) Park up and going.  Until that happens, we are planning on leaving the features on Sapphire.  Sapphire is a temporary trail we use for terrain parks in the early season.  Normally we would be out of there by now, but with the up and down snowmaking temperatures we have had, we have not been able to make as much snow as needed on Black Out.  The Okemo Parks staff has been doing a good job of putting rails and features on Sapphire and keeping them to the side of the trail.  I am hopeful we can co-mingle on Sapphire for a little while longer and then head to Black Out.

Guests have been concerned and commenting on the practice of trails being put on hold.  The term “On Hold” is used when a trail won’t be open or may be closed due to snowmaking, grooming, weather or some other reason.  I really try not to put trails “on hold” if they are going to be closed for an extended period of time.  “On Hold” is used to let guests know that the trail is not open and they should not anticipating being able to ski or ride it.  The main reason “On Hold” is used at Okemo is that we are trying to give good information, but at the same time we don’t want to have our trail count to bounce up and down with opening and closing of trails.  I know that there are some guests who may not agree, and I can appreciate that, but in the end I feel “On Hold” works to give skiers and riders information on the status and allows us some flexibility during the ski day.  Our main concern is safety and experience, and sometimes it takes our Ski Patrol to check them out later in the day.

This past week, we have seen some weather issues and hopefully these are behind us now.  Our priority is to get the Sunburst Six open on time.  Early morning decisions are made when there are weather issues, and we prioritize the Jackson Gore lifts and then a route to the summit.  The mountain operations staff works hard to do what they can and always have the guest safety and ease in their decisions.  For the next 10 days, thru Sunday January 4th, opening time will be 8am for the lifts.  A reminder, that the opening time for South Face Express, Green Ridge Express and Glades Peak is 30 minutes later each day. (8:30 Weekends/Holiday and 9:30am Midweek).

In closing, I want you to know that Okemo is working at providing the best possible vacation experience for all our guests.  While we cannot control the weather, we can be helpful and friendly and work at providing an enjoyable resort experience with a positive attitude and making your visit fun.  We will continue to do this and strive to make you want to return to Okemo Mountain Resort.  Thanks for your support and patience.  Your loyalty is appreciated.

Happy Holidays to all

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Answers to your questions, and a look ahead!


There are always plenty of questions as to why and how we do some things around here at Okemo, so I wanted to try and answer some of the questions.  Communication is important with our loyal guests, and it is always good to bring everyone up to speed.

The Sunburst Six is performing as we expected. This past week was a tough one.  We had freezing rain, sleet, rain and snow.  The Sunburst Six was late on several days and did not run one day last week.  Yes, the chairs are stored indoors, but the issue we had was on the towers themselves.  When there are no chairs on the line, there is less weight on the cable, and thus the sheaves may not always turn.  When this happens,  the Mountain Operations guys need to climb each tower and “pound” those sheaves which are not turning to get the ice off of them.  It is hard work and takes time. We also are cautious about putting the Sunburst Six chairs out on the line, if there is freezing rain. If the tractions plates get slippery, the chairs struggle to go through the terminals. It is hard to push a 1200 pound chair through the terminal when there is a problem.  The timing of the freezing rain, and the time it was taking to work on the towers to remove the ice, really affected getting the Sunburst Six and other lifts opened last week. I am hopeful that we won’t see weather like that again for a while.

There have been questions as to how we decide on lifts which operate.  Let me begin be saying that this past Saturday I made a mistake!  The Glades Peak or Green Ridge should have been running on Saturday.  I will take responsibility for that one.  Each week I review, with our Mountain Ops managers, the lifts we are going to operate, and we felt that with access into South Face by Cat Nap, that it would be fine to only run the Sunburst Six.  Not the correct decision, and we adjusted on Sunday.  I will pay more attention to that in the future.  I would like to think it won’t happen again!

Guests have been asking about the speed of the Sunburst Six.  Okemo, working with Leitner POMA, has been running the Sunburst Six at different speeds since opening day.  This was done to put hours on the equipment with different levels of stress and usage. These speed “steps” began at 700 feet per minute and go up to 1000 feet per minute.  The lift has completed this process, and we can now run at full speed. The Sunburst Six has a top speed of 1000 feet per minute, which was the same as the old Northstar.  My only caveat on this is that there are still times when the Sunburst Six is run slower due to weather and wind.  This was the case this past Saturday. For most of the day, the Sunburst Six was running around 750-800 feet per minute due to windy weather.  When there are wind concerns, we always have a lift mechanic at the top watching what is going on, and if the wind dies down, increasing the speed as we can.

The heated seats are a great addition.  There have probably been a few times when you might not have felt the heat?  This is because there are still 13 chairs which do not have the heat operating yet.  Between Leitner- POMA and Okemo working on these specific chairs, we hope to have them all working by Christmas. Some of the chairs need to have the wire run and we are also waiting on some brushes, which go up on the top of the grip and are the electrical conductor for the seat heaters.

Having some colder weather would be very welcome at Okemo, so the snowmaking effort can go even stronger.  We are planning to open Moonshadow and Tucker Out early this week and hope to be going after some other terrain in South Face, the Clock Tower base area and Morning Star.  I am hopeful that colder weather will be arriving closer to Christmas, in looking at the long range weather forecasts.  In order to get more terrain, we will need colder temperatures.  Okemo is committed to making snow into the Christmas holidays, as needed, as we want new terrain too.

Thanks for your support and patience.  Your loyalty is appreciated

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Sunburst Six begins operation today!!


Today is the day we have been all waiting for, the Sunburst Six will begin operation to our skiers and riders.  

This preview of the Sunburst Six will be happening today, beginning at 9am.  As the Okemo team has been so aggressive, we made the decision to open the Sunburst Six without the seat heaters.  There is still some work to be done to get the electrical brushes attached to the chair, as well as the electrical collector plate in the terminal in place.  We weighed the options and decided that it was going to be best to get the lift going and work on the seat heaters at night.

Words can’t describe how proud all of us here at Okemo are of the new Sunburst Six.  Our staff has been so committed to making this lift project their #1 commitment this past summer.  To give you a feel for the time frame, consider this:
  • Some tree cutting on the line began on July 1
  • Concrete forms were begun to be made on July 7th
  • Work began in earnest on the project on July 14th.
If you do the math, July 14 to November 29 is 139 days!  That means the Northstar Express was removed, shipped to Mount Sunapee, and then all new towers and terminals were installed for the Sunburst Six.  A 60' x 120’ building was built and new electrical lines were installed on the summit.

During this time, there were over 50 Okemo employees who worked on the project, along with numerous contractors who worked on different phases of the project.  Okemo also had a very close working relationship with the lift manufacturer.  Leitner-POMA of America has been a real partner with Okemo on this project and has met many obstacles and challenges with a can-do attitude.

All of us here at Okemo are very proud of this newest addition to our lift system, and we cannot thank enough the hard work of all the Mountain Operations staff and Okemo Team members, as well as the unwavering support from all of our dedicated and loyal Okemo skiers and riders.  Enjoy the ride, and we will get those seat heaters going soon enough!

Bruce Schmidt
Okemo GM