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What is this?
A new, occasional podcast series capturing on-the-ground conversations with prominent ski industry leaders. All 148 Storm Skiing Podcasts have been recorded via phone or an internet recording service (mostly Zencastr). That is partly because it’s easier, and partly because I had the misfortune to launch this podcast five months before Covid shin-kicked the world into hibernation. But over the past year, I’ve led panels or one-on-one interviews with industry execs in Boston, Banff, Savannah, and Lake Placid. In many cases, these are confidential sessions for the benefit of the folks in the room. However, sometimes I’m allowed to record them. And when I do, I’ll share them here.
In this case, Ski Areas of New York and Ski PA invited me to their annual joint expo to moderate a panel of five ski area general managers. That session was off the record, but I spoke with Ski NY President Scott Brandi afterward. We sat down in a room bristling with camaraderie and positive energy, ski people enjoying one last inhale before ratcheting into turbo mode and the ramp-up to winter.
Scott Brandi, President of Ski Areas of New York
September 26, 2023
About Ski Areas of New York (and Ski PA)
Ski Areas of New York is a trade group representing, well, the ski areas of New York. According to their website, SKI/NY works “on behalf of its membership to promote fair legislation, develop marketing programs, create educational opportunities, and enhance the public awareness of snow sports throughout the State and region.” Most large ski states have some version of Ski New York, but as far as organization and effectiveness, this is one of the best.
Ski NY co-hosts this annual session with Ski PA, the smaller state association to its south. The two organizations share a lot of challenges: crummy weather, dated infrastructure, and legislatures that are not always aligned with the industry’s interests. But their ski areas are also national leaders in crafting a viable ski experience from marginal weather, in high-volume operations, in hacking the improbable from the impossible.
Here’s the combined inventory of active ski areas from both states – not all of which are necessarily members of the state organization (mostly, the little ropetow joints and private neighborhood ski areas don’t bother or can’t afford the membership dues):
What we talked about
What’s the point of this whole thing?; why should skiers care what happens here?; why independent ski areas are more connected to one another than you may think; the grind of working in skiing; how events like the SANY convention benefit family-owned ski areas; how SANY helps its ski areas from a regulatory point of view; why Pennsylvania and New York combine this annual event; the detrimental impact of ski industry consolidation on the event; what killed Ski PA’s kids’ passport program; and reasons for optimism in skiing;
On Kelly Pawlak, head of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA)
Brandi mentions Kelly Pawlak, CEO of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). The NSAA is the national version of the state associations, and it works closely with all of them. Pawlak has appeared on The Storm Skiing Podcast a couple of times, most recently in 2021:
On my “What Keeps You Up At Night” panel
My conversation followed a panel that I hosted with five ski area general managers:
Ski Big Bear, Pennsylvania GM Lori Phillips
Mount Pleasant of Edinboro, Pennsylvania GM Andrew Halmi
Whiteface, New York GM Aaron Kellett
Woods Valley, New York owner and GM Tim Woods
Mountain Creek, New Jersey GM Evan Kovac
That session was not recorded, and the context of it was meant to be kept to the room we held it in. However, my intention is to host each of these folks on The Storm Skiing Podcast at some future point. Halmi has already appeared on the podcast, and it was a terrific conversation:
On “what happened at Snow Ridge”
Brandi references “what happened at Snow Ridge.” What happened at Snow Ridge was an EF3 tornado smashed all five of the mountain’s lifts. Since this isn’t a topic I’ve been able to focus on explicitly in this newsletter, I’ll refer you to this recent blog post by Snow Ridge owner Nick Mir:
let’s go back to the morning of Tuesday, August 8th. I made my way out early that morning, where people had already gathered to witness the destruction. I figured there would be some trees down, maybe a little damage after the high winds and rain, but I was not prepared for the reality of the situation. From the top of Snow Pocket, straight down to the bottom of Little Mountain, an EF3 tornado had left a trail of mangled trees, lifts, equipment, and buildings in its wake. Four of our 5 lifts had been severely damaged, our secondary groomer crushed by a massive tree, the warming yurt resembled a pancake more than it did a building, among countless other damages. It was overwhelming, to say the least. In all honesty, the thought of packing it in and abandoning ship crossed my mind more than once. Wondering if this was something that we could realistically recover from, let alone operate this season.
But then the support started pouring in. Phone calls, texts, emails, visits from friends, family, strangers. It was not only comforting, but incredibly humbling. We quickly realized that this was not just a tragedy for our family business, but for a much larger community that wasn’t going to let this keep us down. The shear amount of support we’ve received speaks volumes to the importance of this ski area to so many people. Without it, Snow Ridge would be no more than a memory. The scope of the recovery effort truly is staggering, and none of it would have been possible without those who have stood behind us and lifted us back up.
Over 120 people have showed up to our two volunteer clean up days. Most notably some of our closest competitors including a crew from Dry Hill, a crew from Greek Peak, and Tim Woods from Woods Valley. Businesses donated equipment including Caza Construction, Riverside Equipment Rentals, and G&G Tree Service. Countless others have made monetary donations, donated tools, and their time to help us bounce back. We started a GoFundMe campaign after we learned that the majority of the tree removal, the crushed groomer, yurt, and other smaller damages would not be covered under our insurance policy. That campaign is nearing $40,000 and may very well cover the logging and reclamation expenses that we’ve incurred so far. The generosity shown by so many of you has literally kept this business alive. We quite literally cannot thank you all enough!
The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 92/100 in 2023, and number 478 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 email@example.com.