PCMR returns focus to the mountain
November 15, 2006
Peter Curtis, president and general manager of Park City Mountain Resort, thinks skiing has lost its focus. Many resorts are now more worried about improving the hamburgers they serve than their terrain.
Although he said on-mountain dining, shopping and other services are important, Curtis wants to put the focus back on the actual mountain.
"My vision for the resort is that I want to see people focus more on the downhill experience as opposed to the amenities of the resort," he said. "I think all those things are important, the shopping and the food, but the lift pass is still the biggest ticket item our guests pay for. That’s why people come."
One problem Curtis said he has seen repeatedly in his nine years at the resort is guests trapping themselves on a favorite run or lift and not branching out to experience the entire 3,300 acres of terrain and 104 runs.
"We had a local guy who complained when a specific lift was shut down because he skis the same run 15 times a day," Curtis said. "How many blue runs do we have? We have 50 of them. People need to go and see the mountain. If you say, at the end of the day, that you rode eight lifts and skied 20 different runs, you can say you got your money’s worth."
"I’d guess that the average guest, not the locals, but the average blue level skier might use maybe 35 percent of the blue level runs on the resort," he continued. "For me, that means we’re not doing a very good job helping people to enjoy the whole resort. That’s why we have this new mountain planner."
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The mountain planner, found at http://www.mymountainplanner.com, is an automated system in which guests plug in their skill level (green, blue, black), type of preferred terrain (groomed, bumps, trees, et cetera) and whether they want to take an energetic or relaxed approach to the day. The system then devises a day-plan, guiding the guest around the resort.
"We wanted to create a guide that can lead you to the types of runs you want to ski, but giving you the chance to see varying terrain on different parts of the mountain," he said. "It gives you something to measure your day by."
"We’ve become used to having a GPS system tell us where to go and this is like that," he said. "It will lead people to explore more of the mountain and people will like that. It also makes sure you’re not lost. When you’re lost in a car you’re not enjoying the scenery as you drive by and it’s the same here. We’re trying to make the experience seamless in trying to help our guests spread out and use the whole mountain."
When he goes out, Curtis said he enjoys exploring the mountain and changing the terrain. But, like everyone, he has his favorites, many of which are Signature Runs at PCMR.
"If I was going to take someone skiing here and I wanted to show them the things we’re doing to exploit more of the mountain, and that’s really what we’re trying to do here, I would probably take them on a tour of some of our Signature Runs," he said. "We’ve gone out and picked some of our best runs and we groom them on a rotating basis. I can tell you with almost 100 percent certainty when we’re going to groom your favorite run."
If he goes skiing by himself, Curtis said he skis a lot on Ski Team Ridge "because it’s quick, it’s close and it’s got some of the best vertical on the mountain."
"We also have a tremendous amount of black diamond terrain that we don’t get much credit for up in Jupiter and McConkey’s. There’s 750 acres of off-piste skiing up there that has a lot of variety and challenge to it."
Finding that often-unused territory is germane to why Curtis wanted to implement the mountain planner, and with the Signature Runs being frequently groomed, it makes the entire mountain accessible to a lot more people.
"Most of our guests look at the area on Ski Team Ridge three or four years ago and there’s no way in the world they would’ve tried it; now they can go down," he said. "There’s a sense of challenge, a sense of excitement. This grooming philosophy that we have opens up more of the mountain to more people."
Other than the mountain planner, Curtis said one of the biggest improvements on the mountain will come in the ski school.
"The biggest single thing we’re doing this year has to do with the ski school and the Signature Five Program for ages six to 14 years old, ski and snowboard," he said. "We’re guaranteeing that for any class, every day, all year long, there will be a maximum of five kids per class, which is a monumental departure from the norm in ski schools."
Curtis said parents always ask him why ski school class sizes have to be so large. This season, he wanted to take care of that problem. When he presented the idea to the ski school director last season, "he turned white and said I must be out of my mind," Curtis said. "But we did a trial run for three weeks and sold out every class."
In the program, the children ski with an instructor all day and have lunch at the Summit House, enjoying "real ski and snowboard food."
"I don’t care what you eat, if it’s in a lunchroom style environment then it’s not a pleasant experience. If you’re having a hot dog then there’s these hot dogs floating around in dirty water and there’s French fries ground into the carpet. This isn’t like that."
This season the program will open with full force. Although it is more expensive than a normal ski school, Curtis said it’s worth it.
"A kid’s philosophy is that if I’m not happy, you’re not happy," he said. "They usually decide where parents ski. If the kids have a good experience at a certain place the parents are going to want to go back there."
Also new this year is a lift at Silver Star that Curtis said will serve as a new entry and exit point on the mountain.
"It will dump you off on Temptation and I think once the locals learn how to use that one to get to the middle of the mountain it will be a great asset," he said.
One of the biggest expenditures of the off-season for PCMR was the new Alpine Coaster, which will remain open during the winter, and for which Curtis has issued a challenge to riders.
"If you take a ride on the coaster and, once you get to the bottom, you don’t say ‘I have to do that again,’ you’d be the first. Even I said that. I thought I was cruising pretty fast but once I got to the bottom the operator said it might have been the slowest run ever," Curtis said.
Overall, Curtis said he hopes the 2006-07 season is one in which people have fun skiing or snowboarding. With the focus back on the mountain, back on the experience, he said, hopefully that will happen.
"I want people to say that when they’ve left here they were able to take advantage of the whole mountain, have a good meal, have a good time and that they got their money’s worth."