This podcast hit paid subscribers’ inboxes on August 11. It dropped for free subscribers on August 14. To receive future pods as soon as they’re live, and to support independent ski journalism, please consider an upgrade to a paid subscription. You can also subscribe for free below:
Brian Suhadolc, General Manager of Mount Snow, Vermont
July 17, 2023
About Mount Snow
Click here for a mountain stats overview
Owned by: Vail Resorts
Located in: Dover, Vermont
Year founded: 1954
Epic Northeast Value Pass: Unlimited access with holiday blackouts
Epic Northeast Midweek Pass: Unlimited access with weekend and holiday blackouts
Closest neighboring ski areas: Hermitage Club (9 minutes), Stratton (23 minutes), Bromley (36 minutes), Magic Mountain (39 minutes)
Base elevation: 1,900 feet
Summit elevation: 3,600 feet
Vertical drop: 1,700 feet
Skiable Acres: 601
Average annual snowfall: 150 inches
Trail count: 80 (15% advanced/expert, 70% intermediate, 15% beginner)
Lift count: 19 (2 six-packs, 4 high-speed quads, 5 triples, 2 doubles, 1 ropetow, 5 magic carpets – view Lift Blog’s inventory of Mount Snow’s lift fleet)
Why I interviewed him
This is my second podcast focused on Mount Snow. The first episode featured then-GM Tracy Bartels, in November 2020. Our focus then was Covid: as in, what the hell were we going to do about it? The ski industry had spent eight months from the March shutdowns preparing for a masked world of closed ski bars and social distancing. Was this actually going to work?
It did, of course. Sort of. But that podcast from 2020 has little to do with the Mount Snow of 2023, which has evolved substantially in just three years. It was time for an update.
I’m also owning the fact that I overcorrected when I took The Storm national in 2021. In the pod’s first two years, I’d interviewed the heads of most of New England’s largest ski areas. Check, check, check. Done. I needed to establish this thing in the Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierras, the Wasatch. And I did. But a lot of my New England listeners felt snubbed. I’d built this thing on their attention and enthusiasm, and now I was pivoting away.
It’s time to pivot back a bit. The lift-served ski world is changing fast, especially among those giants with access to capital and ambition. So I’ve scheduled upcoming podcast conversations with the leaders of Killington and Sunday River, both of which I’ve profiled in the past. I’ll pursue more such follow-ups in the future, in all regions – and not just with mega-resorts, as the recent second installment with the owners of Plattekill demonstrated. The long-term goal is to alternate podcasts so that every other episode focuses on the West, with the East/Midwest/Mid-Atlantic occupying the alternate slots.
But setting aside my own admin, I’m focusing on Mount Snow because it’s an incredibly important mountain. I’ll reset what I wrote in this same section three years ago:
Because Mount Snow is where big-time Northeast skiing begins. As the southern-most major Vermont ski area, it is a skier’s gateway to mountains that are big enough to get lost on. From its strategic position in the orbit of the East Coast megalopolis, successive owners have gradually built something uniquely suited to the frenetic swarms of wildly varied skiers who bullseye the place each winter: Mount Snow has one of the most outstanding terrain parks in America and one of the best snowmaking systems in the world. The families who swarm here find absolutely unintimidating terrain, blue as the sky and groomed smoother than I-91. It’s a perfect family mountain and a perfect bus skier’s mountain and a perfect first step from Mount Local to something that shows you how big skiing can be. It was the crown jewel of the Peak Resort’s empire, and it’s one of the most important pieces to Vail’s ever-expanding Epic jigsaw puzzle. I wouldn’t call it a special mountain – the terrain is mild and not terribly interesting, and the volume and quality of natural snowfall is best described as adequate. But it is a vital mountain, as the southern-most anchor of Vermont’s teeming ski scene, as an accessible ski experience for weekending cityfolk, as an aspirational destination for people stepping more fully into skiing culture, and as a testament to the power of the imagination to transform a big vertical drop and cold skies into a vital and vibrant node of the regional ski scene.
