Recently I had the opportunity to ski at two different resorts on back to back days. With my critical eye I often pay attention to small details at a ski area, guess I can’t let go. This experience gave me food for thought that the maintenance culture of a ski area really matters in the eyes of the customer. Fully realize the majority of customers don’t specifically look at the things I might look at, but I would argue that subconsciously the customer realizes the difference. They get a sense of upkeep and how it relates to their experience.
So, what did I see that provided this thought?
- At ski area A, I did not experience a lift stop all day but had had several at ski area B. Here’s what I noticed that could have been the reason(s) – grade to loading platform was level with guide gates to align skiers on the chair, and attendants were consistently outside at loading platform, detachable lifts. This presumes that at ski area B stops were related to loading or unloading not mechanical, but if they were, that could provide further questions.
- Ski area A, all lift towers were either painted or galvanized same as ski area B, but at B, many painted towers were peeling and showing rust. At A, all painted towers were the same color; at B there was a mix of colors.
- The detach terminals at A, while newer than at B, were all painted and showing no broken panels or neglect. At B, terminals had panels dented or temporary makeshift panels and peeling and fading paint on the terminals.
- All towers at ski area A were padded neatly with no distorted pads or worn pads; presenting a reassuring image that pads were new and secure. Ski area B had padding but pads were tattered or made up of tubes with a foam cover which often were askew with chunks of cover missing; presenting an image of neglect and age.
- At ski area A, all signs were straight, with signposts straight but at ski area B many signs were peeling, not at right angles to the post, and tilted or falling over.
- Ski area A had all snowmaking hydrants padded with hydrant specific covers, neat and compact, while ski area B where most hydrants were not padded just marked with boo and orange flagging and those that were padded were padded with makeshift padding.
I think you get the picture. Obviously for ski area B to rectify everything pointed out here immediately has a fair amount of costs. However, if the culture within the maintenance system was maintenance centric most of these flaws would have been dealt with within the normal work process. Yes, there would have been some cost associated with parts and material but not exorbitant amounts.
Furthermore, the picture the customer sees and feels is totally different. I can’t monetize the value of that picture difference, but I would contend it is significant in terms of loyalty and retention of customers.
How does a maintenance centric culture come to be? I am going to quote Tom Kendrick, Vehicle Maintenance Manager, Snowbird, Utah from an article he wrote for SAM, titled Caring for Older Snowcats, March 2019 issue.
“Ski area mechanics can only do what they’re supported to do and that’s it. Whether your resort is a world class destination or a small, local hill, management must buy into the value of maintenance, or the shop will be inefficient and waste resources. I’ve seen poorly managed big operations and well-run small shops; when it comes to effective management, size doesn’t matter – commitment from the top does.
The limiting factor is simply the ideology of the management. Shop staff need the support of management, an understanding of the value of preventive maintenance vs. reactive maintenance. Without that, all the above advice is next to useless.” (Note: the reference to above is advice Tom shared in the article)
Tom has said it as well as anybody can say. This means within the department the manager needs to have this philosophy, so do all those above him all the way to the top. It has a long-term bottom-line impact.