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Windham Mountain New York Hot

thumb_SkierGreenville, NYLocated in the Great Northern Catskills, around 35 miles south of Albany, New York and two-and-a-half hours outside of Manhattan, you’ll find Windham Mountain, a resort that continually reinvests in itself in order to make the guest experience as good as it gets.

“All of our dollars are being spent to try and upgrade the experience for our guests. We know who our competition is and that’s not just other ski areas in the market,” says general manager Tim Woods. “It’s anything that our customers can do with their discretionary time and income. So we’re not only competing with Hunter Mountain and Stratton but also with Disney, the Cineplex, the mall and Xbox.”

To keep competitors at bay and produce a high-quality product, Tim says Windham Mountain puts its money where its mouth is. “We have invested about $12 million into our physical plant here, which includes three new chair lifts, a base lodge renovation, snowmaking, new pipe, new pumping, and the upgrade of food and beverage outlets, in just over the last few years.” That’s on the heels of the previous ownership group, which fixed up the area in the early eighties, and between that time and December 2005, $35 million was also spent on assorted refurbishments.

couple“When we reinvest in ourselves, it’s to continue to improve our product. In this difficult economy, what we have is proximity to the market and a quality product,” says Tim. “When the choice is stay-cation or staying close to home and forgoing a big trip to the beach or out West, we’re a good choice. People come here and get a full alpine experience in a festive atmosphere. We focus on entertainment in a big way.”

The resort’s core market comes from places such as Albany, Binghamton, Boston, the New York Metropolitan Area, and Philadelphia. “We have great roads between the metro area and our front door,” says Tim. “We have a large bed base at the mountain, but especially in this economy, we’ve seen an uptick in the percent of day trippers.”

Tim believes that the resort’s success over the past ten years is built upon one major foundation. “We’ve never lost sight of what our core business is,” he says. “There are many stories in our industry of previously successful ski-area operators hitting a slippery slope and then just blowing up because of a real estate market that’s completely collapsed. We’ve been able to maintain our core business of servicing our skiers and riders - that’s lift tickets, retail, lessons, rentals and food. We do have a little bit of real estate going on here, but that’s not our core focus.”Windham Mountain’s mission is very family-centric, but they also make sure to cater to everybody’s needs within that entity.

“We’ve got something here for everyone,” says Tim. “Kids are big drivers in the decision, and we’ve got a lot of family things to keep them engaged such as a tremendous youth program. In this business, the money’s in the bunny, so we try to market and draw that segment. But we’ve also got great adult programs, programs designed for women, and ones created for the upper intermediate skier that’s just looking for a breakthrough. Our programs are designed to cater to specific segments of our market.”

Tim also notes that the diversity of the terrain (typically Northeast - 20% expert, 20-25% beginner, and the remainder falls in the intermediate range) also helps cater to the adrenaline junkies. “We’ve got a lot of terrain on the mountain that caters to the free ride movement, and we have the first, and until recently, the only airbag on the East Coast. It’s basically a stunt bag in a controlled environment. There’s a large kicker and you can sail off it, do all these freestyle moves, and land on a cushion of air.”

BOARDER_ORANGE_SLEEVESIn the winter, the staff at Windham Mountain includes around 900 employees. In the off-season it’s a lot less, but the resort is still a big employer for the county. In terms of motivating such a large staff, Tim’s very candid about the experience. “It’s always a challenge. We spend a lot of time training, incentivizing, and tracking performance. There are several guest surveys conducted, and we try to react immediately to customer feedback - whether it’s positive or not. Reviews are always better in a good snow year. But even when the conditions aren’t great out there, everything we’re trying to do and every dollar we invest is to hedge against the inevitable poor snow year or rainy weekend. Part of our investment plan is to weatherproof our business.”

Maintaining the resort’s brand is achieved through a variety of channels, but the message is always the same. “The brand that we’re focused on is a playful, sophisticated, alpine experience. That message is core to every piece of paper we post for an event, the colors in our communications, the message in our radio advertising and in our print media,” says Tim. “It’s something that the majority of our staff is keenly aware of, and we all try hard to make sure that message is clearly communicated to our guests.”

thumb_village2Transitioning from winter to summer is no easy task, but the resort offers numerous activities to attract visitors. “We have an adventure park with tubing, a climbing wall, and bungee jumping lane, which is hugely popular with young kids. There are some great outdoor barbecue spots, sun decks, and a big fire pit. We have a growing banquet and wedding business that is 100% driven by what the customer wants. We’ve been holding bike events during the past couple of years, and we have the UCI (Universal Cycling International) World Cup Finals in August with 35 nations being represented; that’s going to be a big event for us. We’re working on trying to get a summer music series happening here too and looking at various activities to put this asset to work year-round.”

Working with outside purveyors and partners is also instrumental in the resort’s success. “We’re professionals and we treat every business relationship with a personal touch and professionalism. We take risks because we’re a capital-intensive, weather-dependent business, so it’s important to us to make sure that collaborations not only work for Windham Mountain but are also mutually beneficial,” says Tim. “The ski business is a small industry. Vendors who work with us work with resorts all over the country and bad news can travel fast, so we try to create long-term relationships that can weather the ups and downs of a poor economy. We work hard to establish good relationships, and we work even harder to keep them.”

thumb_Base_lodge_at_nightLong-term goals for Windham Mountain include continuing to upgrade facilities for winter sports and to start creating more reasons for people to visit in the shoulder seasons. “We’ll continue to work with the community to leverage this asset. We have the facilities and the infrastructure to help Windham attract some world-class events,” says Tim. “It isn’t just about bringing events to Windham Mountain, but to the village of Windham too. It’s for everyone’s benefit because we’re marketing what is nestled in the Catskills - the quintessential resort town - so that the resort and the town are working together. That way we can grow the pie in the off season when we can all use it.” For more information log onto www.windhammountain.com.

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