Newsmakers of the Year: Roger McCarthy
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” It was tough to turn the pages of the newspaper this year without seeing a story about Vail Resorts. From the new gondola in Breckenridge to record breaking skier numbers and controversy over childcare, the corporation, which employs 4,000 people in the county, made headlines regularly. And the man in charge of it all in Summit County was Roger McCarthy, co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division and chief operating officer of Breckenridge (until November, he was also COO of Keystone), and one of the Summit Daily’s newsmakers of the year.
McCarthy, who will be starting his eighth year with Vail Resorts, began 2006 with a promotion to co-president of the company’s mountain division, a position he shares with Bill Jensen, Vail Mountain’s COO. At the same time, Rob Katz was named Vail’s new CEO, replacing the retiring Adam Aron, and the company moved its corporate offices from Avon to Broomfield.
McCarthy gained a new title with his promotion, but said the job itself didn’t change drastically.
“I’m still responsible for two Summit County resorts, although Pat Campbell now is a COO (of Keystone), and we needed that to happen and I needed that to happen,” he said from his office overlooking Breckenridge’s Peak 8 base area. “I mean you’ve got the second and the fifth most visited resort in the country and I was running both of them.”
Not that running multiple resorts is completely out of the ordinary for the New Zealand native. When he was the senior vice president east of Intrawest in the 1990s, six ski resorts reported to him.
Also early in 2006, McCarthy got the go-ahead from Vail Resorts’ board of directors to move forward on the construction of a gondola linking the town to Peaks 7 and 8 ” a $17 million project McCarthy had been working on since he started with Vail Resorts in early 2000 and the town had been crossing its fingers for for two decades.
In May 2002, McCarthy worked out a deal with then Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula wherein the town would contribute $6.7 million to the new gondola. This past February, McCarthy had prepared to present the gondola plan to VR’s board and thought the time had finally come for an approval, but then Adam Aron resigned and the meeting was pushed back until March.
The delay threatened to put McCarthy in a pinch.
“You don’t pick up the phone and order one of these things like a Ford Truck, you know? I mean this thing is nuts,” he said of eight-passenger, 121-cabin BreckConnect Gondola.
Finally, on March 9, the board gave McCarthy the nod. The next day, McCarthy, Breckenridge director of lift operations, Jon Mauch, and Breckenridge vice president of operations, Rick Sramek, drove to the POMA factory in Grand Junction to choose the new lift’s cabin manufacturer. By April, after negotiating price and delivery, VR signed a contract with POMA. Construction started shortly after, and the gondola carried its first skiers and riders up the mountain on Dec 31.
To see the gondola come to fruition is “over the top” for McCarthy.
“I mean you don’t get to build gondolas in your career. You think of the number of guys in the ski industry who have ever got to build a gondola in their career, and the Imperial Express, you don’t get to do that either,” he said, adding that his proudest accomplishment throughout the entire project was the joint venture with the town.
As if building a brand new gondola wasn’t enough to make a ski executive’s year, Breckenridge also reported an all-time high 1,620,000 skier visits in 2006, an increase of 150,000 from the year before.
“I remember when I got here we did a million four, that was like a huge breakthrough,” McCarthy said. Keystone also recorded a 7.1 percent jump in skier visits in 2006.
While the good news was pouring in, Vail Resorts and McCarthy also took some heat from the community this past year.
In February, Vail Resorts announced it would take over the retail and commercial operations in Beaver Run ” space that was occupied by Kinderhut and several other locally owned businesses. The announced closure of Kinderhut at the end of its April 2006 lease drew criticism from patrons and employees of the long-established childcare center about VR’s commitment to childcare. In the end, Vail extended a one-year sublease to Kinderhut, which ends next April. At that point, Vail Resorts will renovate the space and open a new childcare facility run by its employees.
McCarthy said Beaver Run Development offered the lease to Vail Resorts in order to simplify its business, and Vail Resorts accepted.
“Our goal is not to run the world by any means, I mean we have the financial horsepower to do it if we wanted to, but that’s not the goal,” he said. “The moment that the balance is lost in Summit County, or in any one of our resorts, the moment it starts to feel like a company town, it’s over.”
So what can we expect this year from the behemoth ski company in Summit County?
For starters, sales will begin on the 46-unit, high-end Crystal Peak Lodge, the first phase of the Peak 7 redevelopment project and McCarthy will continue working with the Town of Breckenridge on a long-term master plan for the land around the base of the new gondola.
He has also started looking at possible options to connect the bed base around Keystone Lake to the Mountain House and River Run base areas, and how to ease the congestion at the top of Dercum Mountain, where six chairlifts deliver 12,500 skiers per hour onto 2 acres, McCarthy said.
Plans are also still in place to relocate the River Run Gondola to the north side of the Snake River, although it’s not clear if a Marriott development will still anchor the project in the Hunki Dori parking lot.
“They spent a good chunk of money, they did designs, you know, are they going to be back? We’ll see. I think the fact is that that chunk of land there right up against the fifth most visited resort in the country, that chunk of land doesn’t exist, you can’t buy that anywhere,” he said.
No matter what happens, McCarthy, a 35-year veteran of the ski industry who cut his teeth at Whistler Mountain, is sure to play a significant role in the action.
“For me, it’s a passion about the sport, it’s a passion about the technology,” he said.
“I love to ski ” there are two things I love to do ride my bike and ski” so what could be better than Summit County?”
Vail Resorts also changed its habits this year, committing to 100 percent wind energy to power its operations.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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