Welcome to the Ski Business: Killington in the Late 1970s
On October 20, 1972, I started my job as assistant to the president at Killington Ski Area. The actual name of the company that owned the resort was Sherburne Corporation. Its founder and president was Preston Leete Smith, a lanky, crew-cut blond, with unbound energy and passion for skiing. On that October day, I really had no idea that skiing would become my vocation as well as avocation.
I had recently mustered out of the Army and was not thinking clearly about what the future held. I considered going back to graduate school (having completed course work for a master’s degree in the Graduate School of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, prior to my military service). By the fall of 1972, virtually all of my classmates had moved on with completed PhDs to teaching jobs.
My advisor and good friend, Dr. John Teunissen, had left Amherst for the Department Chair position at the University of Manitoba. Returning to Amherst didn’t resonate. I visited John in September and briefly considered Manitoba, but I wasn’t ready to make that commitment. While it was early September, temperatures barely broke above freezing, and I noted something unusual about the vehicles. All had a plug protruding from the front grill. This was, as I learned, so block heaters could be plugged in each night, ensuring the car would start in the morning. Winnipeg is, indeed, a cold place in the winter. So I looked at a number of options other than going back to school . . . the most attractive being a return to the ski business at Killington.
I say “return” because during my senior year at Middlebury College, I had worked as a bartender at Killington, bringing in much-needed cash (I was a scholarship and ROTC kid). I got to know many of the resort man- agers, and when, just prior to Christmas 1969, I got my notice to report to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, in late February 1970, it made no sense to start a new semester. So off I went to Killington, looking for a way to bridge the gap to my reporting date.
I distinctly remember sitting at the bar at the Wobbly Barn (one of my college bartending venues and one of the most iconic après-ski joints in America . . . to this day) and talking to the owner, Jack Giguere. I was whining a bit about the recent turn of events, having convinced myself that by remaining in graduate school the war would end and I would face only “reserve” duty. Sit- ting next to us was Foster T. Chandler, Killington’s soft-spoken, almost- reclusive VP of marketing. Foster had been listening in and asked me to come see him the next morning. Well, there are some advantages to being an English major. Foster needed someone to help with cranking out resort newsletters, writing SOPs for the growing central-reservations business, and other tasks. Just by being in the right place at the right time, I was hired to assist him over the holidays . . . at $25 a day plus free skiing. Such a deal!
Another lucky break occurred when my reporting date was pushed back, first to June, and then eventually to the fall. Foster kept me on through that entire period, and was an incredibly patient tutor. I had zero business experience. Killington was growing by leaps and bounds, and we all seemed to be taking it in “on the fly.” On March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day, I went into my office to find a note from Foster (“FTC”). That note told me:
- I haven’t had a vacation in years.
- I’m gone and will come back, but don’t know when.
- Pres (Preston Smith, company president) knows how to reach me.
- You’re in charge . . . Talk to Pres if you feel you’re getting in over your head.
- Good luck.
Wow. I ran into the mailroom and showed the note to Norma Biathrow and Betty Merrill (two longtime marketing staffers). They laughed and said, basically, “Lord help us now.” I was 23.
Pres did stop in from time to time, mostly to offer some edits relative to my snow report. But I was left to my own devices to figure things out. Surviving probably equated to success. That experience of working with Foster gave me skills that I never would have developed, a level 101 understanding for the business of skiing, and a deep appreciation of the culture that was or was becoming Killington, which was then ranked in the top five nationally for visitation and at least that high in terms of stature.
I should add that Foster at that time was arguably the most respected and talented marketer in the ski business. I remember his “purple prose” ad, a full-page invitation to join the ranks of skiers (the full text of “A Little Bit of Purple Prose About Learning To Ski” is reprinted in the Appendix). Foster ran the ad in the likes of Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker, Glamour, Mademoiselle, National Geographic, and even Seventeen. He backed these up with full-page spreads in the major dailies. I was reminiscing with him recently about those days gone by when he said, in his typical fashion, “Well, Christopher, people will buy what you sell them.” He knew back then what the company wanted to sell, and put together the plan to do just that. And it worked.
I’ll never forget Killington’s “Sunday Night Registration,” where many in management pitched in to get a thousand new participants registered, outfitted, and oriented for their Monday first-timer experience. By today’s standards, the process was clumsy and intimidating. But at the time, Foster and others were applying the rules of process efficiency to a business that had never focused on that sort of discipline. Killington’s decades-long leadership in “learn-to-ski” encouraged other resorts to develop similar programs, and helped position skiing as one of the most vibrant participation sports in the country. A sport that, despite periodic doomsayers, enjoys record attendance and appeal to this day.
