Chalk one up for the Snoweaters. Last week’s announcement from Intrawest that the company had a new boss kind of floated through the valley like it didn’t have much to do with everyday life here. But it does. And I’ll tell you why. For the first time in three decades, the CEO of Intrawest is a real mountain guy. And a total mountain operations geek to boot. Worked his way up from being a liftie at Mammoth to the most powerful position in Ski Country USA – president of Vail Resorts Inc.’s (VRI) Mountain Division. And that’s saying something for sure.
“My heart has always been in the mountains,” Bill Jensen was quoted in a story for MSNBC.com. “I’ve never lived in a city,” he added.
Okay, so he’s exaggerating a little. Jensen wasn’t born a mountain man. In fact, Intrawest’s new CEO grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. But, by all accounts, he is a true Snoweater. As he says himself, the moment he first tasted the sublime joys of sliding over the snow on skis, he was instantly seduced.
“We have a glamorous sport, but it connects with some people, and doesn’t with others,” he told Ski Area Management (SAM) magazine recently. “I still remember the very first day I went skiing, and I just knew that this is who I was and this is what I wanted to do…”
And everybody I’ve asked about him – from Roger McCarthy to Dave Brownlie, from David Perry to SAM editor Rick Kahl – all agree that this guy is the real thing.
“Bill Likes people,” says Kahl. “He likes being in charge of people. He’s very relaxed in his job. That said, he’s not afraid of getting in there and getting his hands dirty. What’s most important to him is the guest experience. And he’ll do everything he can to make sure that experience is positive.”
McCarthy, who worked alongside Jensen as co-president of VRI (and probably knows where a few skeletons might be hiding), had nothing but good things to say about him. “Bill is an innovator, he has a very strong marketing mind,” he told me last week. “And he’s a total service junkie. One thing that hit me (about the appointment) is that Bill is a ski guy, not a real estate guy. And that’s good news for all the communities where Intrawest operates.” But we’ll get back to that later…
Even Aspen’s Senior VP David Perry, who competed directly with Jensen, was highly complimentary in his assessment of the man. “I know Bill quite well,” says Whistler-Blackcomb’s former vice president of marketing, “and he is one of the smartest, most ambitious and capable ski resort business people I know. He did an excellent job at Northstar before coming to Vail.” More importantly, adds Perry, “Bill has on-the-snow experience that is deep and pragmatic. He understands that at its core Intrawest needs to be a strong operating company…”