Dec 2, 2021 • 1HR 42M

Podcast #65: Wachusett Mountain President Jeff Crowley

“We’re all crazy”

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

Jeff Crowley, President of Wachusett Mountain, Massachusetts

Ralph Crowley took Wachusett from obscurity to one of the top ski areas in Massachusetts. His children continue to run the ski area and the other family businesses. L-R: Carolyn Stimpson, David Crowley, Jeff Crowley, Chris Crowley, Ralph Crowley. Photo courtesy of Wachusett Mountain.

Recorded on

November 29, 2021

Why I interviewed him

When the Crowleys showed up at “Mt. Wachusett Ski Area” in 1969, the place looked like any of the hundred-plus rinky-dink operations dotting the state at the time:

Like subsistence farmers coaxing shoots from cracked earth in some pre-industrial past, Wachusett and its kin eked out a seasonal living. Simple operations powered by simple machines and whatever fell from the sky. Most failed. Wachusett thrived. Today, it looks like this:

As I’ve written about other regionally beloved ski areas that persisted as their neighbors disappeared into the wilderness - Plattekill, Jiminy Peak - there was nothing inevitable about this. The Crowleys made it happen. Wachusett is not merely a survivor. It is one of the most successful ski areas in the country. Beloved and profitable, it hosts more than 400,000 annual skier visits on 130-ish acres. That’s only 50,000 fewer than 3,000-acre Whitefish. And yet, it works. The place is an absolute machine, every part of the experience optimized and streamlined, the relentless focus on one thing: to get as many people as possible skiing as much as possible.

What we talked about

Wachusett ranked ahead of Stowe on Ski’s reader poll; opening weekend 2021; how a Massachusetts ski area beats so many larger, farther-north ski areas to open year after year; “we’re all crazy” at Wachusett; what the mountain looked like when the Crowleys showed up in 1969; the ski area’s Civilian Conservation Corps legacy; the oldest trail on the mountain; how Wachusett thrived as so many other Massachusetts ski areas failed; how a day skiing at Mount Snow inspired Ralph Crowley to buy Wachusett; how it feels when your dad buys a ski area; a cross-country adventure in lift installation; why Wachusett is likely to be a family-run operation for the foreseeable future; the Wachusett diaspora; the origins of Wa-Wa-Wachusett:

…400,000-plus skier visits on a 130-acre ski area and the Wachusett MACHINE; climate-proofing the ski area; the irrepressible Worcester ski culture; the Wachusett you encounter will depend upon the time of day you show up; the importance of local ski journalism and what we lose when it fades; the vertical-drop and French fry battles between Berkshire East and Wachusett; how turmoil over old-growth forest near the mountain’s summit set the ski area’s modern footprint; why Wachusett doesn’t have marked glades; whether the ski area could ever lose its lease; what the ski area is considering as a replacement for its summit lift; sponsored chairlifts; why Wachusett installed a 300-vertical-foot high-speed quad; where the old Monadnock lift went; the Vickery Bowl expansion; whether the ski area could ever expand again; how Wachusett helps preserve land all over the state; why the mountain grooms twice per day; why the ski area will continue making snow into the end of March; beating Killington to open in 2020; that one time you could ski in May in Massachusetts; why the mountain continued to limit season pass sales and cut the ski day into sessions for 2021-22, and whether those changes will persist; keeping lift-ticket prices low; reciprocal season-pass partners; why Wachusett didn’t migrate from the MAX Pass to the Ikon Pass; whether the mountain could ever join another multi-mountain pass; reaction to the advent of the Epkon passes in New England; why Wachusett pass sales persist in this environment; you won’t believe the ski area that Wachusett bid on last year; and why Crowley thinks I should buy a ski area and why I probably never will.

Wachusett is one of many Northeast ski areas with Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps roots. The Corps built this mid-mountain lodge in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of Wachusett Mountain.

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

Because from my seat, it doesn’t make sense: the Epkon passes keep getting more affordable, their kingdoms spreading like videogame emperors, and Wachusett doesn’t flinch. It was on a megapass and the megapass disappeared and the mountain didn’t join another one. They’re just like, “nah we’re good.” But in an accent impossible to imitate and designed to make me look ridiculous if I tried. Wachusett just keeps going. A third-grade bubblegum-wrapper detective could figure out why: great location, good managers, rabid local skiers. Fine. It’s still surrounded by abandoned ski areas. What makes this place special, a true independent independent in an era of consolidation and backed-into-a-corner coalition building? Listen to Crowley and you’ll get it pretty quick. I sure did.

What I got wrong

I said on the podcast that Jiminy Peak and Pats Peak had lift-ticket prices exceeding $100. This is incorrect. Jiminy Peak’s top rate for the 2021-22 ski season is $99. Pats Peak tops out at $89. I also referred to Connecticut’s Woodbury ski area as “Middlebury,” making my second ridiculous yeah-I’m-not-from-New-England mistake in as many weeks.

Kaboom! Photo courtesy of Wachusett Mountain.

Why you should ski Wachusett

Well, if you live in eastern Massachusetts, the answer is pretty straightforward: because it’s right there, a thousand-footer parked in your backyard. High-speed lifts and twice-a-day grooming and ticket/pass prices that are entirely reasonable. No well-I-guess-I-don’t-really-need-my-kidney-medication sticker-shock here. Even the cafeteria is affordable. It’s the same reason I ski Mountain Creek from my perch in New York City – there’s no reason not to.

If you’re anyone else, from anywhere else, there are infinite other reasons why Wachusett may appeal to you: to support a family-owned business, to be part of the mania, to witness The MACHINE. I don’t know. I figured out a while ago that I could spend the rest of my lift skiing the same six ski areas in Vermont that everyone else did, or I could explore a little. I’m having a lot more fun since I decided on the latter path. Five Star Recommend. Just go.

That view… Photo courtesy of Wachusett Mountain.

Additional reading/videos

  • Lift Blog’s inventory of Wachusett’s lift fleet

  • Historic Wachusett trailmaps on skimap.org

  • Wachusett perennially appears among the top 20 resorts on Ski magazine’s Eastern resort rankings - it nabbed the No. 15 spot this year

  • Longtime Worcester Telegram & Gazette snowsports columnist Shaun Sutner appeared on the podcast last week, and we discussed Wachusett and Worcester at length. His first column this season focuses on the next-generation of family managers set to guide the ski area into the future.

  • Crowley and I discussed: what is the real vertical drop of Berkshire East (1,180 feet advertised), and Wachusett (1,000 feet advertised)?


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