Interview Series
Interview Series: Ted McDowell, General Manager of Roundtop Mountain Resort 1
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor
In DCSki’s Interview Series, we take a look at interesting people who have a connection to the mountains. We recently interviewed Ted McDowell, who joined Pennsylvania’s Ski Roundtop as General Manager last season.
Ted McDowell serves as General Manager of Pennsylvania’s Roundtop Mountain Resort. Photo by Haley Mowery / Roundtop Mountain Resort.

Scott: You have a fascinating background in the ski industry, beginning as a waiter in 1998 at Northstar California, working your way up to Director of Mountain Dining at Heavenly Mountain Resort, and then taking the helm as General Manager of a major ski area in the Mid-Atlantic region. Was managing a ski resort always one of your career goals?

Ted: Yes! I have been passionate about skiing since the first time my father took me out on the slopes. During my freshman year at Penn State, I went on a trip to Innsbruck with the Ski Club, and I knew it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The next year I transferred to a small college in North Lake Tahoe to study Ski Business Management in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I worked in the restaurant business to help pay for school as it provided the best hours. After college, the night work F&B offered was still the best way for me to earn a living and spend as much time as possible skiing and enjoying the beautiful natural environment I lived in during the day. I worked in F&B to support my lifestyle and love of the Mountains. Using that F&B expertise to create an opportunity to operate a resort was always the end goal.

Scott: How has your background in food and beverage influenced your management style and decision-making as a General Manager?

Ted: Food and beverage operations require you to study and understand the many moving parts and fine details that come together to drive financial results with a razor-thin margin. Operating Food and Beverage outlets at large destination resorts with on-mountain lodges allowed me to gain insight into all areas of operations and see how they work together to be successful. F&B, in general, requires dedication to long hours in a high-volume & fast-paced environment, attention to detail, and a focus on the customer and employee experience. It also has more than its fair share of unique characters. All those things helped shape my management style and blend perfectly with being a GM of a ski resort.

Scott: Last season was your first at Roundtop, and it was one of the mildest winters we’ve had in awhile in the Mid-Atlantic. What challenges did that present for you?

Ted: Weather is always one of the biggest challenges for any ski resort operation. We do our best to get out in front of these challenges with regular capital improvements to our resort infrastructure. The lack of cold temperatures last year was certainly a challenge. It was also a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge of snowmaking operations by tapping into the depth of knowledge and lifetimes of experience that the Roundtop team has.

Scott: At any point, did you secretly crave going back to Heavenly, which received a whopping 400” of snow last season?

Ted: I lived in that area for over 30 years and have been through many big winters and heavy snowfall seasons. Living through those types of winters is something that I will never forget, it is a big part of my life and to be honest it’s something I carry as a badge of honor. Being at Roundtop is the right place for me now though and it never crossed my mind to head back to Heavenly last winter. Except maybe for a weekend of deep powder skiing and visiting some friends!

Scott: Beyond dealing with fickle weather in this region, what are some of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis as you manage the resort?

Ted: We face many of the same challenges as other resort and hospitality operations. Skiing and riding are activities that mostly happen when people have time away from other responsibilities and for most of us those times overlap. Managing an experience for guests and employees where they feel welcome and included during these times creates some challenges & opportunities throughout the season. We spend a lot of time training the entire staff and developing plans to manage our operations. As the season goes on, we are constantly revisiting what worked well and where we need to put more focus on improving the overall experience.

Scott: What has been your most rewarding day at Roundtop so far?

Ted: There are many rewarding days on the mountain but one that really stands out was when we hosted the local Special Olympics. It was a beautiful bluebird day, and the snow conditions were the best of the year. Seeing the athletes skiing in the opening parade carrying the flags and banners with smiles from ear to ear was an experience I will never forget. It was a very rewarding moment for both me and the whole Roundtop team.

Scott: As a General Manager, you have both internal and external responsibilities: overseeing teams and motivating employees, as well as managing the guest experience. Can you share your approach to balancing those two requirements?

