Arriving from Colorado, Tracy Bartels worked for Vail Resorts for the past 20 years before assuming the role of general manager at Mount Sunapee just prior to the start of this season. Coming from the West with an impressive list of credentials both within and outside of the ski industry, she brings a new perspective and plenty of energy to the resort.
New England Ski Journal: I understand that prior to getting involved in the ski industry you were in another field. What is your background? What was it you were doing?
Tracy Bartels: I moved several times growing up but lived in Oakville, Ontario, from sixth grade through high school. I then went on to study and receive a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Missouri. After college I went to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas, Texas, working as an engineer in a factory assembling missile guidance systems. From there I moved on to United Technologies Carrier in Arkansas as an engineer designing and building a factory to build air conditioning compressors. Next came a stint in Alabama with Unitog where my job was to select a site and design and build a manufacturing and distribution center in Alabama.
NESJ: What made you leave that field and get into skiing?
Bartels: Unitog was sold. I was offered a job with the new owners but decided my time in the South was over and wanted to make a lifestyle change. My family had always vacationed in Breckenridge (Colorado), so my husband and I decided to move there. I started off at Breckenridge instructing 3- to 6-year olds. My own kids were little and it was a good opportunity to spend time with them.
NESJ: What came next?
Bartels: I spent 10 years working for the kids’ ski school, moving up from instructor to supervisor, then manager. In the summer I managed weddings and events, which also gave me experience in the food and beverage side of the resort business. This background plus my engineering experience prepared me for a move to Keystone as health and safety manager. Three years later I assumed the same role back at Breckenridge, where I stayed for another three years. I was then promoted back to Keystone as senior director of mountain operations.
NESJ: What duties did that position encompass?
Bartels: That included lift operations, lift maintenance, ski patrol, mountain safety, snowmaking, grooming, terrain parks, competition services and KAT (Keystone Adventure Tours offering guided snowcat experiences above tree line). Basically, all the non-revenue departments.
NESJ: How did your experience at Keystone prepare you for the GM position at Sunapee?
Bartels: I think all of my background prepared me. Industrial engineering is all about working with people and mechanics to accomplish a goal. These skills came into play in my health and safety manager positions. And combined with what I learned in those positions, they translate well into mountain operations, which, in turn, is a huge part of the general manager position. As GM my responsibilities also include food and beverage and ski school. My background managing all these departments has given me the experience and knowledge to take on the top position at Sunapee.
NESJ: Why did you decide to move east?
Bartels: The job! I’ve always been driven and have wanted to be a GM. I’m thrilled to be at Sunapee and have this opportunity.
NESJ: The mountains, the snow and the weather can be quite different out West than in the East.
Bartels: Especially with conditions related issues, the mountain ops team here has been really great. I rely on their expertise as to how we make snow and groom. For me it’s about working as a team and improving the guest experience. Working with all the senior managers here and listening to our guests is a big part of it.
NESJ: Has the transition to an Eastern resort been difficult? Is there a learning curve?
Bartels: There are differences. The biggest one is there are all different programs. For example, how important race programs are here. They are a much bigger deal here with proportionately many more participants. There’s a different feel to the resort also. I love the family feeling of Sunapee, how people care about it and the passion that goes along with it. There’s a much higher percentage of local skiers here, people you see a lot. Out West it’s more destination guests.
NESJ: Have you found the transition from a larger resort to a smaller one difficult?
Bartels: No, it doesn’t matter. I’m still doing the same thing. For me it’s an expanded role. I enjoy meeting challenges and new people. I have more opportunity to meet guests. I like talking to people and love the passion they have for Sunapee.
NESJ: What has been your main focus as GM this winter?
Bartels: Getting to know staff, guests, race team parents and the community. Developing relationships and learning the history of Sunapee and the role it plays in the local community. All of this is important in moving Sunapee forward.
NESJ: What do you see in terms of improvements for Mount Sunapee in the near future? Long term?
Bartels: In the near future it’s mostly infrastructure — replacing snowmaking pipe, new roofs on buildings, refreshing and updating facilities. These are necessary improvements that need to be done right away. Long term, updating the master development plan. This will include the West Bowl expansion and replacing the North Peak triple. We don’t have an exact timeline for that yet. It will be part of a data analysis for replacement across all of Vail Resorts.
NESJ: How much autonomy do you have? How much control does Vail exercise over your decisions?
Bartels: Most of the operational decisions about running the area are made here by myself and the senior management team. We set the budget for the resort locally, with approval by Vail Corp. On the big projects we work with vendors nationwide. Some policies come out of corporate — pass sales, ticket sales, employee benefits, billing, purchasing.
NESJ: What is the biggest challenge for Mount Sunapee in terms of increasing skier visits, skier satisfaction and revenue?
Bartels: Mother Nature. Across the industry in general looking at our systems such as snowmaking and grooming is essential. Balancing things out for Sunapee, like parking, seating, lift capacity, with number of guests is vital. And prioritizing how we spend our dollars.
NESJ: Anything else you’d like to add?
Bartels: We are fortunate to have a strong following of guests who have been here a long time. It’s also great to see an influx of Epic Pass holders who are here for the first time. As you know, Peak Resorts was recently purchased by Vail. With more Epic Pass holders entering into the mix, we look forward to more new guests. The Epic Pass provides a very affordable winter skiing experience at lots of resorts.