By Joe Stevens
Hello Everyone –
First off this week, a housekeeping thing to take care of before we get into the meat of this week’s column.
A big thank you to all the fans of SkiSoutheast.com who were at Massanutten Ski Resort for this Summit at the ’Nutt. It was great to get to meet some of this column’s faithful readers. Also, a couple big high fives to Mike Doble for putting on a great show for the attendees. When Mike throws a party, all I have to say is it’s done right and is fun.
Also, high fives go out to the management and staff of Massanutten Ski Resort for rolling out the white carpet and providing great conditions for every skier and snowboarder to enjoy.
Now onto this week’s column, which came about because of the previously mentioned summit.
You see, one of my best friends in the industry since just about day one has been Kenny Hess, the current General Manager of the ski area. Well, Kenny is taking down his GM nameplate July first, and there is going to be a new person in the ski resort’s big chair.
It was recently announced that Kameron Tucker will be taking over Kenny’s duties.
I took the opportunity during the summit to sit down with Kenny and pick his brain about his years in the ski industry.
I guess you can say it all started when Kenny was around six or seven years old, and he started making turns at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania.
Well, that got him on snow for the first time, and what got him in the industry was when he was a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia (about 20 minutes from Massanutten) and saw an ad in the paper for a job at the resort and got to have a chance to ski for free. His first job at the resort was working at the J-Bar. Kenny also worked his way onto the resort’s patrol, before moving to Vermont.
Then in 1986, then General Manager Steve Showalter contacted Kenny and offered him the Ski Patrol Director’s job and he hasn’t ever left.
I personally first caught up with Kenny during his early days on patrol and remember making some of my first turns with a ski patroller and learning exactly what their responsibilities were on the slopes.
While 1989 was the last time that I made turns with Kenny at Massanutten, Kenny made trips over to Snowshoe Mountain while I was the resort’s Communications Director and through my 16 seasons there, enjoyed some fun times on those slopes.
Through his years in the industry, Kenny has seen a lot of innovations come and go and during our chat he made it clear to me that one innovation has had a huge impact on the industry and that’s the upgrade in snowmaking technology, “At one time here, the most guns we could run was 24 or 25. Now we can turn on four times that many with a click of a mouse.
Twenty to 25 years ago, if it was 26 or 27 degrees for four or five hours, you probably didn’t even take advantage of that small window. Now, we can fire up in 10 minutes and start laying down snow on the slopes. The new technology has basically taken much of the guess work out of our snowmaking operation.”
Massanutten can make snow on all the resort’s 80 plus acres available for skiing, riding and tubing.
Along with being a leader in the Southeastern Ski Areas Association, Kenny served two three-year terms as a board member of the National Ski Association.
An easy question from me to Kenny was why he has hung around for over 35 years, “It’s been fun. I have had people ask me why I didn’t go somewhere else, why did I stay at little Massanutten. Well, because we are small, I got to do so many different things. I wasn’t siloed into any one department, which happens at the bigger resorts. To do all the things I have been able to do helped me learn a whole lot more about the industry. It just became my home and will continue to be.”
Back to the fun point, Kenny told me, “If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here. Yeah, there’s always a minor crisis every day, things you have to deal with, but that is part of what makes it fun. There is always something new and fresh. The most fun thing is to watch a family leave at the end of the day and the kids have smiles across their faces, asking their parents when they can come back. That sort of thing makes it all worthwhile for me and I have seen a lot of those smiles.”
The ski industry is one of the most competitive industries these days with all the resorts working hard to capture their share of the small market. However, there is a fondness among industry members that Kenny has always enjoyed, “It’s hard to describe how collaborative the ski industry is. You just never know when you have to pick up the phone and call another resort to see if they have a part that will help repair a broken lift. Not only will they provide the part they will meet you half way to help get the job done quicker. The folks helping you out know you would do the same for them. We all know that “Rising Tide Floats All Boats” and if something is good for an area, it is good for the entire region. We all work together to make the market pie get bigger, so that everyone grows.”
Kenny ended up our chat talking about the common bond among all the industry’s workers, “I am still in contact with the guys I worked with on the lifts in 1980. At the end of the day, we are all just like minded people and that makes it all real.”
So come July 1, no longer will Kenny Hess be heading up ski operations at Massanutten and those ski boots are going to be hard to fill.
That’s it for this week. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Your favorite slope is now open, so go make some turns and let gravity be your friend.