No question, my experience with Foster helped me with my interview with Pres Smith some two years later. The position was a new one. It certainly sounded attractive, and would buy me some time to figure out “what’s next” in my life. That first day on the job is really where my learning and understanding of the ski business began.
DAY ONE, OCTOBER 20, 1972
The Killington Corporate Offices were located next to the maintenance and snowmaking facilities, at the far end of the Killington Peak parking lot. “Modest” understates how basic the building was: a two-story, cinder-block construction. Some offices had threadbare carpeting, but the more general floor treatments were concrete or painted plywood. I knew what to expect, given my earlier tour of duty with Foster Chandler. Pres invested on the mountain, where the guest would be impacted. Offices were not a priority.
I was shown my new work space between Pres and the VP of finance, Marty Wilson, and then introduced to Les Otten, who was heading out the door to Sunday River, Maine, a small ski area that Killington had just purchased. Otten had participated in Killington’s “Management Training Program” the prior year. With that experience, a keen intelligence, and a degree from Ithaca College, he was offered a position at Sunday River as assistant general manager, and became GM some eight months later.
Smith was an intimidating presence. Well over 6 feet, he was almost always the tallest man in the room. Blond-haired and handsome, with a kind of fiery intensity, even when “relaxed” he was something of a slow burn.
We started chatting, and I realized that while he had spoken during my earlier interview about “environmental” issues he needed help with, we really hadn’t put much definition to the job I was starting. I asked if he had a job description. He had his feet up on his desk (not unusual) and gave me his classic, intense stare. Then, “I want you to sit in that chair every day this week, listen to every conversation I have, sit in on every meeting. If I have to leave for other business, you’ll come with me. If after this week, you think you need a job description, give it to me Monday.”
Then he reached over to his stack of lined, legal writing pads and tossed one at me. He was a fan of No. 2 pencils, and asked if I needed one. I replied “No,” said I had a pen. That led to a lengthy dissertation on the advantages of No. 2 pencils versus pens. “You can always change your mind and use the eraser . . .” My education had begun. So 8 to 5, or longer, each day, I sat and listened. I don’t believe I ever got a job description.
One of the things that made the Killington decision an easy one for me was that I didn’t have a lodging issue. My friend, Jack Giguere, après-ski impresario, had recently separated from his wife, Phoebe. Jack invited Vinny Donnelly, who was managing Jack’s Charity’s pub operation, and me to be roommates at his Summit Drive home. Vinny and I took rooms in the basement, but it was quite luxurious, at least compared to any other options. “Bachelors Three,” Jack called it. When I got back to the house after that first day at work, Jack asked how it had gone. I gave a brief recap, and Jack noted, “I don’t always agree with Pres, but it seems like you just picked a great boss.”
Pres Smith absolutely defined the Killington culture in those early years. He had assembled a very talented management team and drove them to innovate in every way. He challenged every existing standard of ski-area operations. Rather than bringing in consultants, he would always opt for in-house development, whether it was land planning, snowmaking, trail design, financial systems, whatever. And he was a master at creating a sense of urgency. Things got done, generally on time and on budget, and always in a unique “Killington way.”
In the early ’70s, most resorts were still using a European model of instruction, with the venerable “Hans” or “Karl,” the stereotypical Austrian or Swiss ski school veterans, barking “follow me and bend zee knees.” By contrast, Killington’s ski school was a virtual production line, led by Leo Denis, a talented engineer whom Pres recruited from Howe Scale in nearby Rutland. Leo was as competent as he was unassuming, capable of managing complex construction projects in the off-season.
Prior to Leo’s appointment as the VP-Skiing, Killington’s ski school had been led by Austrian Karl Pfeiffer. Leo became responsible for converting the school to a very American-focused teaching strategy. (One of the early directors he hired was Peter Duke, a member of PSIA’s National Demo Team, one of the highest honors an instructor can receive. It was at Killington that Peter met his future wife, Patty. The two of them went on to found Smartwool, the incredibly successful, high-end sports sock and apparel company. They eventually sold their interest and about five years later founded Point6, a next- generation sock company. I met Peter and Patty during their Killington tenure, and we rekindled our old friendship in Steamboat, where they had eventually settled and where Point6 makes its home. Small world.)
