Conversation with Mike Pratt

Recently, I spoke with Mike Pratt, Gore Mountain’s General Manager. This is the second of a two-part conversation with Gore management.

NYSkiBlog: Mike, where did you go to school?

Mike Pratt: SUNY Potsdam, Environmental Planning.

NYSB: What was your first job?

MP: I caddied and worked construction with my grandfather.

NYSB: At what age did you start riding/skiing?

MP: I started sledding and sliding as early as I can remember and grew up on snow. I mostly skied at small ghost ski areas like Fawn Ridge, Mt. Whitney, and Scott’s Cobble.

NYSB: How do you ride?

MP: I mostly Alpine ski, but enjoy Tele skis too.

NYSB: What is your favorite trail or glade at Gore? Why?

MP: Showcase, because it is such a great cruiser.

NYSB: How many days a year do you get out on the hill?

MP: Almost all of them.

HR: What makes Gore different from other mountains in the Northeast?

MP: The people make Gore special. The terrain is my favorite natural resource.

NYSB: Got to agree with you on that. What is your favorite thing about Gore?

MP: The history and heritage. North Creek is home to one of the first commercial ski areas and ski patrols in the US, and last year we celebrated the 75th anniversary of skiing here.

NYSB: What does Gore have to work hardest to improve?

MP: We are on a tremendous growth curve that continually makes us strive to exceed expectations. We are always challenged, so we need to continue our operational growth to meet these challenges.

NYSB: What was your best Gore day off the hill?

MP: That had to be when we received the environmental permits to tap the Hudson River and develop Bear Mountain.

NYSB: There seemed to be something limiting snowmaking over the holiday week. What was going on?

MP: Tuesday night, late, the power went out on the entire mountain – the entire 35,000 volt distribution system. When the power goes out – on the active lines, hoses and nozzles freeze.

The snowmaking system is 90% gravity drained. We can open up the valves at the bottom and let all the water run out. Even with the late hour of the outage and the extremely cold temps we were able to drain a big part of the system.

If the nozzles, hoses etc don’t freeze completely, we can run water through it, and selectively apply torches, and it will eventually clear the lines.

But if the hoses freeze solid, hoses have to be brought inside, to let them thaw out. It’s a big labor intensive job.

Another issue over the holiday was wind. We had major wind events on Tuesday and Sunday. When it’s really blowing snowmaking just isn’t very effective.

NYSB: In general, what is Gore’s snowmaking/grooming strategy?

MP: We cater to our families first. We always start with Bear Mountain. The East Side and Topridge. It just doesn’t make sense for us to hit the summit until we’ve got significant terrain up front. You see it at the beginning of the season, and you see it anytime Mother Nature sets us back.

Like any mountain, when we move to a new area we hit our “arterials” first. Sunway to Quicksilver on the East Side. Topridge. Cloud to Headwaters. Hawkeye.

We try to maximize our water pumping capacity. We sequence our recoveries: lower level and families, intermediates, then let the experts ski the snow in.

Grooming … it’s simple … try to determine if grooming will help the skiing. Then groom those trails.

NYSB: Assuming it stays cold, when will you start blowing on Rumor?

MP: Rumor should get started this weekend.

NYSB: What can you tell us about the future of paid parking? What are the chances it will remain unchanged next year? Would you consider publishing a schedule of PP days next year? Are you anticipating more or less spots dedicated to paid parking?

MP: We are analyzing the entire operation. We have already made some subtle adjustments and I am sure we will massage that operation a little more. Schedules are a good idea.

NYSB: You’ve said that you’ll evaluate the success of paid parking at the end of the season, and make decisions about what form it will take next year. How will you measure success? If it is considered a success will the program be extended to include more space at Whiteface?

MP: The evaluation has not been completed. Whiteface’s lot has defined their size so far. I am sure that they are evaluating their operation too, but I have not discussed the future plans of their lot with their management.

NYSB: Lift #14 – connecting the base of the Ski Bowl to the Base of Gore has been called the “Gondi to Nowhere” because it would add no vertical terrain. What can you tell us about your opinion of Lift #14 and the status of the lift?

MP: This is a great idea whose time has not come. The concept of two-way riding from base area to base area has a lot of year round, 24/7 merit. The demand is not here yet.

NYSB: What is your opinion on a transfer lift that would go from downtown NC to the Ski Bowl?

MP: Same answer.

NYSB: What percentage of Gore’s total revenue comes from pass holders?

MP: We are very committed to our pass holders. They represent 20% of our total business. This is up from 5% fourteen years ago, so we’ve seen real growth in this area. I think it’s because we’ve expanded our terrain, our amenities, our uphill lift capacity and our tree skiing.

