Waterville Valley is in good hands if enthusiasm, dedication, and experience count, and well on its way to becoming once again a dominant player on the region's snow sports scene.
"We're starting to rebuild the business, re-establish a culture here in the company among the staff that translates to the guests," Bob Fries told OnTheSnow the other day.
Fries was brought in as president when the Sununu family bought Waterville Valley from Booth Creek Resorts in October. Fries was vice-president and general manager of Waterville during the Tom Corcoran ownership years. He left Waterville Valley in 1992, and managed resorts from Breckenridge, Colo., to Stratton, Vt., including a stint at The Olympic Authority in Lake Placid.
Fries has been called an M.D. -- for " Mountain Doctor" -- brought in to fix ailing resorts. He laughs at the idea, but there is much truth in it.
Waterville remains viable, but has lost market share over the past few years, and Fries said his goal and that of the new owners is to restore the resort's position in the New England market, to develop a sound long-term master plan, and to get back into running world-class ski events on a regular basis.
"This place was run from California, the owners were Booth Creek, and they hadn't been here in some time. It was actually a couple of years since management had been here. The way you run a place from a distance is you set down rules and people follow the rules, but it loses the personal touch and personalization because staff are limited in maneuverability.
"We've got great people and we want to empower them and let them make decisions and treat the guests really well. That's taking hold, the attitude that, 'It's OK to do that; don't be afraid to make a decision; don't be afraid to solve the problem; it doesn't have to go up through channels'," Fries said.
"It's catching hold, and we're seeing the results from our season-pass holders, and our day guests. We get literally hundreds of e-mails a week, and we're getting pretty good feedback," he said.
Fries said Waterville is off to a great start, with business 15 percent ahead of last year, and revenues slightly ahead of budget.
"It's an aggressive budget, on revenues and skier numbers," he added.
"When this purchase took place and we looked at how Waterville was doing, we saw we had lost some market share over the years for a variety of reasons, and we intend to aggressively grow that back. Every year for the next four or five we have a fairly aggressive target to hit. We seem to be exceeding that goal so far this year," Fries said.
"On the expense side we're going to spend more money on customer service, on physical improvements. We're certainly concerned with the bottom line, but feel the future is in skier visits and market share," he said.
Fries said Waterville is working with the U.S. Forest Service and consultants to develop a new master plan. The last one was done in the late '90s, he said, and the Forest Service asks for one every 10 years.
"It's exciting to go through and think about what this place can look like in the future. We're looking beyond Forest Service land into the Valley itself and the private land, and thinking about what we want that to look like in 10 years," he said.
Waterville under Tom Corcoran hosted a series of Women's World Cup races, with the last one in 1991, Fries said.
His team is looking at bringing back world-class competition events to Waterville, although he said he doesn't know if World Cup racing will ever return to the East.
Time will tell.
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