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.