Waterville Valley: Skiing with the Big Boss

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Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
Waterville Valley, New Hampshire
Tim Smith, GM of Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire.
Tim Smith, GM of Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire.

We arrived in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire on a Sunday afternoon and it began snowing. A perfect event for our day of skiing with Tim Smith, the GM of this impressive operation that includes an entire village, a school, a big mountain all surrounded by the White Mountain National Park.

Waterville Valley is a 540-acre spot surrounded by the White Mountains National Forest. The nearest town is 22 miles away.
Waterville Valley is a 540-acre spot surrounded by the White Mountains National Forest. The nearest town is 22 miles away.
Mike O'Brien of Legends.
Mike O’Brien of Legends.

We learned a lot from Tim about the snowmaking as we rode the quad lift.  He said that some months during the peak season, the resort pays $350,000 a month for electricity to power the lifts and make snow!

He pointed out some sleek new snow guns that will reduce that huge bill by 2/3, and use far less water.  The water comes from the Mad River, they draw up to 4000 gallons per minute when the guns are blazing.

There are 600 employees here, running the lifts, staffing the bars and restaurants, and manning the Town Square, where a little village complete with grocery store, Mexican restaurant, pizza place, bookstore and toy store are all located below the condos they rent. It’s a perfect little village that’s nearly empty Monday through Thursday and then BOOMS for two days.

A big part of the draw here is the ice rink, where parents bring their hockey playing kids for tournaments. “If we didn’t have the rink, we’d be dead,” said Mike O’Brien, the proprietor of the restaurant, Legends 1291, where we ate last night.

Mike came here 30 years ago and graduated from Plymouth State College. He said he feels like he’s been on vacation ever since…he loves his job and he loves the people who come into the restaurant.  “Friday and Saturday, it’s crazy here….so busy. The rest of the week is pretty tough.”

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At the end of the ski day, we joined John Jarkistan on the Bison, one of the resorts huge sno-cats, and we climbed the hill sitting beside him as he skillfully used his joystick to navigate and control the blade in the front and the grinding wheel in the back that leaves a perfect corduroy pattern in the wake. 

We smoothed out moguls and kept pushing the snow toward the middle, as we worked our way up.  Every inch of terrain in the mountain would be groomed tonight, as it is every night, and his day would not end until 2 am.  He said he tries to put out the best product he can, smoothing every mogul and removing the ice–which Tim Smith refers to as ‘hard packed granular.’

The numbers across the board here are all high–from the annual revenue of about $9 million, to the staggering costs of electricity and salaries…it’s all a pretty complex dance that Tim knows very well. After all, he graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in Ski Area Management!