Dec 24, 2022 • 1HR 42M

Podcast #110: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Snowsports Columnist Shaun Sutner

Going deep on the New England ski scene with a veteran of the ski-writing game

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Everyone’s searching for skiing’s soul. I’m trying to find its brains.
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Who

Shaun Sutner, snowsports columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Telegram.com

Recorded on

November 21, 2022

About Shaun Sutner

Shaun is a skier, a writer, and a journalist based in Worcester, Massachusetts. For the past 18 years, he’s been pumping out a snowsports column from Thanksgiving to April. For the past two years, he’s joined me on The Storm Skiing Podcast to rap about it. You should follow Shaun on social media to stay locked into his work:

Follow Shaun on Twitter

Follow Shaun on Instagram

Why I interviewed him

I’ve often said that the best interviews are with people who don’t have bosses. That’s true. Mostly. But not exclusively. Because journalists are just as good. And that’s because they possess many attributes crucial to holding an interesting conversation: on-the-ground experience, the ability to tell a story, and a commitment to truth. Really. That is the whole point of the job. Listen to the Storm Skiing Podcasts with Eric Wilbur, Jackson Hogen, or Jason Blevins. They are among the best of the 122 episodes I’ve published before today. It’s a different gig from the running-a-mountain-and-making-you-want-to-ski-that-mountain post that 75 percent of my guests hold. And these writers deliver a different kind of conversation, and one that enriches The Storm immensely.

I’d like to host more ski journalists, but there just aren’t that many of them. It’s a weird fact of America and skiing that there are far more ski areas than there are American ski journalists. The NSAA lists 473 active ski areas. NASJA (the North American Snowsports Journalists Association) counts far fewer active members. The NBA, by contrast, has 30 teams and perhaps thousands of reporters covering them around the world. There’s a lot more happening in skiing than there are paid observers to keep track of it all, is my point here.

But there are a few. And Sutner is one of the real pros – one who’s been skiing New England for most of his life, and writing about it for decades. His column is enlightened and interesting, essential reading for the entire Northeast. We had a great conversation last year, and we agreed to make it an annual thing.

What we talked about

Well I still can’t pronounce “Worcester,” but we didn’t discuss it this time which thank God; opening day vibes at Mount Snow; comparing last year’s days-skied goal to reality; that Uphill Bro life and chewing up all our pow Brah; surveying the different approaches to New England uphill access; cross-country skiing and the opportunity of the Indy Pass; skiing in NYC; the countless ski areas of Quebec; Tremblant, overrated?; Le Massif; pass quivers; the importance of racing and race leagues to recreational skiing; why the rise of freeskiing hasn’t killed ski racing; Sutner’s long-running snowsports column; the importance of relationships in journalism; the Wachusett MACHINE; Sutner defends the honor of Ski Ward, my least-favorite ski area; the legacy of Sutner’s brother Adam, former executive at Vail, Jackson Hole, and Crystal, who passed away suddenly last year; reaction to PGRI purchasing Jay Peak; what’s next for Burke?; the future of Gunstock; Mount Sunapee crowding; Crotched, Attitash, and Wildcat’s 2021-22 struggles; what the Epic Day Pass says about Vail’s understanding of New Hampshire; whether Vail’s pay increases and lift ticket sales limits will be enough to fix the company’s operational issues in New Hampshire; the impact of Kanc 8 on Loon and what that could mean for new lifts at Stowe and Mount Snow; New England’s lift renaissance; eight-packs and redistributing skiers; let’s play Fantasy Ski Resort owner with Sugarloaf; the investment binge at Loon; high-speed double chairs; will Magic ever get Black Quad live?; the rebuilding of Catamount; a New England lift wishlist; Berkshire East; fake vertical; Smuggs’ lift fleet; the future of Big Squaw; The Balsams; Whaleback; Granite Gorge; and Tenney.

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

Well the intent was to push this podcast out alongside the debut of Sutner’s first column of the year, on Thanksgiving Day. I, uh, missed that target. But I’ll fix that whole timing bit, and you can expect a Sutner appearance on The Storm Skiing Podcast every Thanksgiving week for as long as he’s interested in doing it.

What I got wrong

  • I noted in the podcast that it was a 15-minute drive from Mountain Creek to High Point Cross Country Ski Center in New Jersey – it’s closer to half an hour.

  • Sutner and I referenced Seven Brothers at Loon as an unfinished lift. That was true when we recorded this podcast on Nov. 21, but the lift opened on Dec. 17.

  • Sutner referenced a New England lift project that he knew about but that was not public yet – it’s public now, and you can read about it here.

  • Shaun referred to a “little-known” summit T-bar at Sugarloaf. It must be a really well-kept secret, because I can’t find any reference to it, now or in the past.

Why you should read Sutner’s column

Because what I wrote last year is still true:

Because it’s focused, intelligent, researched, fact-checked, spell-checked, and generally just the sort of professional-level writing that is increasingly subsumed by the LOLing babble of the emojisphere. That’s fine – everyone is lost in the scroll. But as the pillars of ski journalism burn and topple around us, it’s worth supporting whatever’s left. Gannett, the parent company of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, has imposed fairly stringent paywalls on his work. While I think these local papers are best served by offering a handful of free articles per month, the paper is worth supporting if it’s your local – in the same way you might buy a local ski pass to complement your Epkon Pass. Good, consistent writing is not so easy to find. Sutner delivers. Support his craft.