Killington was teaching skiing to absolute beginners using graduated- length skis, starting out with 3-footers and moving up to longer skis as competence rose. SKI Magazine had introduced the teaching program, called GLM (Graduated Length Method), but Leo Denis, in the “Killington Way,” put his own stamp on it.
At Killington, GLM became the “Accelerated Ski Method.” And accelerated it was. Taught in five-day midweek and two-day weekend sessions, Leo’s team of instructors moved thousands through the learning process. Killington was blessed with an ideal teaching slope, isolated from the bustle of the rest of the resort. First-timers would be shuttled to an assembly area below the Killing- ton Base Lodge and work their way down toward the base of Snowshed on a trail reserved for instruction. This might have been one of the original terrain gardens! Key to Killington’s strategy was eliminating fear or intimidation, so new skiers learned the very basics before ever riding a lift. In fact, at the bottom of the learning trail there was a practice chairlift to simulate the loading and unloading process. Students then moved on to the Snowshed slope, which had a gentle grade and wide, three-quarters-of-a-mile-long slopes, plus three double chairlifts. Killington had 999 pairs of the short skis, so that determined the maximum number of students. Imagine a thousand new skiers every day (in the five-day midweek and two-day weekend programs), plus another 4,000 on different vacation packages, some with lessons and some lifts only. The average midweek crowd was 7,500, once you added in day-trippers and passholders. Weekends would see almost double that number. To my knowledge, no ski area in the country was doing these kinds of numbers in the “learn-to” segment, and few were doing more total visits. As for those new skiers, they were very satisfied with the experience and most joined the ranks of committed skiers. As a special perk, graduates could purchase the skis, boots, and poles for as little as $99 (my recollection) at the end of the week. Many did. In our industry today, it has been estimated that only 15 percent of new skiers actually stay with the sport. If those numbers are to be believed, Killington was indeed ahead of its time as a new-skier factory, given its processes for successful introduction versus the industry average.
While most resorts at the time were heavy users of the National Ski Patrol–trained volunteers, Pres was one of the first to transition to an “all-paid” Patrol. He had a political conservative’s understandable paranoia relative to unions, and no doubt anticipated eventual unionizing efforts from patrols and other emergency-service providers. Many of the new “paid” positions transitioned to construction or maintenance positions in the summer. Pres was very focused on maintaining an effective year-round staff. Specialized skills, like lift evacuations, were not left just to patrol. He insisted that all physically capable office staff were trained in evacuation, even nighttime steep-cable evacuation on the gondola. In that way, in the event of an evacuation, personnel not critical to the operation could carry the load, leaving patrol to continue with normal duties at the ski area. He also wanted patrollers to be cross-trained to perform lift relief.
Perhaps nothing expressed the Killington Way more than its snowmaking strategy. Pres believed that Eastern skiers were so passionate and committed that they would ski even short patches of marginal snow if that product managed to extend the season. So Killington would, for decades, be the first to open and last to close in the East. In many years, it was the first to open nationally.
If there was a window of cold weather in early October, the snowguns would be cranked on. As soon as a skiable patch could be laid down, Killington would open. In the 1970s, this entailed skiing about 2,000 linear feet of Upper Cascade, and riding the Killington double chairlift down at the end of the day. It was not unusual for skiers to enjoy a few runs on Columbus Day weekend, while the foliage was still hanging on. Foster Chandler would have his PR machine cranked up and very soon, images of skiing, the first of the year, would flood the media. More often than not, the ski area had to close as warm, New England weather returned. But the message was out there. “We’re open.” And for the few hundred skiers who traveled to enjoy the early snow, it was a memorable experience.
Snowmaking technology was in its infancy in those days. The Killington system used a combination of permanent electrical compressors, augmented by a fleet of rented, diesel compressors to provide the compressed air needed to mix with water to make snow. The quality of that compressed air was warm and moist, and when it interacted with New England humidity. . . well, it wasn’t always the finest product. The snow surface was often “bulletproof.” When temperatures were very cold, the product could be excellent, but for the most part, it was a hard, unforgiving surface.
I REMEMBER HEADING UP THE MOUNTAIN one late May morning with Leo Denis to see how the snow was holding up. It was classic Vermont mud season, warm and foggy. We walked from the top of the Killington double chair to the Glades area, where the Glades Triple had been providing late-season skiing on one run. There was more mud than snow. So Leo and I headed back to Foster’s office with the bad news. Leo was describing the conditions and the reality that it was time to close for the season. Foster looked up from his typewriter and yelled, “Norma (Biathrow), cut the tapes!” (Translation: End the snow report.) He went back to his typewriter without another word to us. As I look back, this was a classic Killington moment. Another long season—more than 200 operating days—was over. Time to move on.
