Podcast #47: Titus Mountain Co-Owner Bruce Monette Jr.

"When Liftopia put the knuckles to us, it felt like we were betrayed"

  
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Who

Bruce Monette Jr., co-owner of Titus Mountain, New York

Recorded on

June 7, 2021

Why I interviewed him

Titus is perched at the snowy top of New York, an hour and change past Lake Placid, which for most of the state’s skiers already feels like the edge of the Earth. That remoteness lends a patina of mystery to the place, like the secret labyrinth of a videogame you thought you knew well. Three interlaced peaks drip with tangled mops of trails fused by a fleet of Halls and one under-the-road tunnel, presenting a meandering journey through tree and trail from one distant end to the other. The place it littered with packs of children and sometimes their parents and really no one else. The kind of knucklehead speedster native to Whiteface seems entirely absent here. It’s a joy to ski. But in 2011, Titus was on the verge of being sold off for parts, its alpha lift and snowguns bound for Pennsylvania. That’s when the Monette family, local businessfolk who had never run a ski area, bought the place. To find out how they transformed an operation on the knife-edge of shutdown into a sustainable resort, I wanted to talk to one of the people in charge of making it all happen.

What we talked about

Building the Monette family business empire from a single propane truck; the weekly weakly skier; how a family that “didn’t know anything about anything” in the ski business came to own Titus; echoes of Montage, Pennsylvania; the story behind Titus’ “Michael Jordan, ace-in-the-hole” GM; “barely hanging on” in the first season of ownership; how running a ski area is similar to running a brewery or convenience store; how Titus looked “like Cambodia” when Monette showed up; guess where Brodie’s snowguns ended up?; how the family has improved the mountain over the past decade; the challenges of managing a sprawling three-peak ski area; why the mountain isn’t fully open every day and how they decided on that schedule; rent the upper mountain; sorry no liftlines here; the condition of the fleet of Hall lifts; whether lift II is gone for good or not and where it could potentially move; why there are mailboxes at the bottom of the chairlifts; why the family’s first move was to cut glades across the mountain; the location of the new glade coming in over this summer; potential expansion on the mountain and what it could be used for; Titus’ night-skiing footprint and whether that could ever expand; the mountain’s ski-in, ski-out present and future; how being bad at snowmaking led to the ski area’s enormous maple syrup operation; season pass prices and the philosophy behind that; Titus’ post-Covid refund or deferral policy and how many skiers took advantage of it; how much the Canadian border closure hurt the mountain; the Champlain Valley Ski Card, why Titus joined, and whether it would again if the pass survives Covid; the possibility of Titus joining Indy Pass; Liftopia – so much Liftopia: the mountain’s relationship to the service prior to April 2020; how Monette reacted when the expected check didn’t show up; how much Liftopia owed the ski area; if you bought a season pass to Titus last March, the ski area never saw a penny; why the ski area honored the passes anyway; where the hell did the money go?; thoughts on the attempt at forcing Liftopia into bankruptcy; what former Liftopia CEO Evan Reece was telling Titus during the transition to a new owner; Monette’s reaction to Catalate’s offer to fully repay ski areas who will do business with them; why the betrayal was so shocking in the context of the ski business; thoughts on Reece; Titus’ new e-commerce partner; and skibanas.  

The Monette family on the slopes of Titus. From L to R: Bruce Monette III, Ashley Monette, Bruce Monette Jr., Veronica Monette, Nancy Monette. Photo courtesy of Titus Mountain.

Why I thought now was a good time for this interview

Because after eyeballing the trailmap for years, I’d finally made the journey north to Titus this past winter. Never mind that I made the mistake of doing it as a daytrip from Brooklyn. It’s always an interesting experience to drive for hours and hours past nothing at all, no towns or cars or businesses, and arrive at a distant mountain bustling with families. Where they came from I have no idea, but they made the atmosphere crackle with an unpretentious let’s-have-fun-on-this-holiday-Monday attitude. In a way it felt like a small-town beach in the summertime, where looking good is less important than the act of living an active life. What that scene is to Miami, Titus is to Vail. It’s awesome. Titus was also at the center of Liftopia’s royal jackhammering, looped out of nearly fifty grand that skiers had bought in good faith that the money would go to the mountain and the people running it. While I’ve privately messaged many ski area operators about Liftopia’s implosion, this was the first time I was able to talk about it with one of them on the podcast. We discuss how Titus worked through that loss while dealing with the aftershocks of Covid.

Why you should ski Titus

Because, damn it, it’s a lot of fun. This is a place where you can let your kids wander. They’ll be fine. The terrain is fun but not terribly challenging, just steep enough for just long enough to create the sensation of freefall before moderating. There are some fun tree shots and some fun twisty runs and some long long greens. The lifts aren’t particularly fast or slow, but they are interesting, a fleet of Halls churning reliably up the incline. The place is quirky, rewarding attention and exploration with multi-colored lift towers rising over the bunny hill and mailboxes posted at the base of each lift and little terrain parks lofted into the woods. But no built feature of the mountain better synthesizes the ski area’s singular combination of ownership, geography, severe weather, and freewheeling fun than the skibanas, a row of miniature wooden houses stacked along a rim adjacent to the base lodge. A Covid adaptation built by the Amish for socially distant family shredding, these little shacks are set to become a permanent feature of Titus’ future. Go see them for yourself:

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