I wish there was one place where all of Sutner’s columns were collected, but the reality of being part of a larger entity is that your work gets mashed together with everything else. Here are direct links to Sutner’s columns so far this season:

Sutner’s column tends to be less-newsy, more focused on the long-term than the what-just-happened? But, thanks to decades of experience and a deep well of sources, he can fire off a breaking news story in a hurry when he needs to. Earlier this month, for example, he turned around this dispatch about Wachusett’s sudden cancellation of its volunteer Ski Patrol program – known locally as “Rangers” – in just a few hours:

Wachusett Mountain Ski Area ended its volunteer Ranger program at the start of the ski and snowboard season last month in an unexpected move that could have safety consequences on the mountain's busy slopes, at least in the short term. 

The ski area apparently was forced into ending or suspending the program due to an investigation by the state attorney general's office into whether treating the Rangers as volunteers violates state labor laws. 

A spokeswoman for the AG's office declined to comment on whether the office is investigating Wachusett.

The case could have national ramifications in the ski industry, where more than 600 ski areas across the country use volunteer ski patrollers under the umbrella of the nonprofit National Ski Patrol, as well as volunteers similar to Rangers. 

Read the full story here:

Read the rest

Podcast Notes

  • Sutner and I discussed Wachusett quite a bit, and specifically my podcast interview with resort President Jeff Crowley from last year:

The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast
Podcast #65: Wachusett Mountain President Jeff Crowley
Listen now (102 min) | The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch…
Listen now
  • We also had a long discussion about Ski Ward, which stemmed from this write-up I published in February:

Ski Ward, 25 miles southwest, makes Nashoba Valley look like Aspen. A single triple-chair rising 220 vertical feet. A T-bar beside that. Some beginner surface lifts lower down. Off the top three narrow trails that are steep for approximately six feet before leveling off for the run-out back to the base. It was no mystery why I was the only person over the age of 14 skiing that evening.

Normally my posture at such community- and kid-oriented bumps is to trip all over myself to say every possible nice thing about its atmosphere and mission and miraculous existence in the maw of the EpKonasonics. But this place was awful. Like truly unpleasant. My first indication that I had entered a place of ingrained dysfunction was when I lifted the safety bar on the triple chair somewhere between the final tower and the exit ramp and the liftie came bursting out of his shack like he’d just caught me trying to steal his chickens. “The sign is there,” he screamed, pointing frantically at the “raise bar here” sign jutting up below the top station just shy of unload. At first I didn’t realize he was talking to me and so I ignored him and this offended him to the point where he – and this actually happened – stopped the chairlift and told me to come back up the ramp so he could show me the sign. I declined the opportunity and skied off and away and for the rest of the evening I waited until I was exactly above his precious sign before raising the safety bar.

All night, though, I saw this bullshit. Large, aggressive, angry men screaming – screaming – at children for this or that safety-bar violation. The top liftie laid off me once he realized I was a grown man, but it was too late. Ski Ward has a profoundly broken customer-service culture, built on bullying little kids on the pretext of lift safety. Someone needs to fix this. Now.

Look, I am not anti-lift bar. I put it down every time, unless I am out West and riding with some version of Studly Bro who is simply too fucking cool for such nonsense. But that was literally my 403rd chairlift ride of the season and my 2,418th since I began tracking ski stats on my Slopes app in 2018. Never have I been lectured over the timing of my safety-bar raise. So I was surprised. But if Ski Ward really wants to run their chairlifts with the rulebook specificity of a Major League Baseball game, all they have to do is say, “Excuse me, Sir, can you please wait to get to the sign before raising your bar next time?” That would have worked just as well, and would have saved them this flame job. For a place that caters to children, they need to do much, much better.

As I’m wont to do, I followed that write-up with casual Ward-bashing on Twitter. Sutner took exception to this, saying that I was oversimplifying it and working on too small a sample size. Which, fair enough. He further defends the ski area’s honor in our pod, though frankly I remain salty about the place.

  • Sutner spoke at length about his brother Adam, a member of Crystal Mountain, Washington’s executive team, who died suddenly in April. Shaun wrote his younger brother’s obituary, which reads in part:

Adam lived and worked overseas in the advertising and tech business in Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Paris, Tokyo and Melbourne. He also lived and worked in advertising and the ski industry in New York City, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and in Vail, Colo., Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Greenwater, Wash.

He lived the life he wanted to live.

He was widely known for working hard and being a leader in the ski industry profession he loved, often starting work before dawn.

Adam loved French Martinis, fast cars and motorcycles, high-speed skiing, music, reading literature and non-fiction, wok cooking, James Bond and art heist caper movies and smoking his beloved cigarillos. He was an ardent fan of international soccer and rugby.

He liked to pick up and drop off at the airport the steady stream of visitors who he accommodated, with utmost hospitality, at his various well-appointed homes. He collected watches, fine art and mid-century modern furniture and accessories.

He was a witty storyteller, entertaining family and friends with tales of his lifelong travels and adventures. He had an acerbic sense of humor and keen intellect.

Read the full obit here:

Read Adam Sutner's Obituary


The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 136/100 in 2022, and number 382 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019. Want to send feedback? Reply to this email and I will answer (unless you sound insane or, more likely, I just get busy). You can also email skiing@substack.com.

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