But it was really all that we, as skiers, knew in those days. And unlike the modern ski resort, the grooming equipment available back then didn’t allow this “firm” surface to be renovated. We had “powder makers” that were dragged behind snowcats. They created a loose surface about 1-inch thick. Nice for a few runs but then quickly “skied off.” The ice layer would remain unless covered with prodigious amounts of natural snow, something that was not a regular occurrence in the East.
My friend Michael Berry, the longtime NSAA president, often says, “If you are nostalgic for the good old days, you were not there.” That is so true in terms of the quality of the snow surface and the lift systems as well. Remember the surface lifts (T-Bars and Pomas) or slow, fixed-grip chairlifts of yesteryear versus today’s high-speed detachables, some with bubble covers to protect from the cold, and others even featuring heated seats.
THE ORIGINAL CAPITAL that started the Killington train at its founding in 1956 came from Hartford, Connecticut. Joseph D. Sargent, a prominent financial executive with Conning & Co., was a key early investor and became chairman of the board. The company was Sherburne Corporation (named after the town of Sherburne, where Killington was located). Joe and Pres enjoyed a 40-year partnership, with Joe providing strategic financial leadership throughout that time. A Yale graduate with a degree in economics, he was the ultimate metrics guy, designing all of Killington’s financial reporting systems. At the time, most ski resorts were led by former ski racers, 10th Mountain Division veterans, or just passionate enthusiasts for the sport. Joe Sargent was an anomaly.
Few operated with the kind of financial tools and discipline that Joe Sargent established for Killington. As an example of his passion for detail, Joe created a chart of accounts that provided separate codes not just for each lift, but for key components of the lift. At one point, I remember him arguing that we should track expenses by lift tower (sheave replacements, etc.). While some of this was over the top, it created a company-wide attention to detail that set the organi- zation up for year after year of profitable operations. These were actual after-tax profits, not just positive EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, it provides a baseline for a company’s operating profitability). There wasn’t much need to worry about interest costs: there were virtually none. The company sold subordinated debentures most years with an interest rate below market because they included skiing privileges. The only other debt in place was a line of credit with Bank of Boston . . . and this was almost always paid off by midwinter. Not exactly a leveraged company.
The weekly management meeting was held at 7:30 every Thursday morning in the basement of the Killington Base Lodge, in a bar called the Cellar Door Lounge. Bar tables were pulled together for a pseudo roundtable and then, for the next hour or two, imbued with the strong odor of stale beer, the team would review the prior week’s financials. Computer spreadsheets covered the table and detailed the performance of all revenue centers and all operating departments by manager, so it was clear where accountability lay. These reports provided more accurate information on a weekly basis than I enjoyed some 40 years later (when the focus had shifted to monthly reporting). Constant attention to the basic metrics of the business made everyone a better manager. Toward the end of the meeting, Foster provided his forecast for levels of business for the next 10 days. Any special events or weather issues were covered. And then the meeting was over. While Joe Sargent never attended these sessions, he was certainly present in spirit. We’d leave and the bar would open for the day.
Joe left Hartford every Friday night for the three-plus-hour drive during the winter season. He didn’t have his own office or administrative assistant at Killington. He’d park himself in Pres’ office every weekend and winter holiday period, working on budgets, system designs, capital planning, etc. In the 1970s, the only time I ever saw Joe take a vacation was in the spring when he and his wife, Mary, headed to St. John. I don’t think I’ve ever known an executive with a comparable work ethic.
Overseeing the day-to-day financial activities, and subject to frequent visits and coaching from Joe, was Martel D. Wilson Jr., aka Marty Wilson, or MDW. Marty was of the generation that still dealt with the awful reality of polio and, as a result, had one leg shorter than the other and an ankle that was fairly frozen. He walked with an obvious limp, but never let that modify his lifestyle. A talented water-skier, he often used a mono ski on the slopes. Marty also shared Pres’ passion for creative, independent thinking and for challenging the status quo. He was also a notorious penny-pincher. At a time when small, electronic calculators were becoming available, Marty still had a slide ruler on his desk, next to a mechanical punch calculator. Younger readers will probably need to Google these financial instruments.
One of my unrealized passions at the time was to learn how to sail. I never had that opportunity growing up, but something about blue water and white sails was immensely appealing to me. Marty, along with his partner and Killington’s assistant controller, Bob Fenner, had a boat that he kept with a charter company in the Virgin Islands. He had also raced sailboats growing up. So one day over lunch, I asked Marty how I would go about learning to sail. His response: “Read a book.”
