Tom Fortune skiing. (Adam Sanders / Stevens Pass)

Tom Fortune skiing. (Adam Sanders / Stevens Pass)

Stevens Pass interim manager’s goal: ‘Changing the vibe’ in 2022

Interview: After a rough season start, Tom Fortune wants to make the rest of the winter worthwhile for skiers.

STEVENS PASS — Tom Fortune first rode the ski school bus to Stevens Pass from his home in Edmonds in the second grade.

Fortune later began his career at the resort. He worked there for two decades, then took leadership roles at ski areas in other states, including Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho and Heavenly Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe.

Now he’s revisiting his roots, with the goal of making the second half of the ski season at Stevens Pass much better than the first.

Fortune was named interim general manager of the resort last month amid outcry from skiers and snowboarders about problems on the slopes, some 50 miles east of Everett on U.S. 2.

After half of the mountain remained closed through the New Year, pass holders called on parent company Vail Resorts for refunds to make up for long lift lines, parking problems and limited terrain.

Facing hundreds of consumer complaints with the Washington State Attorney General, Vail Resorts has offered pass holders a deal if they choose to return next season.

Under Fortune’s leadership, Stevens Pass reached an important milestone last weekend, when the beloved back side of the mountain reopened for the first time this winter.

He announced in a Jan. 29 Facebook post that the resort plans to extend the ski season if snow conditions permit. It typically ends in mid-April.

Fortune, who is also general manager at Heavenly, spoke to The Daily Herald on Wednesday about his return to Stevens.

Since you became the interim general manager of Stevens Pass, what changes have you made to address some of the concerns that customers and staff have expressed?

Tom Fortune (Adam Sanders / Stevens Pass)

Tom Fortune (Adam Sanders / Stevens Pass)

The first thing was just really working with the team and focusing on changing the vibe and the energy of the place. I’m happy to say that went pretty quickly, and it’s in a really good place right now. Besides that, opening the terrain and opening the lifts is the highest priority.

In the first two weeks, I’m proud of the success that the team has made. We’ve been able to open Kehr’s Chair. We’ve opened the backside, which is just amazing, amazing terrain. And it’s going to be open seven days a week starting (Feb. 4).

What progress have you made on hiring more employees?

The first step was really getting the support to the hiring team on the ground at Stevens Pass. And collaborating with our corporate HR and talent acquisition team and getting them on the same page. That was the first step. It really made a big difference. We’ve got a lot of people in the pipeline. And we’re, one by one, trying to convert all those into lift operators and employees. They’re coming from all over the place, so the interest level is quite high for this time of year.

You mentioned a change in the vibe and the energy. How have you tried to improve morale among staff?

It’s a special group of people. And being transparent and authentic with them and just cherishing the special, diverse qualities of all the people that work there and celebrating that — it really resonates with the team. I don’t think I’ve really done anything other than just be supportive and open to helping up there, and I think it’s gone over quite well. The other thing we have done is we’ve focused on the employee experience. We’ve done some events like free breakfast in the morning. … There’s a lot more of that to come.

What was it like to have the back side of the mountain open for the first time all season?

I was back there Friday morning, and I haven’t been back there in a long time, maybe 10 or 12 years or something. And it hit me instantly how — I get it. It is amazing terrain. And it’s long. It’s got great pitches. The sun was out. It dawned on me how special it is, and how important it is for that mountain and that resort and our guests and employees.

A lot of the people have said that they miss the way that the mountain used to be. How can you keep the culture at Stevens Pass community focused, even with its corporate ownership?

Vail Resorts is behind the leaders of the resort bringing their own authentic voice to the mountain. And having the unique qualities of the place — let that be the guiding principle.

Do you have plans to stick around in the long term?

I’m certainly not going to bail out before it’s time. I’ll stay as long as needed. I’m not going to leave my job and my post here at Heavenly, because it’s also a really special place. And I love that. But I will stay involved with Stevens Pass as long as I need to and as long as the company will have me there. Even when a new person is hired, I think that my involvement will be there for a while.

Is there anything else you want pass holders to know?

They’ve been heard. That’s good for the future of Stevens Pass and all the guests there. And I would ask for a little patience while we build. I would also want people to know that myself and the team are super committed to getting this done to the best of our ability. And I think the second half (of the season) will be great. The message is that we’re focused on making Stevens Pass the best place that it can possibly be.

Rachel Riley: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @rachel_m_riley.

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