Ted: Vail’s mission is to create the Experience of a Lifetime for our employees, so they, in turn, can create the Experience of a Lifetime for our guests. It is important that our employees feel valued and appreciated. That carries over into the guest experience. Increasing our minimum wage to $20 an hour, and providing employee perks like passes and discounts are some of the ways we are showing that appreciation. When making decisions we also focus on Vail’s core values: serve others, do good, have fun, be safe, do right, be inclusive and drive value. Following those values when making decisions leads to a positive impact on everyone.

Scott: Like all Mid-Atlantic resorts, Roundtop relies on snowmaking, which is an expensive operation and relies on a multitude of variables being just right. Can you describe the thought process that goes into deciding when to fire up the snow guns, and how that strategy might evolve through the course of a season?

Ted: We invest heavily in our snowmaking systems every year as our teams spend the summer upgrading everything from water and power lines to air compressors and water pumps. We are very strategic and focused on long-term improvements for our yearly upgrades. The individual components for snowmaking systems are very expensive so we map out high-priority areas and focus our efforts on those each year to be ready when the snowmaking windows open. We start the season building a base on our main runs to ride out any warm weather that might come. Once those areas have a good base we start spreading out to the rest of our Mountain and operations. Snowmaking is based on what is called the Wet Bulb, a combination of temperature and humidity. Ideal snowmaking is during cold and dry conditions. Often during natural snow, in this area, the humidity will be very high, and we are not able to make snow. If we can make snow, we will.

Scott: What is one thing that has surprised you about Roundtop?

Ted: I spent time here as a youth skiing and had a great time with my friends out enjoying the mountain, so I knew that experience was here. What I did not experience at that time was the wider connection to the community that exists here and the passion and ownership that our guests have for the mountain. I have worked at large destination resorts in the past and while there is some of that there it is at an entirely different level here. Our “Roundtoppers” care deeply about how we maintain the resort and the experience we provide. They let me know how they feel and what they would like to see happen. The vast majority of those comments are very positive, and they all come from that passion they have. We have been a community gathering spot for generations. We have two and in some cases three generations of the same family working with us. The sense of community here is unique and something we are all very proud of.

Scott: Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail are three of the ski areas closest to the Baltimore/Washington metro region, and each property has its own distinct character. How would you describe the essence of Roundtop in comparison to its nearby peers?

Ted: Roundtop is known as the “fun mountain”! We offer a new experience for those customers who are looking to explore. While close to metropolitan areas, the mountain is out in nature and away from the stresses of everyday life. Our employees are passionate about guest service, and we have many families that have worked here for generations. This creates a welcoming family feel that is something special to experience.

Scott: If someone has only been to Liberty or Whitetail, what would you say to convince them to give Roundtop a try?

Ted: One of the great things about skiing and riding is the diversity of opportunities available. The Vail Epic Pass allows our customers to explore a wide range of resorts across regions with one pass. Roundtop is the highest point in York County and provides amazing views of the region. Our runs also progress across the mountain. If you are looking at the mountain, the beginner runs are on the right, and they get more advanced as you look left. That provides a great experience for families and groups of friends who may be at different skill levels. They can progress across the mountain as their skills increase and everyone can meet on our centrally located Minuteman intermediate run before stopping into the base lodge for some Aprés.

Scott: Irv Naylor originally developed Ski Roundtop in 1964, and it remained a locally owned resort for many years, before being sold to Peak Resorts in 2018 and then Vail Resorts in 2019. What are some of the benefits to Vail’s ownership? The Epic Pass and the broad scope of skiing options it offers certainly comes to mind.

Ted: The Value of the Epic Pass, especially when purchased early, and the Epic Day Pass versus lift tickets - and the region’s connectivity - 8 awesome resorts just a short drive from one another all on one pass is certainly the top benefit! Operating resorts around the country and the world now also softens the impact of light winters in one region. This helps support consistent reinvestment in our infrastructure. If an independent resort experiences a bad winter the resources available to maintain or upgrade could be very limited for the next season. Vail can ride out these occasional regional fluctuations and continue to improve operations. The depth of knowledge and team support across the company is also an incredible advantage. I can reach out directly to numerous experts within Vail in any field within the industry and I know many of them personally. We also support each other when resorts close by need more help in any area to get through a project or special event; such as lift maintenance teams to build a lift, F&B to help a large event, or snowmakers to help a resort get up and running quicker. If you want to develop your career in the industry the options within Vail are unparalleled, take me as an example. My first job in the ski business was as a waiter!

