BOLTON — Running a ski area is not for the easily discouraged, especially in the Northeast, where it can be 20 degrees below zero one day and raining two days later. Despite the daunting task, Lindsay DesLauriers, the new executive vice president and chief operating officer at Bolton Valley ski resort and her brothers, Evan (assistant director of hospitality, which oversees food and beverage, the hotel, and guest services) and Adam (director for back-country programs and the new free-ride ski program) are confident they have the right stuff to do the job.
Part of their confidence may come from the fact that operating a ski area is in their DNA. Their father, Ralph, and their grandfather, Roland, opened Bolton in 1966. Ralph ran the mountain for 30 years, sold it in 1997, and repurchased it with the extended DesLauriers family and other investors last year. Ralph is now president of the resort. Roland bought 8,000 acres in the Bolton Valley in 1964, mostly for the lumber. Ralph convinced his father the mountain was perfect for skiing and led the development of the resort. The current purchase was for 800 acres.
“Dad built the mountain with his dad," Lindsay DesLauriers said. "We all grew up here. We still live here. Our kids are here. It'd be hard to think of anyone who cared more about this place."
“You’d be hard pressed to find people more passionate about Bolton Valley than the DesLauriers, so it’s great to see them back, said Molly Mahar, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, which represent the state’s 23 resorts. "They know the ski business, so they know what they are getting into. It can be a tough business and it needs to be actively managed every day to be successful.”
The ski industry is big business in Vermont. According to Mahar, skiing generates $900 million in direct spending and $120 million in taxes in the state each year. There are 3,000 year-round employees and 9,000 seasonal employees statewide.
The first year for the third generation of DesLauriers has been a challenge, as it has for all ski areas in Vermont. There was frigid weather in the middle of the Christmas week, heavy rain on the Friday of the Martin Luther King, Jr weekend, and warm weather halfway through the President’s Day week celebration.
“We have a limited number of prime days each season, so it’s tough when we miss the major holidays, as we can’t get those days back,” Mahar said. “We had some unseasonably warm temperatures in late February, but when March hit, the storms started rolling through just in time. Skier days are down from last year, but we have steadily been making up ground.”
Lindsay agrees the first two months of the ski season were tough, but she is hopeful that the heavy March snowfall will bring skier visits close to last year, which was the best season at Bolton in a decade. Bolton averages 150,000 skier visits a year, according to Josh Arneson, the resort's public relations director.
What Bolton must do to make sure the resort thrives in a state with fickle winter weather, Lindsay said, is to improve facilities at the mountain, expand snowmaking, and add summer and winter programs.
“The resort must also be a year-round recreational hub,” Ralph said.
Bolton took its first step last summer toward upgrading its snowmaking when the pumps at Timberline (the lowest of three mountains at the resort) were improved, allowing for more water to be pushed uphill, more quickly. The resort also expanded its snow gun and hose inventory. Combined, the two upgrades allowed the resort to blow snow in multiple locations at the same time, which was not possible prior to the upgrades.
“The improvements allowed us to open the Timberline for Christmas week, which hadn’t been done for years,” Ralph said.
Bolton is hoping to sell 250 five-year adult season passes for $2,000 each, a $100 savings per year, to raise $500,000 to continue to expand snowmaking.
Work crews spent last summer repainting and catching up on overdue maintenance. They also started remodeling the base lodge and tavern to maximize efficiency. Bailey’s restaurant, which had been closed for several years, was reopened.
“Guests at the hotel had no place to eat breakfast except at the deli,” Ralph said.
A music series was added and there is a farmer’s market at the sports center every Sunday afternoon.
Adam launched a new guided, backcountry program and a youth free-ride team (ages 9-17). Prior to working at Bolton he filmed ski expeditions on three different continents for clients, including North Face and Warren Miller, and guided and instructed skiers throughout the western U.S., Canada, Alaska, South America, and the Alps.
The head coach for the freestyle ski program is Dave Wadleigh, a native Vermonter who returned to Vermont after working six seasons with Eric DesLauriers (another brother, who with brother Rob, pioneered big mountain “extreme” skiing and appeared in over a dozen Warren Miller films) coaching the Squaw Valley free-ride team. Free-ride skiing is similar to skiing seen in the Olympics, where skiers perform a number of challenging tricks in natural settings rather than manmade courses.
Lindsay, who was named chief operating officer on March 12, will oversee the day-to-day operations at Bolton, with a focus on the management of annual budgets and long-term planning and growth for the company.
She spent the past decade working in public policy and is the founder and outgoing state director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont, an organization that works with small business owners around Vermont on public policy issues.
One area where Bolton will not make any changes is in its commitment to families, Lindsay said.
Laurie Labrie, of Ontario, Canada, is happy the DesLauriers family is back in charge.
“I started coming to Bolton when I was about 3 years old in the late '60s. My parents chose Bolton because it had a day care. Since then my family has been coming every year, except the year it closed. The DesLauriers built a ski hill and ski resort that was great for families, affordable and provided a wonderful ski experience. We were very happy to hear that Ralph and a few of his kids are back at the helm. The improvements they have been making are noticeable and positive. This year there are approximately 200 of us from Ontario at Bolton for our March break, and nine of the families have third generation Bolton Valley skiers. We are having a great time and are enjoying the epic powder.”