Last November, Tom Marano was named CEO of Intrawest Resorts Holdings, whose ski properties include Colorado's Steamboat and Winter Park and Canada's Blue Mountain. The longtime ski enthusiast's previous experience included 25 years at Bear Stearns. Marano, 53, spoke to hotels editor Danny King at the Mountain Travel Symposium in Whistler, British Columbia.
Q: In one Symposium panel, you brought up the need to increase customer diversity. How do you do that?
A: It costs $10 million to put in a new chairlift. Restaurants cost $8 million to $9 million, so there's a lot of capital involved. And when you look at the cost of skis and lessons, it gets expensive. But I've been looking at how we can branch out into a broader demographic. For instance, when we put in a tubing park, people would come up, but they didn't have gloves or the right clothing. So we rent clothing. Bringing options where people want to just try it once or twice before they make the commitment to buy a $40 pair of gloves, that's important. And if they really like what they're doing, they're going to come back.
Q: How did you get into skiing?
A: My first real ski trip was after college, meeting a bunch of friends at Winter Park, being dragged up to the top and following a bunch of knuckleheads down the bumps. That didn't work out so well, but there was one young woman there from the ski team who spent four days teaching me how to ski on more appropriate terrain. And I fell in love with it.
Q: How did you end up at Intrawest?
A: I was between jobs, and I was offered a couple of different things in finance that I didn't want to do. Some board members from Intrawest who I knew called me. I started talking to the company in early November, and by Nov. 17, I was in Denver. I don't regret it.
Q: Intrawest has had some financial swings since the recession (the company at one time owned Whistler Blackcomb as well as a majority stake in California's Mammoth Mountain, and it went public early last year). How's business?
A: Intrawest has gone from a defensive position over the last few years to thinking more offensively; how to grow. The capital structure is more sound today.
Q: What do you mean by thinking more offensively?
A: Focusing on capital improvements, and on growing things that the customers want. People have complained about the food, so we've made a concerted effort starting in Steamboat, migrating to Winter Park to improve the food experience, and were rolling that out across all the resorts. Some businesses have a demand problem. We have a capacity issue. You can fix that.
Q: Between consolidation and more strategic partnerships allowing customers to buy multi-resort passes, is the mountain resort industry becoming similar to airlines and code-sharing?
A: It's very similar. You're seeing prices go up at peak periods, and you're going to see that in more parts of the business -- lodging, rentals, lift tickets. I want to get in a position where, if somebody is walking into one of our restaurants and it's really crowded, I want their phone to go off and say, "no, wait over there." And I'd like to do the same with chairlifts. People get too focused on using RFID (radio frequency identification, which is often used for lift tickets) in ways that are whiz-bang, but it's really about keeping your guests informed while they're on the mountain.