[img_assist|nid=308|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=250|height=199]By Kimet Hand
Photography by Hubert Schriebl
A conversation with newly-appointed Stratton President Sky Foulkes
Sky Foulkes has a 25 year history at Stratton and like many of his peers he worked his way around the resort gaining valuable experience in snowmaking, grooming, trail crew, golf course operations, ski patrol, lifts and mountain operations, before taking the helm as general manager back in 2002. The Rochester, New York native captains a committed, experienced, homegrown team of Stratton Resort managers, many with strong local ties, years of service and a familiarity and appreciation for the people and traditions of Stratton and the greater Stratton community.
Long-time friend of the mountain and Stratton Magazine contributor Kimet Hand sat down with Sky as he and the Stratton team were gearing up for the season.
Stratton Magazine: Sky, you’ve had a bird’s eye view of several ownership changes at Stratton, tell us what the most recent change means?
Sky: In October 2006, the Fortress Group purchased Canadian company Intrawest, of which Stratton is a wholly owned subsidiary. New York-based Fortress appreciates the variety, individuality and unique histories of each of the very different Intrawest Resorts. Even though Fortress is a much larger company than Intrawest, much of the responsibility for day-to-day operations, direction and community out-reach, has been placed firmly in the hands of our management team here at Stratton. Fortress definitely respects the fact that Stratton is its own place with its own distinct style. They value the richness of tradition at Stratton and the commitment of generations of loyal guests. Fortress principals hail from the very same Westchester, Fairfield, New Jersey communities that sent the original founding families to Stratton in 1961. They understand the east coast and New England skiing. It seems a good fit and there is clearly a sense of excitement on the mountain about the upcoming winter.
Stratton Magazine: What is new for this coming season?
Sky: We have invested $2 million in additional snowmaking and created a more "user-friendly" beginner experience. We’ve been busy enhancing our Learning Park, adding a 560-foot covered Magic Carpet lift, snowmaking on three more trails for 100 percent coverage on our primary teaching terrain, and a new kids’ Progression Park for learning to freeride. We also made Villager lift easier to access by moving it up 250 feet to more level ground. Together these improvements create the best beginner experience in the business so beginners, adults and children alike can learn the basics in a comfortable setting. Turning first-timers into snowsports enthusiasts is key.
Stratton Magazine: What are you personally most proud of at Stratton?
Sky: Despite some challenging weather patterns, Stratton has a well deserved reputation for providing great snow, with or without Mother Nature’s help. The historically dependable quality of Stratton’s snow surface is envied within the ski industry, and enjoyed by legions of Stratton guests. Our Great Snow Guarantee means anyone buying a lift ticket at Stratton can test the conditions for an hour of skiing or boarding and if not up to their expectations, we’ll give them a ticket to come back on another day. We are that confident in our ability to lay down a great surface.
Stratton Magazine: With all the positions you have held and now in your current role as president, how have your responsibilities changed?
Sky: Obviously, I spend more time in meetings and with spreadsheets than I did when I was on Ski Patrol. But what might be surprising is how much has remained the same. I still try to get on the snow every day, ride the lifts, talk with guests and employees and stay involved in our greater community. That’s the bottom line.
Stratton Magazine: Sky, you mention community, my connection to Stratton goes way back, and I know that there was always a great sense of community on the mountain. From the original vision of a close knit homeowner community, to development of the world class Stratton Mountain School, The Carlos Otis Clinic, Chapel of the Snows and The Stratton Foundation, Stratton has always been more than just a ski area.
Sky: Absolutely, Stratton was created around that commitment to families and community. It has always felt more like a community of friends and neighbors than just a ski resort. On any given day, you run into generations of families on the mountain and around the resort, both guests and employees. Kids who grew up here, learned to ski in JISP (founded decades ago as the Junior Instructional Ski Program) are now teaching skiing or snowboarding. And believe it or not, our snowboarding school celebrates 25 years this season.
Stratton Magazine: Are there specific programs to include neighboring townspeople at Stratton?
Sky: Each season we host JISP days and look forward to welcoming more than 2500 area youth including elementary school children from Winhall, Jamaica, Londonderry and Manchester who receive a Stratton Season Pass each year, JISPers and high school students who are part of the "Refuse to Use" program. Michael Cobb, our VP for Marketing and Peru resident, was the catalyst for creating "Refuse to Use" for local high school students who join educational programs and sign a pledge to abstain from alcohol, tobacco or drug use. Stratton rewards these students with a Season Pass.