What we talked about
Surveying damage from the July rainstorm; the Epic Promise Foundation; Mount Snow’s four-foot March snowstorm; the frantic hilarity of New England powder days; the difference between east and west coast pow; breaking down Mount Snow’s lift upgrades at Sundance, Sunbrook, and Heavy Metal; how the Sundance six-pack “changed the dynamic of the ski resort”; why Sundance – unlike the mega-popular Bluebird Express – does not have bubbles; how the resort manages 18 high-speed out-of-base seats; the four most-utilized lifts at Mount Snow; how Mount Snow built the Sunbrook lift in a roadless section of mountain; what it took to convert the Heavy Metal lift from a double to a triple; why Vail auctioned the individual chairs from the old Sunbrook rather than selling the lift – a 1990 CTEC quad – to a smaller ski area; talking through long-term upgrades to Nitro; why the resort doesn’t add more chairs to the current Nitro to boost its capacity from 2,100 skiers per hour to 2,400; the status of paid parking two years in; impressions of New England ski culture; the difference between running a mountain in the east and in the west; what happens when Vail surprise-buys your resort; connecting Park City to The Canyons via gondola – “the magnitude of it was not lost on me”; the mining facilities still scattered across Park City; career opportunity within Vail Resorts; Mount Snow’s monster snowmaking system; why Mount Snow has become Vail’s late-season New England operator, rather than Wildcat; why Carinthia is the mountain’s late-operating pod; whether we could ever see another October opening at Mount Snow; potential upgrades for the North Face lifts; assessing the Beartrap double; contemplating the future of Grand Summit; whether we could ever see a detach lift on beginner terrain at Mount Snow; whether the Epic Local Pass is the correct unlimited-access pass for Mount Snow; the popularity of Northeast-specific Epic Passes; the Epic Day Pass; and Vail Resorts’ day-ticket limits for the 2022-23 ski season.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Ever since Peak Resorts built the Bluebird Express six-pack in 2011, Mount Snow has had a problem: the lift, with its blue bubbles and ultra-smooth ride, was so flashy and appealing that nobody wanted to ride any other lift on the front side of the mountain. Even the Grand Summit high-speed quad, which runs parallel to Bluebird and serves all the same terrain, had trouble getting attention. This was great for skiers who actively work the mountain, but a real drag for Mount Snow’s rap as the most-crowded Southern Vermont ski area.
Enter: Vail Resorts’ Epic Lift Upgrades of 2022. Mount Snow was the beneficiary of two of the 21 planned lifts (18 of which Vail finished on schedule*): the Sundance and Tumbleweed triples made way for a new six-pack, while the backside Sunbrook lift got a boost from a fixed-grip quad to a detach. Meanwhile, the mountain converted the Heavy Metal double into a triple chair, adding capacity to the popular Carinthia terrain park.
Sundance and Sunbrook had one job: give people a reason to ski something besides Bluebird. As far as replacement lifts go, they seemed brilliant. But did the plan work to unknot Mount Snow’s gnarliest crowd points?
That was one topic Suhadolc and I discussed. Another: was Vail able to recover from its arguably oversold 2021-22 ski season by implementing day-ticket limits and settling into paid-parking plans? And how were those paid parking plans going? And should Mount Snow really be unlimited on the Epic Local Pass?
Vail Resorts is entering its fifth winter season operating Mount Snow. With the Peak Resorts transition fully digested and Covid’s hassles a memory, the company has no choice but to fully own every piece of the experience. With its size and proximity to New York City, Mount Snow will always be somewhat hectic. New Englanders can tolerate that. Chaos, however, does not belong in this land of picket-fence order. And for a moment post-Covid, Mount Snow seemed to be tilting toward chaos.
But no one can say that Vail has not brought big change to the mountain over the past several seasons. Despite daily lift tickets that topped out at $154 this past winter, Mount Snow has never been more affordable to the masses. Unlimited access is just $689 on the Epic Local Pass; subtract holidays with the $567 Northeast Value Pass; minus weekends with the $425 Northeast Midweek Pass. With prices that low at a mountain that big that’s as easy to access as Mount Snow is, things could go sideways pretty quick. The new lifts, the parking plans, the lift-ticket limits – all of it is calculated to prevent that from happening.
Ski areas are a little bit like novels. They’re never really finished. But unlike our great works of literature, we get to edit ski areas after they’re published. The version of Mount Snow that we ski today is probably not the best and final version of the hill, but it may also be the best it’s ever been,.