And yes… our snowmaking. While snowmaking depends on a lot of factors, some of which are out of our control …. look at the improvements we’ve made…. Water from the Hudson and close to 200 Tower Guns have been added. More groomers. Anybody who’s skied here for ten years or more KNOWS we are doing a better job.

We understand that customers expect constant improvement … that’s their job.

NYSB: When the snowmaking system is functioning at full capacity, what factor limits snow production? Water, compression, labor? Every system has a limiting factor – what is that limiting factor for Gore Snowmaking?

MP: We always strive to maximize the pumping capacity. When we are limited by air capacity it is typically when it is marginal and our production is less because we have water to spare.

NYSB: I’m curious about the cost of running individual lifts. If the mountain is open, what is the incremental cost of adding one more lift to the roster for the day?

MP: The incremental costs are varied. Required maintenance, operators, grooming, and patrolling all affect the costs. My guess would be $3000 to add the High Peaks Chair for a day.

NYSB: The parking issue seems to be getting the most push back from Gore pass holders … In my experience, two things that pass holders care about are season length, and mid-week operations.

I think Gore has done an excellent job of extending the season since you’ve been running the show. While the beginning of the season is relatively fixed around Thanksgiving, you’ve been providing good skiing well into April, by stockpiling snow in strategic spots around the mountain.

With regard to midweek lifts… I know pass holders would like more access to the High Peaks Chair or the North Chair during the season. From the input I’ve had on Harvey Road, adding the High Peaks Chair even one day per week, maybe a Thursday, would encourage both day and destination skiers to travel to Gore more often.

Would you consider dedicating a portion of parking revenue to boost midweek lift operations?

MP: Our goal is to operate more and longer, so if successful, this will happen.

NYSB: Which ski areas or geographic region do you consider to be Gore’s principal competition?

MP: Central and Southern Vermont.

NYSB: What do you want the Gore faithful to know about Gore?

MP: I think the Gore faithful know the facility is operated by a group of high quality people who really care about the Mountain, the Guests, and their jobs.

NYSB: Mike thanks for all your time, energy and patience, and thanks for showing me around on Friday.

MP: You’re welcome.

11 comments on “Conversation with Mike Pratt

  1. I’ve been skiing Gore since mid-80s and have always like the mountain in terms of terrain. I’m a season pass holder and can sympathize with the frustrations of mid-week skiers because my off days are Thursday and Friday. Guess I don’t get bent out of shape about too many things but confess it did bother me when I brought my family up to Gore for “bring your son to Gore” week in March. I checked the Gore web site Sunday about 2pm after church (I’m a pastor) and there was no mention of any closing. Got my wife and three kids in the car at 4am on Monday and made the 300 mile drive to our cabin near Gore. Dropped my wife and two daughters at the cabin and my son and I headed for Gore only to find it CLOSED. This was March 22nd! There was a very light rain but I sure would not have stopped us!

    A guy in a loader in the parking lot stopped and I asked him what was going on and he said we are closed till Wednesday. He said (not sure this is true) that I wasn’t the only one mad, there were employees who came in to work only to be sent home.

    I LIKE Gore Mt a lot and I don’t blame everything on Mike. We also have a vested interest in the area because we just built a new log home. But when your web site has advertised this special week for father’s and sons for MONTHS how can you just pull the plug on it? What about people who drove hundreds of miles like I did? Example of a very second rate move by a first rate mountain.

  2. As the previous commenter mentioned, when you’re the GM of a state-run/ORDA-run ski area, you can only give out so much information about certain issues (and these are usually the things people are REALLY interested in). That’s probably why he gives the appearance of being evasive. A tough position to be in… I’m sure the income the mountain is taking in from gold parking is nothing compared to the headaches it's caused.

  3. Harv, thanks for doing the work. Mike revealed many things and danced around many things. I think he has to tread lightly because of the ORDA Board. I think he truly likes the place and has never had the tools needed to do things the right way. The lack of snowmaking capacity on the mountain goes back many years. They do not have enough pump capacity and when a marginal snow year combines with a power failure/pump problem you have a lack of snowmaking on the mountain.

    I have 3 questions for next time:
    1. Is Gore cash flow positive/profitable?
    2. When will Gore market itself in the NYC market? (NJ, Westchester/Rockland /Orange/Putnum Counties)
    3. Why the refusal to install web cams?

  4. Great interview. Honest, straight forward access to Gore management. I’ve been skiing for over 40 years and have skied over 60 different ski areas in N. America. Taking Deer Valley, Alta, Taos and Grey Rocks off my list and Gore would be in the top five.

