Jay Gamble, a 37-year veteran of the New England ski industry, has just been named the new general manager at Ragged Mountain Resort in Danbury, N.H., after serving the past 20 years as general manager at nearby Mount Sunapee. G
amble has served on the board of directors of Ski New Hampshire for the past two decades and, prior to his time at Sunapee, worked at Killington (Vermont), Sunday River (Maine) and for lift manufacturer Poma of America.
New England Ski Journal caught up with Gamble to talk a little skiing.
New England Ski Journal: When were you first introduced to the sport?
Jay Gamble: I was a “late arrival” to skiing with my first day of skiing at age 14. My family had a vacation home near Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and I grew up skiing mostly at Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Cataloochee. As such, I was never in any competitions or racing programs. I was a low intermediate skier through high school and early college years.
NESJ: What was it about skiing that captured your imagination?
Gamble: My fascination with skiing was a combination of a love for the North Carolina mountains, a love of skiing as an exciting sport and a curiosity about how ski area equipment works. Snowmaking and chairlifts fascinated me then and still do today.
NESJ: Why chairlifts?
Gamble: I remember counting the number of sheave wheels on chairlift towers while still in high school. I wanted to estimate what an engineer would use for the weight of the double chairs, including the two skiers in each chair, to calculate the weight supported by each sheave wheel. Remember that in the ’70s almost all chairlifts were double chairs.
I met the late Bob Ash when he was mountain manager at Beech Mountain and the owner/designer of Snow Storm and Avalanche Snow Guns. He became a friend who taught me about snow guns and helped me get into the industry full time.
NESJ: How did you transition from skiing as a sport into skiing as your profession?
Gamble: After college I made a couple trips to Europe skiing and decided at age 25 that I was going to leave my corporate job with a Fortune 100 company and be a “ski bum” for a few years. But my interest was not in skiing as much as I could, as much as diving deeper into snowmaking and chairlifts.
I also thought that many positions at ski areas are seasonal, such as ski instructors, and I wanted to get a full-time year position in mountain operations. I saw chairlift construction and/or snowmaking construction in the summer, and mountain operations management of those departments in the winter, as the path I wanted to pursue.
NESJ: What were your early jobs in the industry?
Gamble: In the early 1980s, I spent a summer building chairlifts with Lift Engineering & Manufacturing at Killington and Mount Snow. Many of the guys on the lift construction crew were from Western ski resorts and I thought I would go out west with them to Sun Valley, Idaho, or Heavenly Valley, California. But a love of New England, and a full-time, year-round job offer from Killington, kept me in Vermont.
In 1985 and 1986, I took a leave-ofabsence from Killington in the summer and fall to go to Sunday River to build chairlifts for Les Otten. In the four years 1985 to 1988, we built eight chairlifts and lots of ski trails and snowmaking at Sunday River. It was a great time!
I left Sunday River in 1992 to take a position as Eastern sales manager with Poma of America, who designed and built chairlifts and gondolas. And in 1998, Tim and Diane Mueller — then owners of Okemo, Sunapee and Crested Butte, Colorado — offered me the general manager position at Mount Sunapee, and I left Poma to accept that position.
NESJ: What has all this time working in New England taught you about the ski industry here?
Gamble: Ski resorts across New England and in New Hampshire are very competitive, and they are always improving their offerings to their guests. Every ski area must make capital improvements and constantly improve their guest service to stay competitive. Our guests have high expectations today.
Skiing is very unique in that no one has to be a spectator. It is not uncommon to see grandparents, parents and children all participating together on the slopes. The excitement of skiing and the joy of sharing it with friends and family is unlike any other sport.
NESJ: So your transition to Ragged will not be a difficult one.
Gamble: I’m very excited about the opportunity at Ragged Mountain. It is a fun mountain with a dedicated and loyal staff, and a very passionate group of season pass holders. Ragged is pure skiing in a beautiful New Hampshire mountain setting.
