Chris Sununu, CEO of Waterville Valley Resort, talks at a recent Central New Hampshire Young Professionals event about his experience buying and rebuilding Waterville Valley Resort. (Ashley Finethy) (click for larger version)
April 11, 2012PLYMOUTH—Chris Sununu, CEO of Waterville Valley Ski Resort, addressed the crowded back room of Biederman's Deli and Pub to talk to young professionals with the help of Central New Hampshire Young Professional group during a networking event held April 4 at 5:30 p.m.
Sununu purchased Waterville Valley about 18 months ago, and spoke about adapting and learning the ski business, as well as his plans for bringing Waterville valley Resort back into contention for being the best resort in New Hampshire.
"Our real strategy was, first and foremost, to put the resort back into local hands," said Sununu. "Without a doubt, what has gone on in the past ten years in the industry is that more and more of the resorts are being bought by these national groups. They're not from New Hampshire, they're not from New England, and they don't understand the marker here. They understand how to sell tickets, and that's about it; there are a few exceptions."
Sununu talked about Waterville Valley being run out of California. When he purchased the resort, there were no organizational systems in place on site; no accounting system or ticketing system because it was all done by computer from out West.
"In this day in age, the one thing I appreciate as an engineer is you need to have the right technology for the future, and the future for us is not just buying and holding the mountain," said Sununu.
With big plans in the works to restore Waterville Valley to the top of the list for New Hampshire ski resorts, Sununu realizes that the success of the resort doesn't just depend on the resort itself, but the town in its entirety.
"We really need to expand," said Sununu. "We need to expand the town. Right now, we have the conference center, but if we have the same assets we have today and continue moving into the future, I am not going to achieve my goal; we are not going to be getting the valley and the region to where it needs to be."
With a background in civil and environmental engineering, Sununu explained to the audience that his background has helped him, maybe not to run the resort, but definitely take the right environmental precaution and do things the right way as plans are underway to expand Waterville Valley by adding new trails and lifts.
"The misconception out there is that the forest service is going to fight you on everything, and that they don't want you to expand and develop and be economically successful, but it's just the opposite," said Sununu. "They want you to be successful, but just do it responsibly. Do it as a partner, not as a combatant. So you go in there with the right attitude, smile a lot, and when they say no, you say okay and move on."
Sununu has a plan in the works currently to potentially more than double the 225 acres of skiing that Waterville currently has.
"It is going to be a lot, there is no doubt about it," said Sununu. "It is a big long ten year plan, but the fact of the matter is that Waterville has been stagnant for 20 years, while everyone else has slowly grown with a trail here or a lift there."
This ten year plan to expand will allow Sununu the time to do things right, he said; to talk to the right people, get the right input, get community input and address every last problem and concern.
"We want all of the input, and we want to take our time," said Sununu. "We want to make sure we do it responsibly because we know we can, and that will be our ticket to success."
Another ticket to success will be offering more than skiing to those who are looking to vacation at Waterville Valley Resort.
"I believe that in the 21st Century, you can't just be a ski ticket seller — you have to, as I call it, hedge your vacation," said Sununu. "As a person who plans vacations for my family, I want to hedge my bet. I want to know that when I go somewhere to go skiing, that it might be cold and windy, so what else is there to do? If I am driving down Route 49 or driving down 93, if my wife and kids are happy, I am happy."
Sununu pointed out that Waterville Valley is going to be designed with families in mind, with various activities at various costs, to give everyone something to enjoy.
"I appreciate the value of family, and we are really trying to design the place with families in mind, and with people's economic limitations in mind, having a variety of products," said Sununu.
Providing a variety of different products to consumers, from Sununu's consumer driven point of view, was important when deciding the future direction of the resort.
"Skiing is a very expensive business, and it's crazy, actually, how expensive it has gotten," said Sununu. "Being able to provide a variety of different products so people can break into the market and can feel comfortable doing it is a big thing for me."
After Sununu spoke, he stuck around as the rest of the evening turned into a networking event, which was the plan for Central New Hampshire Young Professionals president Peter Losingberg.
"We bring in someone interesting with local ties to speak, and then we hope the event dissolves into social networking," said Losingberg. "They people that attend these events are going to stay later, and want to have conversations after."
These discussion and network events are new to Central New Hampshire Young Professionals, and are used to bridge the gap between the group's two large annual events.
"We stated this about a year and a half ago," said Losingberg. "We had to book-end our year with two big events. One is an event around Christmas for Toys for Tots, and in the summer, we have The Taste of Newfound, which is our other big event. In between those two things, we do social networking."
These networking events have been a trial basis, with each event improving and changing a bit each time.
"For a while, it was that we would meet at Biedermans, and that wasn't much of a success, so we decided we should start bringing in speakers that would draw young professionals in," said Losingberg.
The group decided to bring in Sununu because it seemed that everyone was hearing rumors about Waterville Valley, but wasn't sure if any of them were true.
"Chris Sununu volunteered to come down," said Losingberg. "I thought he did a great job."
Central New Hampshire Young Professionals was created to help young professionals in rural communities' network and grow professionally through talking to other professionals and eventually provide professional development.
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