Stratton Magazine: "The Corporation", "The Mountain", "Stratton Ski Area", "Stratton Resort", or simply Stratton are all names for the place that many thousands of people have found special for four and a half decades. In 1961, Stratton Corporation provided jobs for Vermonters and an exposure to Vermont and the sport of skiing for lots of families and folks from out-of-state. Fast forward to 2007: there are now 325 year-round employees, more than 1,400 in peak season, that’s a lot of jobs.
Sky: That’s important definitely. Our employees are the ones who make the Stratton experience memorable. The "Corporation" as Stratton was fondly known for many years, is truly the people who work here. It’s also important to note that Stratton employees and their families help make up the ranks of numerous area non-profit and civic boards, lending volunteer time and talent in both the towns of Stratton and Winhall and surrounding communities. Stratton is pleased to support scores of community organizations and initiatives. We are well represented each year at the Race for the Cure, which started in 1993 as a Stratton and McCall’s magazine initiative. Stratton employees give back to their communities in so many ways-from coaching baseball, to volunteering on the Rescue Squad or Fire Department, serving on school boards and with local government or working with the Green Mountain Club and other environmental organizations.
Stratton Magazine: The environment has become a hot topic today. I hear Stratton has taken a leadership role in carbon offsets?
Sky: Stratton was among the first ski resorts to "offset", when we purchased 100 percent renewable energy last year, but that was just the latest step in our "Fresh Tracks" initiative to "Protect, Preserve, Enjoy." Back in the ‘80s we launched a landmark black bear study with Vermont Fish and Wildlife, in the 90s, we were the first mountain in the nation to add clean air compressors for snowmaking. We joined with Vermont Institute of Natural Science to sponsor the Bicknell’s thrush study, which continues today. In 2000, we set aside 1,400 acres of wildlife habitat in conservation easements. I am very proud of our Green Team and the efforts that have earned us several environmental awards, including three national Silver Eagle awards and two Vermont Governor’s Environmental Awards.
Stratton Magazine: Like many Stratton employees, you and your wife, Sue, are active in the area.
Sky: Of course, that’s one of the great things about living in Vermont; everyone pitches in to make things happen. Sue has worked on Stratton Foundation events including the Mitten Collection and the recent Warm Coat Collection spearheaded by John LaPointe, VP of Retail, and his crew. We are very involved in local sports, as our son Tucker is a sophomore at Burr & Burton Academy and Tyler is in seventh grade at Flood Brook School. The boys are totally into sports and grew up on Stratton Mountain spending an average of six days a week on snow, boarding, skiing or XC skiing. We are active with West River Sports Association in both soccer and Nordic programs, and then there’s tennis too!
Stratton Magazine: Your Resort Management team gets involved too?
Sky: I am proud that members of our management team, both John LaPointe and Mike Cobb have volunteered on the board of the local Manchester and the Mountains Chamber of Commerce. Others are involved in Southern Vermont Arts Center, Race for the Cure, Habitat for Humanity … so many organizations. The more we can "shorten the distance" between Manchester and Stratton the better it is for all of us.
As "Fresh Tracks" are being laid down for the 2007-8 season, Stratton is reaching deeper into the area community, partnering with groups such as SVAC, Riley Rink at Hunter Park, Northshire Bookstore and The Stratton Foundation. A quick glance at Stratton’s recent season pass brochure reveals a desire to provide a variety of lift ticket programs enabling locals to ski Sundays or midweek when slopes are delightfully un-crowded. A midweek Women’s Ski/Snowboard/Snowshoe Program is in the works to welcome women, locals and visitors alike for fun on the mountain. The Stratton Trailblazers Club provides a great opportunity for "over 50" skiers and boarders to get together and enjoy the winter.
For the sixth year, Stratton joins Tubbs Snowshoes in supporting the local affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure with its Romp to Stomp Out Breast Cancer on February 9. Last year the event raised more than $50,000 for community breast cancer education, treatment and screening programs. This year the event is an entire weekend with a "Pink Suede Shoes" dinner dance, wine tasting, jewelry show in the Village and more. Visit www.stratton.com for more on this fund-raising event.
As partnerships mature, and community relationships strengthen, Stratton will continue to play a leadership role and help provide energy, vitality, volunteers and visitors for the myriad local Vermont activities that enrich all our seasons with culural, artistic and sporting events. The collaboration of Stratton, the vibrant second home community, area businesses, non-profits and community leaders and volunteers will continue to create a year-round dynamic that make this a particularly wonderful place to live, visit, work or raise our families.
Stratton founder and longtime sailor, Frank Snyder might have said: "A rising tide lifts all boats". As our interview wrapped up, Sky added with a chuckle, "Not too bad to have a little falling snow too…or even a lot".◊
Kimet Hand is the coordinator of the Stratton Mountain Archives Collection and a contributor to Stratton Magazine.