Ragged Mountain is near Mount Sunapee, so I know the local and regional markets. Both ski resorts share a common trait in that both need to convince skiers and riders take I-89 north into western New Hampshire instead of staying on I-93 north into the White Mountains and the northern New Hampshire ski resorts.
NESJ: What will you focus your efforts on at Ragged?
Gamble: Ragged has made many capital improvements under the Pacific Group Resorts’ ownership in recent years. They had an Express 6-passenger chairlift and Pacific Group added a new Express Quad chairlift a few years ago.
Also, they made significant investments in snowmaking system improvements as well as the grooming fleet. For this winter, an Axess RFID gates system has been installed at three chairlifts. Now, both season pass holders and ticket holders can go direct to the lifts and skip the ticket window.
I hope to continue improving Ragged’s facilities and physical assets while also working with their dedicated staff to enhance their guest services.
NESJ: Ragged Mountain was honored in May at the National Ski Areas Association annual meeting for attracting new participants to snowsports and retaining them as season pass holders. How has this been accomplished?
Gamble: Ragged launched the innovative “Mission: Affordable” season pass program, which has attracted many new skiers and riders to the mountain. It also created the Bebe Wood Free Learn-to-Ski program, which is introducing new skiers and riders to Ragged. Both of these programs are growing our great sport and also growing a loyal clientele for Ragged. There is very positive energy and momentum at Ragged that is very appealing for me.
NESJ: Generally speaking, consumers see day ticket prices soaring and are often scared away from the sport before giving it a chance. Can you talk a little about skiing affordability?
Gamble: Although the window price for skiing has gotten more expensive, season passes represent the greatest value that has ever been offered in the sport. Years ago, a break-even on a season pass was 18 to 20 days; now it is usually 8 to 10 days. That is a tremendous value! Ragged Mountain’s Mission Affordable Season Pass program has truly made skiing affordable with only 3 to 5 days to breakeven on a season pass purchase.
Also, ski resort offerings have never been greater. Multiple high-speed chairlifts, excellent and consistent snowmaking and grooming, modern lodges and outstanding guest service are the best the industry has ever offered. It is a very good time to be a passionate skier or rider, or a new skier or rider, as you get so much for so little if you commit to the sport.
Today’s Learn-to-Ski/Ride programs are also outstanding values. Ragged’s Bebe Wood Free LTS program will get you started building skills from the first day. Completing the program then opens up other valuable offers to help you continue enjoying skiing very affordability.
NESJ: What, after 37 years working in skiing, are some of your great memories about this sport?
Gamble: Although my career has been defined by being at ski resorts that were making significant capital improvements in chairlifts, snowmaking and buildings, it is the passion and dedication of the people in the ski industry that are my most rewarding memories. I’ve worked with so many great people and have many friends in this great industry.
Flying chairlift towers with helicopters, flying snowmaking pipe with helicopters, drilling and blasting granite ledge to make great ski trails, are always memorable adrenaline moments. Also, traveling and skiing so many ski mountains is always a thrill. While with Poma, I had the opportunity to ski at most of the major French ski resorts and many U.S. Western ski resorts.
Although not an expert skier at all, I’ve skied about 60 ski resorts in Colorado, California, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, West Virginia, North Carolina, Switzerland, France and Austria. I look forward to skiing many more mountains in many more states as well as going back to Zermatt at least one more time.
NESJ: How have the concerns about climate change been received within the ski industry?
Gamble: Every ski area operator I know believes in clean air, clean water and protecting our beautiful mountain environment. We are all working on energy-efficiency projects, recycling more waste, water conservation, erosion control and limiting air emissions to help maintain our environment. We all have to do our individual part at our local level to make a cumulative positive impact.
NESJ: Safe to say you’re happy living and working in New England?
Gamble: I love the mountains. I came into the ski industry for the winters, but I stayed for the summers, the winters and the people.