Best of luck to you Colin; perhaps you may want to visit the Escarpment this summer for some valuable lessons on how to run a year-round ski resort. If you are interested in hearing a perspective from someone who has worked at various resorts and has travelled extensively in the industry, please feel free to read on.
1. Listen to the locals, employees and long-time skiers/riders as they are your most dedicated supporters and most passionate members. Also, remember that most revenue at a ski resort is made off the hill.
2. Find ways to get non-skiers out there to relax in Northern Ontario’s rugged beauty. Get the members involved with promotion of the area’s beauty and recreation through free advertising such as social media and blogging.
3. Don’t forget about mountain bikers, four-wheelers, snowmobilers, hunters, campers, hikers, snowshoers, nordic skiers and fisherman. Offering lodging, relaxation and refuge for this population diversifies the long-term use of the facility if chairlift operations are no longer viable.
4. Redevelop and market a tube park (put it on the bunny hill) and watch hordes of kids/college students show up. Kamiskotia resort in Timmins made 100K in tubing revenue in one year. Tubing requires little skill/equipment investment from the rider and gives a rush that the thrill seeker is looking for.
5. Consider Landslide Hill/Finn Hill/Heyden as a potential future feeder program location for getting young kids introduced to snowsports and base your rental program and snowschool at any one of these hills. Most locals do not have the funds or dedication (yet) to purchase expensive equipment for multiple children. Letting them test drive the sport on terrain that is not intimidating is a great start in planting the seed for their future love of the sport.
6. Promote snowshoeing and consider allowing guests to rent them. Risk-averse and elderly people who still want to join the family at Searchmont and enjoy its pleasures will love an option that is inexpensive, safe and active. Craigleith Ski Club, one of the largest clubs in the world has about 50 percent of their membership involved in this inclusive sport. Also, organizing an annual charity snowshoe race gets the cardio crowd out and promotes the hill to a variety of people of all ages and athletic abilities.
7. Keep up with the Sault College relations, but be careful not to push the locals out of employment as seasonal employees are notoriously difficult to retain. Resist the temptation to cut costs by cutting hours. This will only breed resentment and negatively impact the long-term sustainability and continuity of the operation. Locals are there for life, while students are only there temporarily. Use the students to help the existing staff and you have a great source of energy, ideas and labour.
8. Don’t waste money on getting FIS homologation at the hill. That window has closed and it would have only helped the place in the early 2000’s. The participation rate in these events is pitiful at best. We had 7 girls in our race at Blue this year. Focus on junior events (U12 age group cohort is huge in ski racing and it promotes the hill to Torontonians).
I could go on and on, but these are the ideas that may potentially save headaches while maximizing revenue for long-term usage of the facility.
Your decisions and influence may allow the place to become a viable and sustainable tourist attraction and community centre.
I wish you the best and am excited to ski at Searchmont under your fresh new perspective.