*Two lifts scheduled to rise in Park City were rerouted to Whistler after spiteful locals revolted; Keystone’s Bergman sixer had to wait a year after a construction-road misfire tore up some sensitive high-altitude terrain.
What I got wrong
I said that the new Sunbrook high-speed quad clocked a ride time around four minutes. The actual time is closer to six minutes, according to Suhadolc.
I asked Brian why Vail didn’t try to re-use the Sunbrook lift – a 1990 CTEC quad that likely had lots of life left on it – at a “smaller ski area.” He explained that Vail does occasionally move a lift within its portfolio. What I had meant to ask, however, was why didn’t Mount Snow didn’t attempt to sell the lift on the open market to a smaller independent ski area. It’s great that Mount Snow sold the chairs and flipped the money to the Epic Promise Foundation, which assists their employees in times of outstanding need, such as the floods that just smashed Okemo. But the company could likely have made more for Epic Promise by selling the entire lift to an independent ski area, many of which are desperate for a modern quad in good working condition.
I said that Vail Resorts purchased Park City Mountain Resort “in 2014 or 2015.” The company bought the resort in 2014, a year after it bought Canyons (which is now part of Park City).
I said the Outpost lift turned 60 this year. Lift Blog, my go-to source for pretty much all things lifts, lists the lift as a 1963 Yan triple. Brian said that it is a 1988 CTEC triple. New England Ski History agrees with Brian. This is not a crack on Lift Blog, which is an excellent resource, so much as on me for not double-checking my references - in fact, I think Tracy Bartels corrected me on the exact same factoid three years ago.
I said that the Northeast Midweek Epic Pass was “less than $400.” This is incorrect. The pass currently costs $425. The early-bird price for the 2023-24 ski season was $416.
When I was running through the various resorts that the Northeast-specific Epic Passes accessed, I left out Mt. Brighton, Michigan.
I noted that Mount Snow had opened in October “once and maybe twice” under Peak Resorts. The only record I can find of Mount Snow opening that early was on Oct. 27, 2018.
Why you should ski Mount Snow
Mount Snow has two big, obvious constituencies: Park Brah and Family Bro.
The Carinthia peak is a crucial piece of Peak Resorts’ legacy, as important as the Bluebird Express or the tens of millions the company pumped into snowmaking upgrades. Once a separate ski area, the peak is isolated from the mountain proper (though connected both ways by green trails), a thousand vertical feet of straight hits served by a high-speed quad and a triple chair. Park Brahs can park out, Brah. Along with Seven Brothers at Loon, it may be the best terrain park in the eastern United States.
Family Bro loves Mount Snow partly because of Carinthia. Radbrah Junior can spend his afternoons there, posted up five wide with his boys, contemplating the hits below. The rest of the mountain, outside of the North Face, is interstate-width and solid blue. Families of almost any ability can manage this terrain. Mount Snow may be home to the best sustained intermediate terrain in New England. It’s certainly among the most varied. And the mountain grooms just about every run just about every night, even if I wish they’d chill and let some bumps sprout here and there.
Mount Snow’s biggest drawback is a relative lack of glades for a mountain of its size. Skiers seeking trees should aim their GPS for Stratton or Magic, both of which have excellent, extensive glade networks.
Epic Pass holders need to really pick their spots, though. Both Mount Snow and Okemo reach stampede-level crowding on weekends and holidays (I really don’t think either should be unlimited on the Epic Local pass). Head for Stowe at these times if at all possible. Or snag an Indy Pass for peak-day getaways to Magic and Bolton Valley.
On Heavenly and the Caldor Fire
When discussing Vail Resorts’ unified disaster response to the recent Vermont floods, I referred to a similar conversation I’d had with Heavenly COO Tom Fortune in regards to the Caldor Fire that descended on Tahoe two years ago. You can listen to that conversation starting at 56:03 here.
On Vermont’s monster March snowstorm
We discussed a monster snowstorm that descended on Vermont March 14 to 15. Huge snow totals included 45 inches at Bromley, 37 inches at Magic, and 46 inches at Mount Snow.
On crushing pow at Mount Snow
I discussed the chaos of a pow-day rope-drop at Mount Snow. Unfortunately the only access I have to it is this Twitter video. And since Substack won’t embed Twitter videos anymore you’ll have to click through to watch it:
Too many “suns”
I kept getting Mount Snow’s “sun” lifts confused. It reminded me of a time I was skiing Snowbird, and a bunch of us were debating where to go next, and my buddy Mike, clearly confused, was just like, “There’s too many Gads.” And my God he’s right.
