Please consider culture, not just cash, in the sale of Jay Peak Resort.
BY CALEB MAGOON
As most folks in Vermont are aware, receiver Michael Goldberg, the man whom the U.S. courts appointed to run Jay Peak Resort for the last couple of years (following the fraudulent use of EB-5 funds by former owners Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger), has placed all resort assets up for sale.
Recent reports from Goldberg have revealed that of 125 interested parties, 26 signed non-disclosure agreements to gander at the company financials. While this is good news for all parties looking to move on, the local and loyal Jay crowd is waiting with great trepidation to learn who the new owner will be and the ultimate fate of the resort.
As we have seen throughout Vermont in recent decades, new resort owners can significantly change the complexion of the establishments they buy. For those of us who like the resort we have, we’re all hoping Goldberg will consider culture and not just cash in selecting the entity that will hold a big part of this resort’s future in their hands.
A resort like Jay is not just about money. Yes, the goal is always to have a viable, profitable business that can be an economic engine in a part of Vermont that needs it most. It’s also important we recognize that Goldberg has a responsibility to the investors who were victims of the fraud. He is tasked with returning as much of that investment money as is possible.
But returning those monies can’t be at the expense of the customers, employees and communities tied to Jay Peak. Let’s be clear—those investments were unsecured and solely the responsibility of the investors. While no one doubts a fraud was perpetrated, most of the investors had a temporary interest in Jay. Our community investment on the other hand, is a permanent one.
Everyone has an opinion regarding the expansion of Jay and the fraud that allowed it. Many locals, while understanding and lamenting the crimes committed, also recognize the good that was done to the resort; bringing Jay into the modern era and putting it on a path to sustainability. Resort managers also did something unique: While embarking on a significant scaling up of the resort, they maintained the culture and character that made this far-flung gem a truly unique place. Bill Stenger, the arguably complicit captain at the helm can be credited for this feat. It was by no means him alone, but his management team led by Steve Wright (the former marketing director and now general manager) that made it happen. Talk to the locals and they will tell you this team built Jay into a powerhouse while keeping it true to its roots.
Those roots and the inherent identity of Jay is a unique one. Jay isn’t centrally located; it isn’t a high-traffic, over-priced, corporate-culture resort as seems to be increasingly the norm in the industry.
Staff, hardcore enthusiasts and even tourists drive just a bit farther to find a Valhalla of steep woods, deep powder, and an attitude that feels more like what Vermont resorts felt like 20 years ago than what they feel like now. It may be much bigger than the old version, but it feels much the same. “Raised Jay” isn’t just a clever marketing slogan, it’s a badge of honor for many.
Obviously most Vermonters like myself are happy to wax poetic about our home mountain.
Most of us have seen owners come and go at many of the resorts dotting the state. As the ski industry has evolved and so has ownership, we find the industry splitting into small, independent ownership or big corporate ownership and the latter quickly outpacing the former. There are advantages and disadvantages to each model. Price, uniformity, rules of the mountain and employment practices all differ widely for each. As do how and what resort expansions happen.
Jay’s success was possible because people believed management had the local interest and the identity of the mountain at heart. While plenty of old timers were skeptical and nervous about the big changes they saw over the last 10-plus years, as time went by they found it still mostly felt like same old Jay—especially on a mid-week powder day.
This is possible with a level of local control and/or the right ownership. Rarely will bosses a thousand miles away see things exactly as we do. But even far-flung owners can do right. We’re seeing it with Utah-based POWDR Corp., the current owner of Killington Resort. Under the local leadership of Killington president and general manager Mike Solimano, Killington has kept its unique identity and built upon that identity, rather than becoming a cookie cutter version of other POWDR resorts. Yes, they remain responsible for turning profits for their parent company. But they’re also not held hostage to fluctuations in their stock price. A closely-held group can have broader motives than just profits. Killington remains ever “The Beast of the East.”
Culture, not just cash is what matters. Hope for Jay Peak remains because we can have it both ways. Jay is well-positioned to make the requisite profits for their new owners. While receiver Goldberg has a responsibility to make recompense for the victims of the Ponzi scheme, he also has a responsibility to choose an owner that does right by the locals.
I hope he solicits the advice of his workers, managers and the community at Jay. I ask that receiver Goldberg consider the character of the buyer and their plans for Jay Peak and not just the quantity of money they offer. While owners, investors and receivers come and go, like the trees at Jay, we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Caleb Magoon, owner of PowerPlay Sports in Morrisville and Waterbury Sports in Waterbury, is an avid Jay Peak skier. If you have an opinion piece you would like to share, we welcome your submission at [email protected]