Podcast #64: Worcester Telegram & Gazette Snowsports Columnist Shaun Sutner
"Everybody in Worcester either skis, or somebody in their family skis"
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Shaun Sutner, snowsports columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Telegram.com
November 22, 2021
Why I interviewed him
Because for skiing to thrive, it needs ski media to help tell its story. And I mean actual reporting-based journalism. Yes, it needs the hype – the cliff drops, the pow shots, the flippidy-doodle park brahs, this:
But it also needs writers who can tell the story of the more approachable lift-served skiing world in which most of us dwell. Writers who know the local markets and local owners and local skiers and local idiosyncrasies. In the great ski media wipeout that swept away the bulk of our U.S. magazines, we also lost a lot of local ski beats. This matters. Good journalism, grounded in relationships and research, can counterbalance the noisy and atrocious swirl of social-media garbage that has become many skier’s primary information source about the sport.
Sutner provides this corrective. In a snowsports column he has written for nearly two decades, he explores the world of New England skiing from his Worcester, Massachusetts base. He knows the people who run the ski areas, understands the market dynamics driving the sport’s evolution, and skis 80 days a year on the mountains he writes about. He knows the uphill and the downhill, the groomers and the backcountry, the people who can show him the stashes in all of them. There is nobody better equipped to help us understand what New England skiing is, how it became that, and what it might be in the future.
What we talked about
I can’t pronounce “Worcester”; the appeal of New England skiing; Southeast and Mid-Atlantic ski culture; Sutner’s long-running Telegram snowsports column; it’s beef time, snowshoers; what skiing loses when local journalism shrivels; the amazing snowy ski town that is Worcester; the slick operation at Wachusett; journalism’s rough transition to digital; newspaper paywalls; how to ski 80 days a year with a full-time job; surveying the Massachusetts ski landscape; the rise of Berkshire East; the renaissance at Catamount; the art of dodging large crowds at Stowe, Mount Snow, Loon, Cannon, and other busy mountains; regional ski passes; the Berkshire East-Wachusett French fry beef; you won’t believe which Massachusetts ski area has the highest base elevation in the state; thoughts on the state’s lost ski areas – Mount Tom, Pine Ridge, Brodie, Blandford, Mt. Watatic; the most endangered ski area in Massachusetts; the resilience of the Connecticut ski scene; Worcester’s cross-country ski park; the fate of Worcester’s once-thriving network of ropetow bumps; how Ski Ward endures; the distinct ski areas of North Conway; the explosion of the Mount Washington backcountry ski scene; the North Conway-Worcester connection; the appeal and frustrations of Attitash; brainstorming solutions for the atrocious summit triple; Vail Resorts’ evolving uphill policies; the odds that currently proposed expansions at Gunstock, Ragged, Sunapee, and Waterville Valley succeed; the buzz around Ragged; thoughts on Loon’s new eight-pack; the right balance between uphill and downhill capacity; Loon’s undersized gondola; the twisted history and fate of Tenney; whether Les Otten’s huge ski area development at The Balsams could succeed; the secret behind Magic’s comeback; beef with Mad River Glen; thoughts on the evolution of Stowe under Vail; how the Indy, Epic, and Ikon passes have changed New England skiing for the better; whether Vail’s crowd-management efforts will be enough to offset exploding Epic Pass sales; why the success of Hermitage Club matters to the average skier; whether the club will succeed this time; Boyne’s purchase of Shawnee Peak; the revitalizations of Saddleback and Bosquet under socially conscious investment groups; and Vail Mountain versus Beaver Creek
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Because Sutner’s column begins every year on Thanksgiving week, just as the Northeast ski season (typically) ramps up in earnest. It seemed like a good time to survey the happenings of New England skiing, from the concussive impacts of the Epic and Ikon Passes to New Hampshire resort expansions to the diligent multi-generational families running Massachusetts ski areas. And I wanted to help promote his column, a fine piece of weekly journalism that will make your ski season better.
What I got wrong
During the interview, I estimated the number of ski areas in New England to be “80 or 90 or maybe more.” The correct number is 90, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Why you should read Sutner’s column
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.
Where you can read Sutner’s column
Sutner’s column kicks off Thanksgiving week each year and runs until April. This season’s inaugural edition, released yesterday, starts, as usual, close to his home base of Worcester. A preview:
The last time I checked in with Chris Stimpson in this column he was a University of Vermont student on a barnstorming van tour of Western ski areas with a band of fellow collegiate free skiers.
Stimpson, now 28, is the new media spokesman and public relations manager for Wachusett Mountain Ski Area as of this season, and also serves as the ski area’s terrain park manager. He’s part of a group of third-generation Crowley family members who occupy key roles at the thriving family business founded by their grandfather, Ralph Crowley, in 1969.
Stimpson’s cousin David Crowley Jr. is the operations manager, and cousin Courtney Crowley is the new head of group sales. …
What this generational shift in the making means for Wachusett customers is that the independent ski area is in solid, experienced family hands for the future and is not likely to ever be sold off to a big corporate chain.
A few of Sutner’s past columns:
Earliest Ski-Area Opening in Northeast Goes to Wachusett (Nov. 27, 2020)
Winchester a Fresh Voice on Northeast Ski Scene (Dec. 9, 2020)
New Hampshire’s Black Mountain ‘Is Like a Trip into the Past’ (Feb. 17, 2021)
Ski Industry Makes Strides Toward Inclusion (March 31, 2021)
Follow up on stuff we talked about in the interview
We also talked about the story I had yet to write about a new owner buying Woodbury ski area in Connecticut – that story is here.
Shaun references the Wa-Wa-Wachusett theme song in our interview. Here you go:
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