After the U.S. government put Vermont's Jay Peak into receivership last year amid alleged ethics violations by the resort's owners (who, among other allegations, used government investing tools to enrich themselves under the guise of capital improvements), employees and passholders were largely left in the dark about the future of their beloved ski area.
Caught squarely in the middle was then chief marketing officer Steve Wright. Wright, a 49-year-old skier's skier and diehard Red Sox fan, was appointed president and general manager by the receivership, because, well, he was next in line. Ever since, Wright has worked to repay the good faith shown to the mountain by its skiers and employees.
"His style is to be the last person to take credit for the successes of the last year," says JJ Toland, Jay Peak's director of communications and events. "He will always belly up next to you at the bar and pick your brain about what you think. He'll chug some whiskey with folks and figure out what's between their ears."
The Rossignol 7G is the first ski I remember buying and paying full retail with my own cash. They were the longest skis I ever had—207s—they were really fast. I didn't start turning much until later on in my ski life.
There was a time before I was in the ski industry where I was making pretty good money, but I was also getting into a little bit of debt. I thought, If I don't go and move to the mountains now, I'm never going to be able to get away from a place where I'm needing to have money. So I saved up some dough and went to Killington and started working as a snow reporter, making nine bucks an hour.
We've done OK at Jay. We've failed, too. We were in the middle of a marketing campaign saying, "If you're not here for the mountain, you're not here." And they told me we were building a water park and I go, "Holy shit. That makes no sense."
If part of your brand is authenticity, there's only a few ways you can build a $50 million water park "authentically." [The park eventually cost $20 million.] We used old scrap from our resort's boneyard and ensured locals had affordable access to the park and we donated tickets to schools, regional groups, and charities. It's more difficult than you think.
I literally went from doing marketing to the next day trying to figure out how to not have this place sink. The only thing that kept coming into my brain was I have to keep the employees calmed down.
Shit. I didn't know what the fuck I was doing.
Every single weekend I'm making pizzas at the Stateside Cafeteria. Meeting people in the heat of the moment—when they just came off the mountain, they got stuck on a lift, the conditions are bad, they had a great experience in the water park—they're more honest with the guy picking up a tray, asking how their day is going.
I'm still not completely good at making pizza. I burn a lot of stuff over there.
We give up certain things in the ski industry—money and free time—but one of the things you get paid off on is being here every day.
On my desk I have a book called Fuck The World. It's a book with a lot of different signs with the word "fuck" in it. I have a kid's book written by a local guy, Ryan Anderson, called Terrapin's Travels. And I have the illustrated Oxford Dictionary. Fuck The World is pretty appropriate.
A lot of the older ski resort guard didn't put enough emphasis on their families. They'd die at the resort. They spent every woken moment here. I'm here seven days a week, but I hope my kids would say, "Despite the mountain, he was always at my shit."
My oldest daughter is going to school on a soccer scholarship. If I could tell 20-year-old me something, it'd be: Start saving for your kids' college before you even have them.
I don't know if the consolidation of the ski industry is going to allow for better wages. Ski resorts have trouble attracting and retaining talented people. The wage scale within the ski industry is probably not where it needs to be in order to attract the best people.
If I can accomplish anything in this role at Jay Peak, even if it means we're not growing skier visits, it's supporting our employees who stuck by us. I want to find a way to help them accomplish all the things they want to accomplish.
I had 26 days this season. For me, that's average. If I get four or five runs a day, I can call it a day. We had a good year this year.
This story originally published in the December 2017 issue of POWDER. To have award-winning content delivered right to your door, subscribe now.