Boy, oh boy, do I love the snow. Some grumble as they root around the garage for dusty snow shovels. Others hit the store for fur-lined boots. Still more air out their winter coats. Not I. My first day at a ski resort 20 years ago hooked me on snow sports. So when the radio blares about the weather outside that’s frightful, I bust out the ski wax, impatiently waiting for the resorts to open.
With the snow flying since Thanksgiving, it made me wonder what’s taking them so long? The snow is here! So what’s the holdup?
I called Cherry Peak and Beaver Mountain ski areas to find out how they prepare for and choose an opening day, which is Dec. 12 at both local resorts. Beaver opens in the morning and Cherry Peak at 3 p.m.
Approaching the big day, Beaver Mountain ski area’s mountain operations manager Travis Seeholtzer said the weather couldn’t have been better. Cherry Peak marketing and operations manager Dustin Hansen agreed. But it takes more than snow to open a ski area for the season. Much more.
A good base for ski season started in the summer. “It’s interesting to talk to people who think we take summers off and just start when the snow falls,” Seeholzer said. “We have staff that works all year.” He said all kinds of maintenance, including weed control, has to be done to keep the mountain ready for the white stuff come December.
With the turning seasons comes a hiring boom. Both resorts bulk up on seasonal workers. Cherry Peak office manager Megan Otteson said the resorts focus efforts on job fairs to recruit essential personnel like ski patrol, instructors, and lift operators.
Don’t forget the behind-the-scenes folks, too. Additional maintenance crews are needed for snow removal, parking, and cleaning. Cooks and ski shop workers have to be hired. In all, each resort hires 80-120 employees for the ski season. And all of the new recruits need to be trained both in their positions and in customer service.
Seeholzer said that is what the resorts are doing this week.
“You get a mix of all kinds of experience levels and that takes some wrangling to keep the lifts running smoothly,” Seeholzer said. “In the event of weather issues and lift issues and whatever the case may be, we make sure the entire mountain is safe and not just the lifts.”
Teaching new employees to keep track of customers is a big deal, too. Because both resorts have easy, green runs for beginning skiers higher on the mountain, kids often wander. “If you lose track of your kids at Beaver, someone is going watch for them,” Seeholzer said.
Personally, I appreciate that care, since I have lost more than one little boy at a local resort. And both times it happened, ski patrol escorted the boys down safely. “Some of what we train employees on is those kinds of protocols,” Seeholzer said, “how to talk on a radio and who you need to contact.”
Making the resorts safe means setting up thousands of feet of boundary ropes, marking hazards, putting up pads, and staging emergency medical equipment. Ski patrols will be working on that over the weekend.
There is also snow relocation. At Beaver, employees capture snow using drift fences and move it to thinner spots. Sometimes, that’s a safety issue. Sometimes, they move snow for fun, like to create features such as jumps and terrain parks.
Because Cherry Peak has snowmakers, they started producing snow and pushing it around early in November, Hansen said. “We have snowmaking over 100 percent of the mountain. We get huge, twenty-foot piles of snow that we move all over to make a good base for the natural snow.”
All of the hiring, the training, the snow pushing, and the safety marking makes the ski terrain ready. Then come the customers.
Hansen said year-round efforts are important to bring the crowds out for ski days. He described his “fishbowl” of social media followers as potential customers. Increasing activities like mountain biking, company parties, and a summer concert series helped introduce new people to the mountain, and ultimately to the sport.
“Part of that is thinking outside the box — making it affordable,” Hansen said. “Some people have bought passes who have never skied before. That’s really unheard of. In skiing, most people try before they buy. But our outreach has attracted new customers ... lots of beginners.”
Hansen said new skiers means increased revenue at both local resorts. “It means more lessons, more ski rentals, and more sales in the kitchen,” he said. “It’s good all around.”
Both Hansen and Seeholzer agreed that having two resorts in the area has been a positive thing for their industry. Each resort has a specialized niche that serves different types of customers and gives locals variety. Encouraging participation in the sport and keeping a healthy, friendly atmosphere is important for both organizations.
That’s especially good news for Cache Valley citizens. Living about 40 minutes from either resort means skiers and boarders don’t have to pick favorites. In fact, thanks to Cherry Peak’s sunset and night skiing program, snow enthusiasts like me can take in both resorts on opening day.
I couldn’t be happier. With more of that beautiful snow in the forecast for Wednesday, I intend to start the day on Beaver Mountain and finish the night at Cherry Peak.
Kate E Anderson is a mother of five living in North Logan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org