In DCSki’s Interview Series, we take a look at interesting people connected with the ski industry. Earlier, we interviewed Peter Landsman, Editor of LiftBlog.com; Chris Diamond, Author of SKI INC. 2020 and former President of Steamboat Resort; and Phil and Tricia Pugliese, who operate the popular Pugski.com gear site and on-line skier community. Today, we interview Jamie Storrs, the Senior Manager of Communications, Eastern Region at Vail Resorts and the former Senior Director of Communications for Peak Resorts. In addition to owning Whitetail, Liberty, and Roundtop, the Vail Corporation runs some of the most iconic ski destinations in the world. Its Epic Pass offers skiers unlimited access to 37 resorts in all of North America’s major ski regions as well as several legendary European resorts in the Alps.
Jamie Storrs started out as a ski instructor in Jackson Hole and now holds the most important ski industry communications job in the Northeast. His experiences with Mount Snow, Peak Resorts, and now Vail give him unique insight into the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic ski scene. Additionally, Jamie loves to “eat what he cooks,” skiing as much as possible at Vail resorts and in the backcountry, both in the West and in New England.
John: Tell me about your background?
Jamie: I have always been interested in skiing. I grew up in Rhode Island, but Dad’s family was from the Hanover, New Hampshire area, so I grew up skiing at the Dartmouth Skiway. A college counselor recommended I attend school in Colorado because it snows more, and so I attended Colorado College [in Colorado Springs] while skiing as much as possible. I thought I would get a real job after college but graduated in 2008 [the height of the recession]. I moved to Jackson and got a job as a ski instructor, a backcountry snowmobile guide, and a raft guide for a couple of years. I got into the public relations field 10 years ago working with outdoor gear. From there, I moved to Boston and worked in tech PR for a number of years but missed the industry, so I started working for Parlor Custom Skis on the side, which I ski on today. Looking to get fully back into the industry that I loved, I took a job in communications for Mount Snow, Vermont, and that led me to my most recent job as Senior Communications Director for Peak Resorts, which was purchased by Vail last year. Now I am Senior Manager of Communications for Vail’s Eastern Region, which includes 20 resorts east of the Mississippi.
John: I grew up skiing Mount Snow and know that it had some water issues. Were you involved in solving the water problems there?
Jamie: I came in just as the West Lake Water Project was nearing completion. Prior to that, we had some major water issues. We used to just be able to pull from Snow Lake, which was undersized for our needs. The pond would run out of water several times a season and we’d have to simply stop making snow and let it refill. Mount Snow worked for decades to solve the water issue. It finally reclaimed some old gravel pits 5 miles south of the resort. We built a 120 million gallon reservoir there with amazing pumping capacity and an inflatable dam system to minimize impact upon local streams. Mount Snow has virtually limitless water and the most powerful snowmaking system in the Northeast. It can theoretically run flat out for 45 days and not run out of water.
John: Can you tell me about Peak’s acquisition of SnowTime?
Jamie: To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with the resorts before the acquisition occurred. I was a member of the marketing team, not the acquisition team. However in a small world moment, I did find out that a close family friend designed the lodges and layout of Whitetail. I was talking to him recently and learned that a key component of the design are the shallow stairs running from the drop off zone to the lodge. He told me that they figured out the perfect rise and run for stairs for someone wearing ski boots. They obsessed on small details such as this one. They built models and walked on them in ski boots to build the perfect set of stairs for a skier.
John: Whitetail is my favorite resort within two hours of DC.
Jamie: I was blown away the first time I went there and skied because of the variety of terrain, and the automated snowmaking system. I was skiing along and got hit by some less-than-dry snow on my goggles, which froze up. When I was riding up with the General Manager, he asked which gun it had been. He sent a text off and the gun immediately shut down and parked itself. The control room looks like they could launch rockets from there.
John: I have never seen more snow guns per square foot of terrain than at Whitetail.
Jamie: Their commitment to snowmaking was part of what made it attractive to me. Peak was always emphasizing snowmaking. In the Midwest, where it started, you can lose all your snow mid-season, and it will melt out to green grass. You have to have a system that can fire up and recover in time for the weekend. It’s absolutely shocking what Whitetail can do with the right weather pattern. You saw it this past season, which was quite warm. Part of the reason they can take advantage of any weather window is that automated system. The control room can flip much of the system remotely and each gun can make its own adjustments [water input] based on its own micro-climate due to onboard sensors.
John: Every day I skied there last season was fantastic.
Jamie: In looking at the SnowTime resorts, Liberty’s facilities are amazing: the great golf course, amazing hotel, and [day] lodge facilities as well as the commitment and ability to own tubing. These all stood out to us. That tubing setup can accommodate 17 lanes and has its own dedicated lodge. It’s a win for families and corporate events, for anything.
John: Not everyone in this area skis. Did you come up with the pass slogan, “How the East was ONE”? That was brilliant. Chris Diamond mentions it in his book, SKI INC 2020.
