New England Ski Journal recently visited with Erik Barnes, the new general manager at Ragged Mountain in New Hampshire, to get to know his background, his take on Ragged and what the future holds for the popular Granite State resort.
Ragged Mountain is owned by Pacific Group Resorts, based in Utah. Its holdings include Wisp Resort in Maryland, Wintergreen Resort in Virginia, Powderhorn Mountain in Colorado, and Mount Washington in British Columbia.
Barnes was named general manager of Ragged in the fall, after his predecessor moved to Wintergreen to head up the team there. Along with his wife, two daughters and two dogs, Barnes has relocated from West Chesterfield to Wilmot, New Hampshire.
New England Ski Journal: Where did you grow up and what is your educational background?
Erik Barnes: I grew up in Hinsdale, in the southwest corner of New Hampshire. After high school there, I was recruited to play soccer at Marietta College in Ohio, then studied business at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass.
NESJ: Did you always want to work in the ski industry or was it accidental?
Barnes: After working briefly at an engineering company in southern Vermont, I decided I wanted to work at a resort. So I applied to Mount Snow and started teaching in the ski school in 1986. I spent the first three years teaching beginners. In 1989, I became involved with PSIA and, moving up through the ranks, became an examiner in 2006, which I continue to do presently. During the summers I did computerized drafting for an oil company. In 2006, Peak Resorts purchased Mount Snow and I became full time in the ski business. My responsibilities included skier services, racing, child care, ski school and golf.
After a year, tickets, rentals, repair and retail were added to my responsibilities. In 2014, in addition to all of the above, I took on oversight of retail operations at all of Peak Resorts’ ski areas. One year later, the additional responsibility of overseeing operations at Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire was added. In 2017, I was appointed general manager of Mount Snow, giving up Crotched, but adding lifts, lodging, snowmaking and grooming to my list.
NESJ: What brought you to Ragged Mountain?
Barnes: I left Mount Snow when Peak Resorts was bought by Vail and worked for a while at a company where I managed two golf courses. But I missed the ski industry and my friends there, and when Ragged offered me the position of general manager this past October, I accepted. I was drawn to the property by how clean and organized it was and by how much the employees care about the resort.
NESJ: How have you found the transition from a larger resort to a smaller one?
Barnes: The volume is different. The sheer volume of issues is the biggest challenge. But it is refreshing to be able to interact with all the employees. At Mount Snow, there were 1,500, far too many to know individually. Here, there are 200, so I can get to know them and what motivates them.
NESJ: We’ve heard a lot about overcrowding and long lift lines at many areas. Has this been a problem at Ragged? Are you limiting day ticket sales?
Barnes: Overcrowding has not been a problem here yet. We are not limiting day ticket sales but do have an allotment of how many we sell online so that people can still buy tickets at the window. We have to gauge how many season-pass holders will come on a given day, and that can be tricky. But we have what I’d call a “small full” maze. Even when the maze looks very full, the 6-pack and quad lift lines move quickly and the waiting time is short.
NESJ: How about ski school? Do you have enough instructors to meet the demand?
Barnes: The ski school has been busy and we could use more instructors. There has been a lot of interest in private lessons. We are trying to keep a balance. We won’t be a massive ski school, but we strive for good quality. Compared to previous years, our dollar income is about the same as two years ago, but the volume is less than before. New technology is what we need to manage staff scheduling and advance bookings. Creating efficiency through systems technology is where it’s at.
NESJ: In this time of COVID protocols, have you found Ragged’s guests cooperative? You are allowing indoor bag storage and encouraging, but not requiring, masks indoors. And some of your food service venues are not open. Are you finding guests amenable to whatever restrictions are in place?
Barnes: Though we encourage, but don’t require, guests to wear masks, most people have been pretty good about wearing them. We require all employees in the lodge, learning center and rentals to mask up. As far as food service goes, our cafeteria is open as well as the Stone Hearth Bar, which carries a limited menu. We have also expanded food service to the third floor of the Red Barn, where there is another mini-bar and food may be ordered, picked up at the Stone Hearth and brought out there. The Birches, our table service restaurant, is not open, although its adjacent bar is. The reason for this is we have been struggling to find cooks and are just not able to staff another food service area. Our guests have been mostly pretty good. We’ve not really had any issues.
NESJ: What are your goals for this winter?
Barnes: There are several. First of all, understanding the systems here, how money comes in and moves around and making sure it makes sense. Secondly, understanding what my personnel are capable of, which then allows me to improve processes. I have to do more with less people. That’s been my first-year perspective.
Operationally, the area runs well. Snowmaking is different than what I’m used to. We have to bury a trail and then move on rather than covering a trail more lightly, then coming back to it later. It’s difficult to move equipment around since it’s not automated. We get quality through our grooming. Both our snowmaking and grooming crews do a fantastic job.
NESJ: What is your biggest challenge as GM?
Barnes: Several things. Personnel — having enough employees for the volume of business. Aging infrastructure — decisions on whether what we have can last. Prioritizing capital improvements — what do we have to have? What would be nice to have? What do we dream of?
NESJ: What is your favorite part of the job?
Barnes: Being back in the ski business and working with the employees. We have a great senior team. They put in time, are not afraid to speak their minds, and are very helpful. It is refreshing.
NESJ: What do you feel Ragged offers to guests that is unique from other resorts? What sets it apart?
Barnes: There is a very homey, friendly feeling. Every trail ends at the base lodge, so no member of a group will end up in another base area. The guest experience is different, too. We have a lot of regulars who know each other and the employees. The staff makes an effort to greet our guests. They are genuinely happy to see them and it shows. Also, corporate headquarters doesn’t get involved in day-to-day operations. I respect them for that.
NESJ: Have you considered joining one of the multi-pass programs?
Barnes: We have had no conversations about that. A concern is that the people who support us might be overrun, and that would not be good. The challenge is a balance between day tickets, which pay the bills, and season passes, which insulate you.
NESJ: What do you see in terms of improvements for Ragged in the near future? Long term?
Barnes: Capital improvements go through the corporate office, and some are not glamorous. In the near future, we need to improve some of the amenities — the bricks on walkways and patios, road paving, parking, building a deck off the bar. But rule number one is “Keep snow on the hill.” We have just started talking about how to make snow on both peaks at the same time. And also developing a three-, five-, seven- and 10-year plan. Being new here, I’m just getting involved in that.
NESJ: Many years ago there was cross-country skiing at Ragged. Do you foresee that making a comeback? It would seem the old golf course would be a natural for it.
Barnes: I didn’t know about the cross-country skiing. But we are always looking for ways to generate dollars.
NESJ: Do you anticipate a revival of the golf course in some form in the future?
Barnes: I don’t know. We have to understand the company’s vision and make sure the ski resort is functioning well and appealing. It is a very well-run company. They have visions they haven’t shared with me yet. That is something that is exciting to look forward to.
NESJ: What is the biggest challenge for Ragged in terms of increasing skier visits, skier satisfaction and revenue?
Barnes: Parking, snowmaking, size of the lodge and getting the word out. We must create efficiencies and offer a product that the guest sees as a value to them. We need to improve the infrastructure, which is more challenging and costly.
NESJ: What is the most rewarding thing about working here?
Barnes: How welcoming everyone is — from the CEO to the guy in the parking lot, the cashiers, everyone. It’s been amazing.
Joan Wallen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.