×

Vail Shifts Management After Buying Mount Sunapee, Okemo

  • Jay Gamble Vice President and General Manager of the Mount Sunapee ski area and Resort talks with Frank MacConnell, left, and Maura Gorman after the state announced a recommended plan to expand the resort Thursday, April 16, 2015, in Newbury, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)



Valley News Correspondent
Friday, October 26, 2018

Newbury, n.h. — With its acquisition of both Okemo Mountain Resort and Mount Sunapee Resort complete, Vail Resorts this week announced some management changes in the Twin States.

Okemo General Manager Bruce Schmidt will be transferred to Mount Sunapee, taking over from longtime General Manager Jay Gamble, who has been at the ski area for 20 years and will stay on the job into next month during a transition period.

In a phone interview on Friday, Gamble, who graduated from Clemson University in 1977, reflected on the ski area’s growth in terms of skier visits and capital improvements but said those are not what he will remember most about the last 20 years.

“It has been the people, starting with Tim and Dianne Mueller,” Gamble said, referring to the former owners of Okemo who leased Mount Sunapee from the state in 1998. “They created a company that was employee focused and guest focused. They saw everyone’s job as important and wanted to know the first name of all their employees. Working for them for 20 years has truly been a great experience.”

In September, Vail Resorts completed the purchase of Triple Peaks LLC, the company owned by the Muellers that also included Crested Butte in Colorado besides Okemo and Sunapee.

During Gamble’s 20 years, the Muellers invested $22 million into Sunapee that included three new buildings, four new chairlifts and improved snowmaking, Gamble said. Today, Sunapee regularly ranks among the top ski areas in the East for snow quality, grooming and snowmaking.

Under the terms of the 1998 lease with the state, 100 percent of the lease payments were earmarked for state-owned Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H. Gamble said for the lease period ending in 2018, more than $10.2 million has been generated for improvements at Cannon.

“The lease has meant a significant rejuvenation for Sunapee and Cannon,” said Gamble, who began working in the ski industry in 1981 and previously was at Killington and Sunday River in Newry, Maine.

The ski area’s growth also can be seen in skier visits — 110,000 more than 20 years ago to an average of 250,000 in each of the last three years — Gamble said.

“We have a very loyal clientele of season pass holders and residents that are passionate about the mountain,” Gamble said.

Another statistic that demonstrates the ski area’s success has been the increase in employees and payroll. Gamble said the number of full-time employees has gone to 38 from 14 and seasonal has doubled to 600. Payroll today is $4.2 million, compared to just below $1 million 20 years ago. Sunapee also has donated surplus equipment to the Arrowhead ski area in Claremont.

Gamble, who sometimes could be seen helping out in the parking lot, said that the numbers — skier visits, lease payments and employee growth — are the byproducts of company culture that created a passion for success from everyone. And he was happy to be working alongside them, whether in the office, the lodge or on the mountain.

“I helped with snowmaking, or parking or lift maintenance to de-ice the (chairlift) towers,” he said. “I always enjoyed being on the frontlines with maintenance ... the friends, the people here and their passion, those are my greatest memories.”

Schmidt has worked at Okemo for more than 30 years in a variety of positions. The Ludlow, Vt.-based resort is a major employer and ski destination in Windsor County.

Vail Resorts management said Doug Pierini will leave his position as vice president and general manager of Kirkwood Mountain Resort in California and step in as general manager of Okemo. He also will serve as the chief operating officer of Vail Resort’s Northeast Region, Okemo Communications Director Bonnie MacPherson said in an email.

Bobby Murphy will continue in his role of general manager of Stowe Mountain Resort, which Vail acquired in 2017.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.