Scott: Some skiers don’t realize that local ski resorts also offer activities year-round. What types of activities does Roundtop offer in the off-season? What is your favorite activity?

Ted: We host many events and activities throughout the summer at the Mountain. We have weeklong summer day camps for kids, paintball from April to November, adventure races, trail running events, and winter kick-off festivities like our very popular Ullr Fest. They each have a special place in my heart, but the summer camps hit on the core of what we do by creating the Experience of a Lifetime for children and staff. Seeing the kids making lifetime friends while spending the day playing outdoors without the distractions of screens, like I did as a kid, is my favorite part of the summer. Many of our summer staff also attended our camp programs and loved it so much that they kept the experience going by coming back and working with us each summer. That also provides the opportunity for more work experience at the mountain as many of those counselors also work with us during the winter season.

Scott: Across the span of your career, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the ski industry?

Ted: I have been around long enough to have seen the acceptance and growth of snowboarding and the impact that it had on the ski industry first-hand. That was a monumental shift in how resorts are designed and operate. I remember when resorts slowly started allowing snowboarding and the pushback from many skiers. Riding with my friends who snowboarded at the time gave me different ways of looking at lines to ride and it’s hard to imagine what would have happened to the sport of skiing without snowboarding now.

Scott: What changes do you predict in the coming years for resorts like Roundtop, specifically, and the broader ski industry as a whole?

Ted: One of Vail Resorts’ goals is to increase the diversity of our staff and customer base. My favorite program in this area is our Epic for Everyone program. This is a partnership between the Epic Promise and Katz Amsterdam foundations to provide access to our mountains by funding groups such as the Boys & Girls Club of America, The National Brotherhood of Skiers and SOS Outreach as well as groups local to Roundtop like the Yellow Breeches Educational Center to come out to our mountains throughout the winter. For many of these kids it’s the very first time they have been to the mountains and the joy they experience spreads to everyone involved. The experience builds confidence and gives them some insight into sports they otherwise may have never been exposed to.

Scott: Describe your perfect ski day.

Ted: A perfect day skiing for me starts early in the morning and gets me to the hill well before most people. I enjoy seeing the day get going and the energy of the morning. Cold temps are good but not too cold! It would start with meeting up with some friends and then heading off to ski new spots, laughing at and with each other as we enjoy the mountain. I’m a bit of a foodie but more in the Aprés time as I like to ski straight through the day with only quick stops for lunch and breaks. So, a good meal after a day of skiing is key to capping off the perfect ski day.

Scott: What are some of your passions beyond the ski slope?

Ted: I enjoy all things outdoors. One of my favorite things to do is get out on the water and do some kayak touring. I also deeply enjoy hiking and have been able to start spending some time exploring all the great trails in this region. I’m also passionate about helping others where I can. I have long been involved with community-based non-profits that focus on basic human needs like food insecurity as well as providing support for those in a time of need or crises. I am blessed to be in a position where I can help make a difference and feel it’s my obligation to do what I can, even if it’s playing a small part in these great organizations.

Scott: Are there any other words you’d like to share with Mid-Atlantic skiers and boarders?

Ted: Next year is our 60th anniversary and we are very excited to celebrate with all our loyal Roundtoppers as well as with those new customers that discover us every year. We are dedicated to constant improvements in all areas of our operation and providing the best experience we can. Our summer operations are expanding. Our kids’ summer day camp series is growing as well as our paintball operations. We have scheduled trail running and adventure races to keep the fun going year-round. We all work here because we love this mountain and this area. We want to share that passion with everyone, so I encourage you to come out and have some fun with us!

Scott: Thank you Ted, I appreciate your insight and time! Best wishes for a great season.

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About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

Crush
5 months ago
Member since 03/21/2004 🔗
1,271 posts
@Scott that was a great interview and Ted was such a resource. Nice to see the inside of the honeycomb I am not sure I am cut out to do Ted's duties. Bravo!

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