by RENEE PATRICK Cascade Business News Feature Writer
Skiers and snowboarders shredding their way through the powder at Mt. Bachelor may not immediately notice the recent updates at the mountain, but the reality lies in creating a smoother and more efficient experience for snow sport lovers. With efforts to update lift and grooming operations paired with their renovated Mountain Gateway building and expanded charity programs, Mt. Bachelor’s efforts are a direct result of responding to visitor experiences.
“All the changes are guest driven,” said Mt. Bachelor’s Director of Marketing and Communications Andy Goggins. “We do surveys on the mountain from mid-December to mid-April totaling 2,500 surveys on site. Beyond that we did our first season pass holder survey last spring and will continue to do so. That data goes directly into our decisions making and the goal is to improve the guest experience. We want each and every day to be the best ski experience.”
Mt. Bachelor is in year five of a five year plan devoted to revamping their operations, “The last five summers have seen a lot of reinvestment in the infrastructure in the lifts and the groomers; [we completed]a lot of maintenance that needed to be caught up on including refurbishing all of our lifts.” Several of the behind-the-scenes changes this year included updating the lift infrastructure on the drive for Outback Express and purchasing a new groomer.
“We spent a lot of work building our foundation and refurbishing the lifts and grooming equipment; it will cycle out on a more routine basis with regular lift maintenance in the off season.”
Patrons to West Village area will notice the most visible addition to the mountain: the new administration and renovated Mountain Gateway building, formerly known as the Ski & Sport building. The traffic flow has changed to accommodate the buildings, and the renovated structure will service lift ticket sales, season pass processing as well as offer rentals and Snowsport lessons. “Now everything is located at the same sales counter and in the same building,” Goggins said.
“It will be a huge thing for our employee base. Right now our offices are scattered all over; it will provide a lot of efficiencies for staff resources.” The first year of a two year project, the building will be finished next year with offices and the renovation of the old guest services building converted to accommodate employee lockers.
“The first day of the season we filled more passes than we ever have,” said Goggins. “We got over the hurdle of how many people we can have in the building. Opening day this season was during one of the best powder days, so we had an influx of pass holders coming to get their passes done. It flowed pretty well and we got [the employees]up to speed, once we handled that we can now handle the holiday [traffic]better.
“All this foundation will lead up to the master development plan currently awaiting the U.S. Forest Service record of decision,” he continued. Mt. Bachelor released the draft of their environmental impact statement last spring, and then the plan passed through a public comment period. If the master plan is approved, the mountain will have a ten year development plan that will kick-off in the spring. It includes items like a new lift and ski trails east of the Rainbow Chair, a new base lodge and parking lot, and additional summer activities including downhill mountain biking, a new hiking trail and zip line.
The first full master plan update since the original plan approved by the Forest Service in 1981 is a culmination of Mt. Bachelor’s engagement with key stakeholder groups including local business and environmental leaders, recreation user groups, elected officials and the public at large.
“It has been a long time in the making and we feel good about the involvement with the community,” Goggins said. “If all things go as planned the decision is due to come out mid-winter.”
Mt. Bachelor Continues to Support the Community
Through a variety of charity programs introduced since 2005, Mt. Bachelor has generated over $475,000 in support of local non-profit organizations throughout the community. Including Charity Ski Weeks, Ski for Schools and the new 4 Central Oregon program to support the OSU-Cascades campus expansion, the mountain strives to support organizations aligned with their core values of focusing on the environment, kids and families in need.
“The OSU four year campus would be an amazing thing for the community,” Goggins said. “It’s something we got behind in the get go.” Over the course of the next five years Mt. Bachelor will sell a limited number of $49 tickets totaling $250,000 towards the expansion.
“Between these three different programs it’s good to be able to offer a discounted ticket to the mountain.”
Another focus for their local customer base is creating new skiers and snowboarders. The popularity of their Ski or Ride in 5 program is now in the fourth season. “The retention rate we have seen is unbelievable,” Goggins commented. “We have seen amazing success based on the ease of entry and the cost is an unbelievable value. We offer that upfront with the hopes they will be lifelong skiers and boarders.”
Weathering The Challenges
One of the biggest challenges Goggins identified in the successful operation of Mt. Bachelor was weather. As a resort with the highest skiable elevation in Oregon and Washington and half the mountain above tree line, the lifts are subjected to winds, rime ice and rapidly changing conditions.
“We are forced to adapt to the weather, it’s challenging,” he commented. “There is nothing to deflect the storms and the wind. It’s tough to educate what is happing up there when we have rapidly changing weather…we update the Facebook page regularly and make it a point to be brutally honest!”
The west side of the mountain and Summit chair are effected the most, with the Rainbow chair on the east side usually protected from the brunt of the elements. “A lot of times we have to re-educate what our lift recovery crews are doing over night; the mechanics literally have to pound the rime ice off. It’s amazing what goes into opening.”
Mt. Bachelor provides detailed weather information on the website, with grooming reports, 24 hour wind and temperature graphs and sensor data, visitors are able to keep up-to-date with conditions before making the drive up the mountain. The standard $76 ticket price is subject to drop to $59 for extreme weather days mid-season and for early/spring season.
The flip side to operating from the 360 degree summit of Mt. Bachelor are the extended spring and summer operations. A few years ago the resort returned to offering a longer season until the end of May and reopening on July 4.
Despite deciding to close the mountain mid-week during the spring season in 2012 due to bad weather during the holidays and the resulting low attendance to the mountain, the resort does not foresee the same for this year. ‘We are planning on remaining open daily until the end of May moving forward. We have had great success promoting what Bend has to offer that time of year, you can ski in the morning and mountain bike, climb and kayak in the afternoon; the multi sport opportunities are amazing,” he said.