Keystone Resort’s new head of operations says move from Canyons has been easy
Keystone Resort’s new chief operating officer has spent his entire life in communities similar to Summit County.
Mike Goar, 57, grew up in Pinetop, a small town near the White Mountains of Arizona. His dad was a golf-course superintendent in the community often visited by Phoenix folks with second homes. A ski area called Sunrise Park Resort is less than an hour away from Goar’s hometown.
When he was young, Goar dreamed not just of skiing, but also of playing Major League Baseball. However, in the late 1970s, the centerfielder injured his arm before he could join the team at Arizona State University.
He left school and took a position at Sunrise as a ski patroller and groomer. He would arrive later in the day to patrol, and then, once the mountain closed, he would work the first half of a grooming shift. The job was the start of a long ski-industry career.
“We’re all lucky when we find something that triggers a real passion, and the industry did that for me, really, and my family,” he said. “Not in every profession do you find that.”
In 1981, Goar left Sunrise for Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon. He worked as director of mountain operations, vice president of operations and general manager over nearly 27 years at Solitude.
He moved 5 miles northeast, as the crow flies, in 2007 to become vice president and general manager of Canyons Resort. Over his past seven years at Canyons, he directed $37 million in on-mountain capital improvements, which included new lifts, snowmaking, restaurants and ski terrain.
He said a passion for the sport and the business of skiing has kept him in the industry for the last 38 years.
“It doesn’t feel like a job,” he said. “It feels like the world’s greatest vacation that’s lasted a long time.”
He started skiing around age 13, he said, and he’s embarrassed to admit he hasn’t tried snowboarding. In the summers, Goar loves to golf, mountain bike, hike and fly fish. His wife, Heidi, is from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the couple met at Sunrise.
Coming from Canyons, in Summit County, Utah, Goar said he sees more similarities than differences when comparing that community to Keystone in Summit County.
Winter and summer tourism are important at both ski areas, he said, and the two resorts are a similar distance from major metropolitan areas, have strong relationships with local governments and employ about the same number of people.
“It’s been a very comfortable transition for me,” he said, after a week on the job, and his familiarity with leading a Vail Resorts ski area has made the change easier on his staff.
One challenge all ski areas face is differentiating themselves, Goar said, and he thinks Keystone has done well in pushing itself as family-friendly compared to other mountain resorts.
“They want to be, they try to be, but I would say Keystone has certainly succeeded in that,” he said.
He said the resort first considers whether or not a move will benefit its family guests when making every decision.
While cat skiing and terrain parks let family members separate to explore different abilities and interests, Goar said the resort must be careful to stay committed to families and not spread its offerings too thin.
He countered any perceptions that Keystone is inferior to Breckenridge Ski Resort, Vail Mountain or Beaver Creek, or that Vail Resorts, as parent company of those four Colorado resorts and seven more in the U.S., doesn’t give Keystone as much attention.
“Our company owns some of the largest, most iconic resorts in North America,” he said. “For us to be compared in any way is pretty good.”
Goar would not say what big plans might be in the works for Keystone, but one of his priorities as the resort’s leader is working with Vail Resorts to determine what’s next, he said. “It never stops really. We’re constantly looking at that.”
This summer, the ski resort will undergo routine maintenance and receive millions of dollars of capital investments, like upgrades to its snowmaking system and work on its lifts and trails, which aren’t as big and shiny as those announced at other resorts, he said.
Goar said he doesn’t think his leadership will be a significant difference from that of John Buhler, who recently left his COO position at Keystone to replace Breckenridge’s head, Pat Campbell.
Goar said he was excited to be in Summit and to build on the hard work and momentum of Keystone’s staff.
“It has to continue to get better. There’s no other option for any of us,” he said. “We will never have the meeting where we all sit down and go, ‘Phew, we did it.’”
*This story has been corrected. The original version mischaracterized Mike Goar’s time at Arizona State University.
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