On the Mount Snow “tram”
Brian and I briefly discussed Mount Snow’s old “tram,” which transported skiers from a base-area hotel up to the ski hill. It was really more of a whacky speedboat suspended from a cable, as you can see in the rendering on this 1965 trailmap. And yes, that’s a double bubble chair beside it:
On the Vail Resorts acquisition of Park City
Brian worked at Park City when Vail Resorts swiped it off Powdr Corp’s lunch tray after the latter forgot to renew its lease. It was probably the most cartoonishly absurd business transaction in the history of lift-served skiing. Here’s Park Record, examining the events as part of a decade-in-review series in late 2019:
In some circles, though, the whispers had already started that something was afoot, and perhaps not right, at PCMR. Powdr Corp. for some unknown reason was negotiating a sale of its flagship resort, the most prevalent of the rumblings held. The CEO of Powdr Corp., John Cumming, late in 2011 had publicly stated there was not a deal involving PCMR under negotiation, telling Park City leaders during a Marsac Building appearance in December of that year the resort was “not for sale.” Later that evening, he told The Park Record the rumors “always amuse me.”
The reality was far more astonishing and something that would define the decade in Park City in a similar fashion as the Olympics did in the previous 10-year span and the population boom did in the 1990s.
The corporate infrastructure in the spring of 2011 had inadvertently failed to renew two leases on the land underlying most of the PCMR terrain, propelling the PCMR side and the landowner, a firm under the umbrella of Talisker Corp., into what were initially private negotiations and then into a dramatic lawsuit that unfolded in state court as the Park City community, the tourism industry and the North American ski industry watched in disbelief. As the decade ends, the turmoil that beset PCMR stands, in many ways, as the instigator of a changing Park City that has left so many Parkites uneasy about the city’s future as a true community.
The PCMR side launched the litigation in March of 2012, saying the future of the resort was at stake in the case. PCMR might be forced to close if it did not prevail, the president and general manager of the resort at the time said at the outset of the case. Talisker Land Holdings, LLC countered that the leases had expired, suddenly leaving doubts that Powdr Corp. would retain control of PCMR. …
Colorado-based Vail Resorts, one of Powdr Corp.’s industry rivals, would enter the case on the Talisker Land Holdings, LLC side in May of 2013 with the aim of wresting the disputed land from Powdr Corp. and coupling it with nearby Canyons Resort, which was branded a Vail Resorts property as part of a long-term lease and operations agreement reached at the same time of the Vail Resorts entry into the case. Vail Resorts was already an industry behemoth with its namesake property in the Rockies and other mountain resorts across North America. The addition of Canyons Resort would advance the Vail Resorts portfolio in one of North America’s key skiing states.
It was a deft maneuver orchestrated by the chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, Rob Katz. The agreement was pegged at upward of $300 million in long-term debt. As part of the deal, Vail Resorts also seized control of the litigation on behalf of Talisker Land Holdings, LLC. …
The lawsuit itself unfolded with stunning developments followed by shocking ones over the course of two-plus years. In one stupefying moment, the Talisker Land Holdings, LLC attorneys discovered a crucial letter from the PCMR side regarding the leases had been backdated. In another such moment, PCMR outlined plans to essentially dismantle the resort infrastructure, possibly on an around-the-clock schedule, if it was ordered off the disputed land.
What was transpiring in the courtroom was inconceivable to the community. How could Powdr Corp., even inadvertently, not renew the leases on the ground that made up most of the skiing terrain at PCMR, many asked. Why couldn’t Powdr Corp. and Talisker Land Holdings, LLC just reach a new agreement, others wondered. And many became weary as businessmen and their attorneys took to the courtroom with the future of PCMR, critical to a broad swath of the local economy, at stake. The mood eventually shifted to exasperation as it appeared there was a chance PCMR would not open for a ski season if Talisker Land Holdings, LLC moved forward with an eviction against Powdr Corp. from the disputed terrain.
