In this newsmaker interview, DCSki Columnist John Sherwood talked to Joe about Snowshoe, the local ski scene, and the future of snowsports in the region.
DCSki: What are the biggest changes that have occurred at Snowshoe during your 15 years at the mountain?
Stevens: There’s been a dramatic change every season since I first got here in 1990. During my first five years under the Tokyo Development Corporation, Snowshoe emerged as a true four-season resort with the opening of the golf course, the advent of summer events, and the beginning of a mountain biking program. With Intrawest’s acquisition of the resort ten years ago, more than a quarter of a billion dollars has been invested in terrain and lift improvements. Intrawest also built the Village at Snowshoe.
DCSki: When will terrain expansion occur on the Western Territory?
Stevens: There are plans for expansion but those plans are still on the drawing board and will not be announced until they are finalized.
DCSki: What are the challenges of Western Territory terrain expansion?
Stevens: Any time you expand skiing and snowboarding terrain, it’s not just about cutting down trees and making snow. There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into it. We at Snowshoe are stewards to the environment and all terrain expansion must have a sound environmental plan.
DCSki: The growth of terrain parks and features at Snowshoe has made it one of the most popular spots in the region for riders but has also angered some skiers, who resent seeing more and more terrain devoted to parks. Can you comment?
Stevens: That terrain is not just dedicated to snowboarders but is also open to skiers. At Snowshoe, we never discriminate against either group. Free skiing and freeriding are one of the few growth areas of the industry and everyone who enjoys the sport should recognize it. If we are to grow the sport, we need to make it exciting to the young age group and freeriding and free skiing adds to the excitement level.
DCSki: As someone who has visited nearly every resort in the region, you have some unique perspectives on the local snowsports scene. In addition to Snowshoe, what other resorts do you enjoy riding at?
Stevens: I learned to ski at Massanutten in the mid 1980s. My second day on the hill was at Wintergreen. Not enough people give our local mountains a chance because they do not realize how much fun you can have in this region. I learned to ski and ride in the area and will continue to ride in the area in the future.
DCSki: What are the biggest challenges to the local ski industry?
Stevens: Up-to-date and honest snow reporting. With the advent of the Internet, it’s easy for people to get information. When you are honest, people will remember you and come back. If you say rain, people won’t come that day but they will respect you and come another day or two or three.
DCSki: This year Wisp invested significant money in terrain expansion. Do you think this investment will pay off? What are your thoughts on Wisp?
Stevens: I believe they are heading in the correct direction.
DCSki: From our past conversations, I know you have a lot of respect for Seven Springs. Why is this resort so successful and where do you see it going in the next few years?
Stevens: It does not hurt to be 45 minutes outside of a large metropolitan area, but more importantly they understand what it takes to provide an excellent on-mountain experience.
DCSki: Seven Springs has pushed for many years for slot machines. Do you think mixing gambling with skiing is good for the industry? Will Snowshoe also push for a slot concession in the future?
Stevens: I can’t answer about Snowshoe but Lake Tahoe has been very successful with it. Gaming is a personal choice and can blend together with skiing.
DCSki: In the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, resorts do not rely on nature for snow: they make it. As Tom Blanzy, the general manager of Timberline once put it, “snowmaking is our main job.” During your tenure, Snowshoe developed one of the most powerful systems in the world. Can you comment on snowmaking at Snowshoe? How will it change over time?
Stevens: It’s the heartbeat of the season at Snowshoe Mountain. A good baseball manager always says you can’t have enough pitching; a mountain manager always will say you can’t have enough snow. The only way resorts in this area can have enough snow is through aggressive snowmaking.
DCSki: What is aggressive snowmaking?
Stevens: Utilizing modern equipment and technology and not being complacent with this infrastructure. Snowmaking should always be part of expansion plans and cover all acreage, but you also can never discount the human side of snowmaking and the sacrifices that snowmakers make to provide decent coverage for the skier or rider and the knowledge they have of the terrain and its snow needs. I don’t think enough skiers and riders respect the efforts of the snowmakers. They take it for granted. Snowmaking in this region, by far, is stronger than any other place in the world due to our dependence upon it and the people who do it: the snowmakers.
DCSki: What is the Media Center and what will you being doing there? Will you still be involved with snowsports?
Stevens: The Media Center primarily will be a media relations company, getting the correct word out for clients and friends. I will continue to ride and my name will still be popping up with regard to snowsports but when and where remains to be determined.
DCSki: On behalf of DCSki, I’d like to thank you for all the information you have provided to the web site over the years. You’ve been a big booster for DCSki since its founding in 1997. What are your thoughts on the web site’s content and articles?
Stevens: The content is excellent but the articles are sometimes too self-serving for the author. Everything is not always 100 percent at every resort and authors need to be more critical. With criticism comes improvement. The web site, overall, is one of the best sources of information about snowsports in the region and Scott Smith, the editor, has always been open to suggestions.
DCSki: What are your thoughts about the 2005-2006 Season? Will Yeti be generous this year?
Stevens: A ski season for a Communications Director is like a growing season for a farmer. You print the brochures, develop the web site content, and wait for it to snow (or rain). Whether you like it or not, you are not going to change the weather and like farming, everything depends on it.
DCSki: Thank you for your thoughts and best of luck in your new position.
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.