Podcast #38: Waterville Valley President and GM Tim Smith

  
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Who

Tim Smith, President and General Manager of Waterville Valley, New Hampshire

Recorded on

Feb. 22, 2021

Why I interviewed him

Because Waterville Valley is one of a half-dozen or so leading ski areas in one of the nation’s great ski states, a bustling and full-throttle anchor in the I-93 corridor threading up from Boston. Like the megaresorts of Colorado’s Summit County, the accessibility of these big mountains lining the interstate make them the first encounter with big-mountain skiing and the home base for countless weekenders from the population areas lingering to the south. For many people, Waterville Valley and its neighbors define what skiing is and what it means to them. This is condo and home mountain country, where skiers commit to a favorite and plant themselves there. Even among its towering neighbors – Loon, Bretton Woods, Cannon, Attitash – Waterville Valley is a good choice. It’s about to get better. The mountain, owned by the high-profile Sununus of political fame, is resetting its image with a gargantuan multi-year expansion plan, even as it just cut the ribbon on the new Green Peak pod a few years back. I wanted to talk to the guy driving all this forward.

What we talked about

Why the resort joined the Indy Pass; burnishing Waterville’s indie credentials; the resort’s high-profile owners and the firewalls that separate their political power from resort operations; the White Mountain Super Pass and how many of Waterville’s passholders opt into that; kids-ski-free passes; Waterville’s ski-a-day-and-if-you-hate-Covid-skiing-defer-it pass offer; the mountain’s 10-year master development plan; when a global pandemic hits a month after you announce this plan to the world; the recent Green Peak expansion and how that ignited the far larger current project; what one of the developers of Winter Park has to do with Waterville Valley; the high of resuscitating dormant ski areas; developing the new trail network by hike-and-survey hustle, and how it will differ from the current layout; Waterville Valley’s growing glade network; Sugarloaf, the greatest lost ski area in Michigan; the potential for an eventual South Ridge expansion; upgrades to White Peaks, Sunnyside, and the World Cup T-bar; decommissioning the Northside double; why the mountain replaced the High Country double chair with a T-bar; the importance of lift redundancy; the utility of fixed-grip lifts; why the most technologically advanced lift is not always the best lift for every situation; transforming Waterville Valley into a Western-style pedestrian resort experience with a new lift out of the village square; development potential for the town when the new lifts go in; you can already ski from the existing trails back to town and Tim will tell you how; the sorts of lifts that will serve the trail expansion; why the ski area will move its learning center and carpets to the new base area; how Covid ops are going and which changes we may see carry on after the pandemic fades.

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

Because of the Indy Pass partnership, of course, but also because Waterville Valley is moving ahead with the Northeast’s most impressive current expansion plan. The ski area’s sprawling project will finally connect its pedestrian village with the ski area and substantially increase the size of the resort’s trail network and lift fleet, adding a two-stage gondola or chondola and upgrading and adding several additional lifts. Once complete, Waterville Valley will stand as one of the most complete ski areas in New England, burnishing its destination credentials and further defining itself as one of the state’s standout resorts. With Covid fading and the future crystalizing, I wanted to get a sense of exactly what this expansion will look like, how Waterville Valley will make it happen, and when we can expect to see progress.

Questions I wish I’d asked

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve started most podcasts with a more personal exchange about my guests’ backgrounds and how they rose to their current job. It adds a humanizing element to the pod that I felt was missing before. There is so much happening at Waterville, however, that we had to get right into the Indy Pass announcement and move onto the expansion, and we didn’t have time for anything else. This is an interesting and dynamic mountain, however, and I’m sure I’ll be checking in with Tim to monitor expansion progress in the coming years.

What I got wrong

A historical fact about the White Peaks Express. The mistake is spelled out clearly in the pod so give it a listen if you want to hear why I’m a dumbass.

Why you should go there

Because don’t you want to be that guy telling stories on the chairlift about how you were there before they dropped trails off the backside of Green Peak down into the village? The whipper-snappers of future epochs will be amazed at your tales. Really, though, this is a formerly staid mountain that’s getting interesting. Built by a racer for racers, Waterville Valley for decades lacked the sort of glade-and-bump terrain that makes a mountain interesting. This has been the Northeast template for a long, long time, but that’s starting to change. Smith in particular seems invested in maximizing the mountain’s potential for all sorts of skiers, and he’s aggressively growing out the glade network and tiptoeing away from the GROOMATHON mindset that buffs many Northeast mountains (hi Okemo), flatter than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Plus it’s easy to get to and it’s on the Indy Pass and it has 2,000 feet of vert so why would you not go there?

Additional reading/videos

  • The Storm Skiing Journal announces Indy Pass partnerships with Waterville Valley and Saddleback

  • Lift Blog’s inventory of Waterville Valley lifts

  • An overview of the expansion plan

  • More on expansion


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