Jamie: I did. We [Peak Resorts] always we knew that we would not be the best choice for people who skied out West. But we know that people who drive to ski and were value oriented would love it. The Epic pass now adds one key element we were lacking: the western resorts. Where you are in the DC area, you have access to amazing airports with direct flights to a lot of places where we have resorts, and I don’t just mean Burlington, Vermont. The access to Denver and many other skier air hubs for the DC/Philly/Baltimore market makes the Epic Pass work so well down there. The Epic Military Pass is also going to do so well in the DC area, once folks realize what a screaming deal it is. Before Vail acquired us, we saw that pass roll out and it was a kick in the teeth. We could not match that price point [an all access Epic Military pass for active duty military is just $169].
John: Why did Vail purchase Peak?
Jamie: I don’t have a precise answer. We were 17 resorts that gave access to people in some major metropolitan areas that Epic did not have a lot of exposure to: Boston, Philly, New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbus, and Baltimore. Those markets made us very attractive to Vail.
John: For me personally, when Peak was purchased by Vail, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and convinced me to get on the Epic bandwagon.
Jamie: With the Peak Pass, we had a compelling product but adding in that Western ski trip was huge. That is what Peak missed and also Stowe and Okemo in Vermont and Sunapee in New Hampshire. Stowe is one of my favorite resorts.
John: Stowe is the first mountain my wife and I skied together as a couple. At the time, I had no idea you could even ski locally. I also skied there many times in college and high school. It’s a big a mountain.
Jamie: I will say that if you can get a local to show you the backcountry, it unlocks a whole new mountain. You have to be willing to hike and ski trees but it’s fun to explore. Just be sure you’re with the right people, because it can be easy to get turned around and end up cliffed out in the wrong places.
You touch on something that is one of our problems — that people don’t know about local skiing options. Everyone on DCSki knows this but it is a huge challenge.
John: You are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t ski locally because then you go out west and you face the combined challenges of altitude, weak ski muscles, and bigger mountains. There’s no better ski training than skiing. You can easily bag 35,000 vertical at Whitetail in a day and after a few days of that you will be ready for Vail.
Jamie: And you can train and be in shape but everyone gets weird aches and pains after the first few days of skiing. If you can warm up those bizarre muscles at Liberty, Whitetail, or Roundtop before heading out to the back bowls of Vail, you will be that much better and have a much longer ski day than your friends who skipped the local days. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, would you?
John: I am ready to take off work midweek to go to Whitetail whenever we get a good weather window.
Jamie: I remember the first day I rolled into Liberty. It was a midweek evening and DC had a snow day and it was bumping. Lots were full, bars were full, and I am thinking, is this every day? This place is amazing. No, no, the General Manager explained, “it’s a snow day in DC.”
John: When we think about going West in this region, we think about the direct flights to Denver and Salt Lake. Where else in the Epic galaxy should people in this region be looking at?
Jamie: Whistler. If you have never been out there, it is on its own level — every part of it from the skiing experience to the base area experience to the nightlife. Even the drive from Vancouver is amazing. It’s a bit more of a flight but absolutely worth it.
John: For people looking at Vail/Beaver Creek, do you recommend flying to Eagle or Denver airport?
Jamie: The shuttles are great for sure and can be a cost effective option. You have to weigh the duration of the trip and how much your time is worth and price sensitivity to airline tickets. It’s nice to fly right into Eagle but you can get some screaming deals into Denver via the usual search engines.
John: Besides the all-access Epic, what are some good options for this region?
Jamie: The Northeast Value Pass is a new product this year. It does have some blackout dates in Vermont [at Okemo, and Mount Snow and a 10 day limit at Stowe]. It’s a great value for those not planning to take a trip west [currently $599]. The Northeast Midweek Pass is another great option at just $449. Just remember to lock them in before Labor Day when the prices increase.
John: Have you skied Wildcat Mountain?
Jamie: I love it for many reasons. You pull up, park right at the lift, go ski some weirdness, come down, have a beer and burger, listen to a ski bum band. It’s got that rustic vibe. I would compare it to Arapaho Basin out west. I also like it because it is directly across the street from Tuckerman Ravine, so in the Spring, we go up there for a week-long ski trip. The focus is Tuckerman and other back country runs in the Presidential Range and our backup is Wildcat if the weather is bad. I love it in the Spring when everything softens up. There’s something special about skiing corn and slushy bumps and ending up on the deck with a beer in your hand. And the next day if you are up to it, boot pack it up Tuckerman. Plus the view from the top of Wildcat towards Mount Washington is insane.
John: Let me return to the Mid-Atlantic. What do you think about what’s going on at Timberline Mountain?
Jamie: New lifts are great but if the snowmaking is not dialed, you will be skiing on grass here in the Mid-Atlantic, so I hope they have everything dialed in for the coming season. I have been reading about Timberline. Honestly, while we are all in competition, we also want to see the industry as a whole thrive.
John: Will everyone rise with the rising tide?