The lawsuit wore on with the Talisker Land Holdings, LLC-Vail Resorts side winning a series of key rulings from the 3rd District Court judge presiding over the case. Judge Ryan Harris in the summer of 2014 signed a de facto eviction notice against PCMR and ordered the sides into mediation. Powdr Corp., realizing there was little more that could be accomplished as it attempted to maintain control of PCMR, negotiated a $182.5 million sale of the resort to Vail Resorts that September.
Absolutely brutal and amazing and hard to believe, even nearly a decade later.
On Canyons’ name history
I mentioned the various names that the former Canyons ski area (now part of Park City), had gone by. Ski Utah provides the complete history:
A neighboring ski area and sister resort to Park City Ski Area, called Park City West, opened in 1968. It was renamed ParkWest in 1975 after a change in ownership, then Wolf Mountain in 1995 for just two seasons. In 1997 it became The Canyons after an acquisition by the American Skiing Company before it was purchased by the Talisker Corporation. It was then sold to Vail Resorts in 2014 and subsequently merged with Park City Mountain. Today that base area is known as The Canyons Village at Park City.
On Mount Snow’s amazing snowmaking system
Just two years before selling its entire portfolio to Vail Resorts, Peak Resorts invested an amazing $30 million into Mount Snow’s snowmaking system. The Brattleboro Reformer profiled the system shortly before go-live in 2017:
West Lake is actually a sprawling system that begins about 4 miles from Mount Snow.
It starts with a small, black, inflatable dam that stretches 18 feet across Cold Brook in Wilmington. From November through March, Mount Snow can inflate that dam as needed, drawing water into the newly constructed reservoir.
A sluiceway alongside the dam ensures a flow of water in Cold Brook whether the dam is inflated or not.
"We were trying to be pretty low-impact, or as low-impact as possible," Storrs said.
A nondescript-looking pump house near the dam can send water upward toward Mount Snow at a rate of 11,800 gallons per minute, "which is pretty much double what we used to have in terms of pumping capacity," Storrs said.
On a recent morning, crews were putting on finishing touches and conducting tests at that pump house and two others situated farther up the mountain. There's a nearly 600-foot elevation gain between the inflatable dam and the last pump house on Mount Snow's slopes.
On Wildcat and the long season
We discussed Wildcat’s tradition as a late operator. Under Peak Resorts, the ski area would push the season into late April and, occasionally, May. Snowpak has documented Wildcat’s closing dates over the past nine years – note the shift to earlier dates after Vail acquired the resort in 2019 (ignore the 2020 date, for obvious reasons):
Vail shifted late-season New England operations to Mount Snow for reasons that Brian explains on the podcast. But it’s a little incongruous stacked up against the region’s other five late operators: Killington, Sugarbush, Jay Peak, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf, all of which are quite a ways north of Mount Snow:
On Grand Summit and Yan detachables
I referred to the dreadful safety record of Yan detachable lifts. I broke this history of death and incompetence down in my recent podcast with China Peak GM Tim Cohee (scroll down to the Podcast Notes section).
On Epic and Ikon access shifts since 2020
I keep asking Vail Resorts’ GMs if their ski areas are placed on the appropriate Epic Pass tier, mostly because it’s amazing to me that an unlimited season pass to a mountain like Breckenridge or Mount Snow or Stevens Pass could be $676 – the early-bird price of 2023-24 Epic Local Passes. The Ikon Pass, as I noted on the podcast, has shifted its pass structure all over the place the past several seasons, tweaking access to Stratton, Sugarbush, Crystal Mountain, Alta, Aspen, Jackson Hole, Taos, Deer Valley, and Arapahoe Basin. Here’s the chart I included in my recent podcast conversation with Alterra CEO Jared Smith to document those changes:
I was astonished when Vail kept Stevens Pass on the Epic Local unlimited tier after 2021’s well-documented crowding meltdowns. Things got so wild in Washington that Alterra pulled Crystal off the Ikon Pass’ unlimited tier and jacked its season pass price up to $1,700 for the 2022-23 ski season. I still don’t really understand this super-bargain access strategy, but Vail has made it clear that they’re sticking with it.
On the phenomenal deal that is the Epic Day Pass
We discussed the Epic Day Pass. This thing really is an amazing deal:
The Storm explores the world of lift-served skiing year-round. Join us.
The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 68/100 in 2023, and number 454 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.