When I arrived at work the next morning, there was a stack of books on sailing in a neat, high pile on my desk. About midmorning, he dropped by to tell me there were more I should read when I finished the current pile. That day was the beginning for me of a lifetime of sailboat racing, and the experiences and friendship that evolved from racing have added incredible richness to my life. Marty Wilson taught me many things, but most importantly, “You can do anything you want, if you just put your mind to it . . . and read a book.”
The Killington senior management team was quite the collection of type A personalities. Slow decision-making was never an issue. If anything, we probably charged into the battle a little too quickly from time to time, particularly on the political or environmental front. Pres was a very conservative Republi- can and resented any outside interference in the business of Killington. This made for spectacular fireworks as Vermont began shifting toward a more progressive-leaning political environment.
WITH THE FORCE OF THOSE PERSONALITIES and the conservative tendencies of the entire team, it always amazed me how fundamentally inclusive the cul- ture was in those days. When Killington met its financial goals for the fiscal year, a bonus would be distributed based on that success. In many years, that was as much as six-weeks’ pay for all full-time, year-round employees. Lift mechanic or company president, the formula was the same.
Pres’ visibility in the organization and his willingness to take on any task or role created a culture where everyone was expected to pitch in wherever needed. In those days, parking and traffic were quite the issue. Killington experienced such volume on weekends and holidays that the 5-mile-long Killington Road became a virtual parking lot at the end of the day. Many of us assisted in making the best out of the situation by directing traffic. At the end of a very long day, it wasn’t unusual to find a group of mangers and mechanics sitting on the floor in Lift Maintenance Supervisor Wayne Smith’s office, where a few beers and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s were usually available (verboten in the modern world). While everyone was probably anxious to get home, there was no griping, just time spent sharing stories and, generally, feeling good about work and life.
Wayne worked for Dave Wilcox, the VP of maintenance and one of the most approachable executives I’d ever met. He was another Howe Scale engineer, as I recollect, now starting a career in the ski business. Wilcox was a hockey fan. I can’t remember if it was originally his idea, but out of those evenings in Wayne’s office came the idea that we should have the hockey-game-to-end-all-hockey-games. On Snowshed Pond at the base of the ski area, we would create a hockey rink and play a game under the lights: management on one team; non-management on the other.
Snowshed Pond turned out to be a less than great idea. It served as the main snowmaking storage pond, and as a result, the actual water level could be well below the ice surface, depending on the time of year.
The morning after the scheduled evening “clearing” project on the pond, I drove in to work, and there was the Michigan Loader (aka “The Goose”) al- most completely submerged.
Wilcox, who I think was driving The Goose that night, presented Pres with the bad news. The Goose was out of service for a while. To his credit, Pres didn’t lecture or, worse, cancel the hockey game. But all agreed we had to find another location. As I remember, and probably important for context, this was a challenging time in terms of the business and company morale: the Arab oil embargo meant many guests couldn’t get the fuel to make the trip to Vermont. Or it was such a hassle that some just decided to forgo skiing.
The only place we could find that was somewhat flat and with water and power available was next to the sewage treatment plant. Using treated, re-claimed water, we spent several nights making the ice, building nets, and generally “cobbling” together rink boards that would (barely) keep the puck on the ice and define the playing area. Company electricians rigged the temporary lighting. Somehow, spectator stands appeared . . . borrowed from somewhere. Ed McDonald, a longtime maintenance employee and town selectman, played goalie for his team. He didn’t have any goalie pads, so he made his own out of plywood, pipe insulation, and duct tape. He was a vision. In deference to his equipment, or lack thereof, we agreed to no slap shots.
The night of the game was warm and foggy. The ice surface, which I would describe as “poor to fair” to start the game, deteriorated quickly. No matter. I have no idea who won. It was hilarious and a good time was had by all, notwithstanding a few injuries and too much beer consumed after the game. Eddie Danks, the manager of Snowshed Lodge and a former Cornell hockey star, blew out his knee. This was the first, and last, employee hockey game at the sewage treatment plant. That said, as a result of “the game,” we did form our own Killington team and join the Rutland Amateur Hockey Association’s adult league. We had great fun for many years.
I’VE BEEN FORTUNATE to work with some great teams over the past 40-plus years, but in terms of inclusiveness and camaraderie, I can’t say that I ever experienced anything that matched Killington in the 1970s.
