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Jan. 19, 2021
What this is
This is the 11th in a series of short conversations exploring Covid-19’s effects on the ski industry. Click through to listen to the first 10: author Chris Diamond, Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher, Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway, NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak, Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs founder Jon Schaefer, Shaggy’s Copper Country Skis Cofounder Jeff Thompson, Doppelmayr USA President Katharina Schmitz, Mt. Baldy GM Robby Ellingson, Alterra CEO Rusty Gregory, and NSAA Director of Risk & Regulatory Affairs Dave Byrd.
Tom Chasse, President and CEO of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Idaho
Why I interviewed him
One of the biggest risks to the reconstituted-for-Covid ski season was always going to be that large numbers of knuckleheads would treat mask requirements as the first shots fired in Civil War II. Schweitzer, an enormous ski Narnia poking off the tip of the Idaho panhandle, became the most visible instance of this phenomenon when General Manager Tom Chasse chopped three days of twilight skiing after cantankerous Freedom Bros continually threw down with exhausted staff over requests to mask up. While violations of mask mandates haven’t ignited widespread resort shutdowns and the vast majority of skiers seem resigned to them, Schweitzer’s stand nonetheless distills the precarious nature of lift-served skiing amidst a still-raging pandemic. Skiers, if they grow careless and defiant, can shut down mountains. And so can the ski areas themselves, if they feel they can’t safely manage the crowds descending upon them in this winter of there’s-nothing-else-to-do. While it’s unfortunate that a toxic jumble of misinformation, conspiracy theories, political chest-thumping, and ignorance has so thoroughly infected our population that even something as innocuous as riding a chairlift has become a culture war flashpoint, it has. And it’s worth investigating the full story at Schweitzer to gauge how big the problem is and how to manage it in a way that allows us to all keep skiing.
What we talked about
Why Schweitzer shut down night skiing over the MLK holiday weekend; how night skiing has changed this season; the verbal abuse hurled at Schweitzer’s staff when asking skiers to mask up; the cultural and political atmosphere in Idaho and how that complicates the resorts efforts; who’s enforcing the mountain’s mask mandate; handling defiant customers; the difference between mask compliance during the day and the evening and what’s behind that dynamic; the madness of crowds; the psychological fallout among front-line resort workers tasked with constant mask enforcement; how the community reacted to the shutdown news; Schweitzer’s philanthropic approach to night-skiing; the modified plan for night skiing in the immediate future; the challenge of operating in a state without a mask mandate and a county in which the sheriff refuses to enforce the local mask ordinance; how Freedom Bros have overwhelmed the best efforts of big-box corporate America in Idaho; why Schweitzer has stood by its mask policy regardless of steady push-back; how Idaho ski areas prepared for the season without clear guidelines from the state; how ski season is going outside of Covid protocol enforcement; Schweitzer’s long-term development plan; the makeup of the local ski market in Northern Idaho; the mountain’s land holdings and potential footprint; where the next expansion could go; the simplicity of expanding owned terrain in Idaho and how that compares to the regulatory snarl of New England construction; the difference between running a ski area in New Hampshire and Idaho; the possibility of Schweitzer joining the Ikon, Epic or Indy Passes; and what the Canadian border closure has meant for the mountain.
The Storm Skiing Podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer | Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn | Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith | Loon President & GM Jay Scambio | Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen | Big Snow & Mountain Creek VP of Sales & Marketing Hugh Reynolds | Mad River Glen GM Matt Lillard | Indy Pass Founder Doug Fish | National Brotherhood of Skiers President Henri Rivers | Winter 4 Kids & National Winter Activity Center President & CEO Schone Malliet | Vail Veterans Program President & Founder Cheryl Jensen | Mountain Gazette Owner & Editor Mike Rogge | Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows President & CMO Ron Cohen | Aspiring Olympian Benjamin Alexander | Sugarloaf GM Karl Strand – Parts One & Two | Cannon GM John DeVivo | Fairbank Group Chairman Brian Fairbank | Jay Peak GM Steve Wright | Sugarbush President & GM John Hammond | Mount Snow GM Tracy Bartels | Saddleback CEO & GM Andy Shepard | Bousquet owners and management | Hermitage Club GM Bill Benneyan | Powder Magazine Editor-in-Chief Sierra Shafer | Gunstock GM Tom Day |