  5. “What is this, Russian Skiing?” Hilarious. Gulag Mountain State Controlled Ski Facility.

    Hey Anon, I bet if you were wearing some sort of ticket that acknowledged the risks associated with skinning and forfeited your right to sue should you get run over by a skier or machinery, or the rumor headwall slides on you, they might let you. And why does it need to be a policy? It is easy as pie to discreetly leave the boundary for someone with a well planned adventure. It would be incredibly dangerous for the underprepared to assume that this was encouraged due to some written policy. There is a whole lotta nothing out there and it is not “all downhill til ya get to a road” for much of it.

    I feel ya on the Burnt Ridge though. “Burnt Ridge Mountain” just doesn’t feel right.

  6. Here is a question. Since Gore is on State Land and access is restricted to that land, when will Gore have a more elighntened attitude about uphill skinners who want to utilize state land under their own power and when will Gore allow open boundaries? Several ski areas in VT don’t hassle skinners – especially early in the morning before lifts run or at night and skiing out of bounds is at your own risk, they way it should be. Oh yeah, it really sucks that the leanto on Burnt Ridge was removed and that the Schaeffer trail was so disrupted – again more state land that has been annexed and access restricted for a commercial enterprise.

  7. Dear Mr Pratt: Thanks for speaking with Harv, but you left still many unanswered questions. I’ll give you a little break on the snowmaking this year (though it’s interesting how no one else has the same problems). But as much as Gore is trying to play in the Big Leagues, you are still not there. How on earth is the Interconnect going to work, if the North Quad is shut 5 out of 7 days? Can’t get back from there once you cross over. Also, as someone who started skiing Gore 37 years ago, the midweek closures are beyond a bummer. I get one ski week a year…I’m now too faraway for weekend trips. But as sad as this makes me to say, my big trip next month may be Okemo or Kmart this year…because I want a mountain that’s open on a Wednesday! I learned to ski on Gorree Gully (yes, that was the beginner slope in the 70s, had a chair on it). Moved up to Sunway and Pete Gay. In High School did “bombing runs” up and down on Tawahus and Sleeping Bear all day, before graduating to Hawkeye & Chat in college (no Rumor or Lies back then). But for me to take a ski week back at my first love (it wasn’t a girl in my 7th grade class, it was Gore), that means maybe missing a third of the mountain, due to budget cutting shutdowns. Anyone see budget cutting shutdowns at Stratton? (no top half of Stratton this week, folks, budget is too tight!) Look, back in the 70s and 80s Gore had a huge advantage: tickets were half the price of VT.

    Then, early 80s, West Mountain’s lawyers had a hissy fit about unfair competition from the State, and Gores prices rose accordingly. Without the price advantage, why will destination skiers choose a mountain with few amenities, about half the natural snow of southern VT, more wind than southern VT, and now a third of the mountain shut down midweek to save $3,000 or whatever (that price guesstimate sounds way too high). By the way, did you ever hear about Killington having no snowmaking because of a broken water pump? What is this, Russian skiing? How about focusing on improving what you have before building an Interconnect…that probably won’t have a budget to run during the week anyway. I hate not visiting Gore this year, but with whole sections closed, icy trails, no natural snow (it all dumped on Burlington instead), and no price advantage…Okemo and Mt Snow are tempting. And I don’t think I am the only skier who feels jilted this way.

  8. Harv, very interesting piece. That was a great suggestion to add the High Peaks chair for one scheduled day per week. That whole issue of midweek lift/terrain closures is an important one for me. I’m a passholder, but I don’t get to ski 40 or 50 days in a season, maybe half that if I’m lucky. If there’s good snow and I get the opportunity to take a mental health day from work mid-week, I’d really like to have the full mtn available. Knowing that the darkside would be open on say every Thurs for example would definitely help that decision making process.

    One last thought – I gotta question that $3 thousand per day figure for running the HP chair and opening the Darkside. Two guys running the chair at $20 per hour each, some utilities costs (electricity) but that’s it. We’re talking several hundred bucks, not $3 grand. Additional costs for grooming & ski patrol, I don’t buy that. I can’t think of another major resort that just shuts down significant portions of its terrain mid-week for no other reason than cost saving. Good skiing with you this morning, hope to make some more turns in the woods with you soon.

  9. Great job Harv. Your efforts are much appreciated. Takes lots of time to get something like this together. I was up at WF on Saturday, what a beautiful day to be on in the mountains.

    Keep up the good work.

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