Not that there weren’t issues, especially in terms of guest service. Pres and his talented lift manager, Hank Lunde (later president of Killington and Stowe), were fanatical about lift efficiency. “Load every chair to capacity, and try to never stop or slow the lift” was their mantra. Monitoring equipment was in place so Hank could track every stop and slow by lift. He even had the company dispatcher, the aforementioned Ed McDonald, monitor conversations of lift operators to ensure attentiveness. It would drive Hank nuts that as soon as he loaded a chairlift, the bottom operator would call the top to ad- vise that “the boss” was on his way up. So Ed was supposed to make sure that didn’t happen. As a company, we hadn’t learned that it’s best to catch someone doing the right thing and celebrate that.
For the many New Yorkers in the lift lines, the push for efficiency was just an extension of their world, and probably appreciated. For everyone else, it felt as though they were being herded up the hill. We would hear occasional “mooing” from those in the lift maze. The company culture defined service in terms of how quickly skiers got up the hill, not how they “felt” about that experience.
Customer feedback came via “complaint forms” available at the base-lodge information desks. Used or unused lift tickets were invariably stapled to the forms. It would not be unusual to have hundreds of these collected on busy days, especially if the weather turned bad. While they were all answered, most were done so by form letter. It just wasn’t part of the culture to dig deeper on guest relations.
Pres was one of the few guys who could manage the malfunction junction that was the intersection of the Killington Road and the RamsHead and Snowshed parking lots. Heavy traffic streaming down from the Upper Killington parking lot would have to slow as numerous turning movements occurred at that spot. Pres would stand in the middle of the road, no uniform or fluorescent vest (probably hadn’t been invented yet!), and try to keep some order to the chaos. I remember helping out one day when a driver heading down the hill ignored Pres and his instructions to stop. Pres chased the fellow down the road, somehow got a hold of the steering wheel, and next thing I knew, the offending car and Pres were in the ditch together and Pres was dragging the driver out the door. Our grooming supervisor, Royal Biathrow, was town constable in those days, so I don’t recall any consequences.
IN A BRIEF SEGUE TO MY PERSONAL LIFE during those early years: I had moved in with Jack Giguere and Vinny Donnelly. Jack had said, “Bachelors Three.” Well, I think that had lasted about three days when Sally West, Vinny’s girlfriend, arrived with her luggage. Jack was a notorious romancer, but quickly found his match in a young Terry Jones. She didn’t move in right away, but the handwriting was on the wall. It was getting crowded, not to mention that the band from the night before at the Wobbly Barn would often be sleeping on the living room floor. There was never a dull moment. It was like being back in my college fraternity, but I was the only guy who had to get up each morning.
So I rented the downstairs apartment in Bob Perry’s house. Bob was a talented senior film and media guy with Western Electric in New York. He made the weekend trip from Manhattan every week of the year and was Killington’s still- and motion-picture talent. His posters from that era are still collector’s items among the winter-sports crowd. Bob was also well-connected with AP and UPI executives and had a talent for getting his black-and-white photos into mainstream media. To my knowledge, no other resort in New England had a resource like Bob Perry on its marketing team.
When I had worked for Foster Chandler before entering the service, I had the pleasure of working with Bob. As an example of the kind of guy he was, I’ll share this story. It was late October 1970, and my plan before arriving in Ft. Gordon, Georgia, was to drive to Florida for a week’s vacation. Bob knew the dates and said that he was going to be in Atlanta the night before my re- porting date. He asked if I’d like to join him for dinner. I had always wanted to visit Atlanta, and it was barely out of the way, so I said, “great.”
He told me we would have to eat early, as he had business that night, so I said fine. We enjoyed a lovely diner at a French restaurant downtown. As we finished dinner, he said, “Well, you have to go now.” I probably looked bewildered as he handed me a ticket to the Muhammad Ali/Jerry Quarry fight about to start across the street at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium. Row 3, ringside. Bob knew that I was a crazed Ali fan and had put this all together as a surprise. It was a spectacle unlike anything I had ever experienced, as Ali pummeled Quarry for three rounds. That’s how long the fight lasted. I’ll never forget that night, and Bob Perry’s thoughtfulness.
DESPITE SOME HICCUPS (energy crisis, double-digit interest rates), this was a time of amazing growth for skiing and the Killington organization. The company’s balance sheet was growing steadily, and it was time to think beyond Killington and the relatively small Maine adventure. Mount Snow, southern Vermont’s largest ski area, was in bankruptcy in 1977. It seemed like a logical acquisition target for the Sherburne Corporation.