Jamie: Independent resorts are great. They get people on the slopes. I learned to ski at an independent resort, the Dartmouth Skiway. It’s great when they get saved. This is what happened with Magic in Vermont. They had a great ownership group come in and make the improvements they’ve sorely needed, including purchasing a secondhand lift from Stratton. But the independents don’t offer the type of multi-mountain pass we offer.
John: My wife’s colleague typically uses his Epic Pass to make one trip to Vermont, one trip out West, and one trip to Europe per season in addition to skiing locally. So a lot of people here are not limited to a single destination region. Have you skied in Europe?
Jamie: I skied at Zermatt several times and loved it, but haven’t spent a ton of time in Europe. I also went to school in New Zealand and experienced an 18-month winter. I did winter in Colorado, winter in New Zealand, and winter in Colorado all while pretending to go to school. And it worked out great. Although, I will say that 18 months in ski boots is a lot, and that first day in flip flops on a beach felt amazing.
John: How will the virus affect things next winter? I have read that riding a chairlift with other skiers is quite safe.
Jamie: Yes, but that’s not your whole day. There are parking lots, lodges, and bathrooms. Did you listen to Rob’s [CEO of Vail Resorts] podcast Epic by Nature?
John: Yes. I am a loyal subscriber and listen to every podcast — typically during workouts.
Jamie: He offers some great insights about what drove the March closure and what we have been doing since then. We’re looking forward to skiing next winter and we know people want to get back to the mountains. We are already seeing that this summer. People who have been quarantined in apartments in cities are looking for that mountain escape. We are seeing it in Vermont and New Hampshire especially. We just need people to be a little patient. We are not going to be the first. Our number one focus is the safety of our guests and staff. Stay tuned.
John: Do you see grab and go lunches and breakfasts and dinners in the condo as the way forward?
Jamie: We are looking at different options and using the summer to learn, especially our golf courses. We will apply those lessons to the winter. We are also learning lessons from Australia. And we are also watching other resorts and hotel chains. What works and doesn’t. We don’t have all the answers yet but we will get there.
John: What is Vail doing to address weekend crowds?
Jamie: It’s tough and we are working on it. Everyone wants to ski weekends. I always tell people to look at how 50-100 day skiers ski. They pick their times. They ski early, they do lunch at 11, and ski at noon when others are taking a break, and then pop out again in the evening to take advantage of night skiing when things slow down. It’s no secret. The busiest times are 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on a Saturday. You have to learn to manage your local mountain from a skier’s perspective. Vail has some great lift wait time monitoring systems available through the Epic Mix app. You can get wait times in real time for various lifts and choose your lifts accordingly. We are rolling out these systems at more and more resorts. That’s part of our full Epic Mix plan. I do not have the rollout timetables for that for Whitetail and Liberty.
John: Vail is very forward looking in terms of sustainability. Once we get beyond COVID, are there any plans to create a Whitetail or Liberty shuttle?
Jamie: There are no firm plans but we are encouraging the use of public transportation. This issue has come up at the senior level in the Mid-Atlantic.
John: A weekend bus would certainly be great for all the obvious reasons. It’s also a great place to meet other skiers and build community. Of course, this is difficult now with COVID-19.
Jamie: I sit on the Southern Vermont Regional Transportation Authority and we have had some long and deep discussions on keeping riders safe during COVID. The discussions are very similar to the ones we are having in the ski industry.
John: There are so many advantages to public transit for skiers. It saves you from driving on snowy roads and you can nap after a long day on the slopes.
Jamie: Or have a beer at the bar and not worry about driving. The only danger of the bus is falling asleep after a bell to bell powder day and missing your stop. One person yawns and everyone falls asleep.
John: Any last thoughts?
Jamie: I just want to again emphasize the Epic Northeast Value Pass. It is a great product for people looking for a value-oriented product for the person who does not anticipate a western trip but does anticipate a drive up to New Hampshire, Vermont, or New York to Hunter. If you are ok navigating around some blackout dates, you can save a good amount of money. Prices change Labor Day. People who were 2019-20 Epic Pass holders need to act before that date to get their credit [20-80% of last year’s pass value depending how many days and when you used your pass]. You don’t want to leave money on the table.
John: And you can get value out of the pass in other ways — using the Epic Mountain shuttle, on-mountain dining at certain restaurants, ski rentals, lessons, etc. It can add up.
Jamie: Yes, the Epic Mountain Rewards we rolled out are substantial. People need to look closely at the rewards and take advantage of them because there are some great deals out there. You need to know your 20% food and beverage discounts, your buddy pass options, etc. I encourage people to look at the Epic benefits and commit them to heart.
John: I will do so.
Jamie: And the last thing I want to plug is the Epic Coverage this year. It offers peace of mind, whether it’s an injury, job change, a move. Whatever. It also expands coverage to protect you from certain resort closures, such as any due to COVID-19. There are a ton of things covered that will give people more assurance when they buy their season pass. The best part is that it’s free for all passholders! People should look at the coverage and the rewards in addition to the mountains covered by the pass.
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.
I always asked myself why it took Vail (and Alterra) so long to start buying up/affiliating mid Altantic resorts.