Brad Wilson is the seventh general manager in the 73-year history of Bogus Basin.
After spending his life in the ski industry, the 61-year-old started this month with the idea that it could be his last job.
“I looked at it as a great opportunity to potentially end my career in the ski business on what I hope is a very positive note, helping out a community-owned ski area,” Wilson said.
But, for the moment, Wilson doesn’t have much time to look ahead to retirement. There is plenty of work ahead, and he hopes that results in a number of positive changes for the recreation area 16 miles north of Boise.
Wilson sat down to discuss what he hopes to accomplishand some of the obstacles the ski area faces in years to come. Here is the bulk of that interview:
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I’ve been in the ski business since, I want to say 1973. As I worked my way through Fresno State I worked in a local ski shop and I did that all the way through college. When I graduated, I became a professional ski patrolman, so I was really up there to make a profession out of it. But I quickly realized that I wanted to do something that had a little more upward mobility, so I opened my own ski shop. I was the owner of a retail shop in Fresno for about seven years.
And then I heard about an opportunity in Heavenly in Lake Tahoe, and on lark I went up there and interviewed for the position. ... I ended up with the job. It was kind of a surprise, and I ended up making an arrangement with my partner at the ski shop, and I moved to Lake Tahoe. That was in 1986. ... I was the director of sales. That started my career in the ski resort business, and I’ve worked at several resorts since then. I’ve worked in Nevada, Utah, Vermont and several resorts in California.
Q: Talk about your thought process in accepting this position.
A: It was a tough decision. I lived in, arguably, one of the most beautiful spots in the country — or the world, for that matter. But I have a best friend that lives up here, and he has been talking about what a great community Boise is, and what a great mountain Bogus is. So, I was interested when I heard this position of general manager came up. I took a flight up here in March to check it out, and I liked what I saw. ... What really appealed to me was the enthusiasm of the ski community here.
(Since starting the job), I have been blown away by the response that I’ve seen for the resort and myself. It’s been almost surreal, but I absolutely love that. ... There’s also a big difference between a local ski area like this and a destination ski area. The part I like about being here is I’m going to be seeing the same people every week — and some every day. I’m going to get to know and get out and ski with people that are really committed to Bogus. At a destination ski area, they come in and then they go out, and you don’t really have that connection with your key users.
Q: Talk about any changes this season. Or if you’d rather, talk about beyond this season.
A: What I will be doing this season is observing and evaluating the operation and talking to our customers and listening to what they’d like to see Bogus do. The changes you’ll see (this season) will be small, and then there will be decisions for next season that will spin off of those evaluations.
Q: Looking at the bigger picture, do you see Bogus becoming more of a year-round recreational facility.
A: Absolutely. Most or almost all ski areas that have a market for summer, or a market for four seasons, are going that direction. And that’s for various reasons. The biggest reason is because we’re seeing winters that are less consistent. We’ve just experienced four winters in a row that were less than average, and some were way less than average. So, in order to have a consistent cash flow, ski resorts have looked for years at what they can do in the summertime. It hasn’t been until fairly recently that activities have been developed that really are profitable enough and fun enough in the summertime — things like zip lines and canopy tours and challenge tours, which are aerial challenge courses. ... And downhill mountain biking is really gaining in popularity. What all this is, is a way to use our existing infrastructure in the seven months that it normally sits vacant and idle. So, if you were to get into summer activities and you weren’t a ski resort, you’d have to build bathrooms and base lodges and lifts and all that. We already have those, so we can really leverage what we already have.
Q: I know it’s really early in your tenure here, but discussions will continue to revolve around snow-making, right?
A: You bet, and we are really going to be looking at two parallel paths in our development. We’ve hired a resort consulting group called SE Group, and they will be helping us develop the path. They are the pre-eminent consulting group in the country, and I actually just finished consulting with them at Diamond Peak. I just got that master plan approved that they helped us with, and so I’ve just gone through process, which is really cool. Now I get to do the process again, which is a whole lot of research, meeting with a lot of interest groups in the community and putting together a master plan than makes sense for both summer and winter.
(Snow making) is the only way you can guarantee an opening before Christmas, or between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have started on that. We do have four snow-making guns that we use to supplement what we get from Mother Nature. And then we’ll be designing a plan that will actually allow us to open parts of the resort solely on snow-making.
Q: You’ve been involved in this at a number of different ski areas. What specific obstacles does Bogus face?
A: Right now, it’s water rights. It’s actually being able to secure enough water to open the terrain that we need to. Honestly, I’m not an expert in water rights in Idaho, I can tell you that. But there will be a lot of discussions and research. I am an expert in snow-making, in general, and I’ve been involved in snow-making my entire career. So, it will be very exciting. In order to be sustainable as a nonprofit organization, as we are, we will need to secure our winters and know that we can open and have that stability.
Q: Are there obstacles as far as getting equipment up there?
A: No. Obstacles as far as capital? Sure. Snow-making is not inexpensive. But there have been improvements in snow-making technology that make it far less expensive to be efficient in your snow-making than it was 15 or 20 years ago.
Q: Have you looked at the price structure of how Bogus is doing season passes and day passes right now?
A: Again, I’m kind of in that evaluation stage. I can say that Bogus has not been following a cost of living increase, with their season passes particularly. When they went to the $199 season pass, I think it was in the 1998-1999 season and they’ve only gone up $30. And if you look at the cost of living index, that $199 is worth a lot less now. So our buying power is significantly less. And if you combine that with the big increases in the cost of doing business — all aspects of doing business have increased dramatically in the last 16, 17 years. So we have to find a way to get to a point where we’re back to a level where we can afford to operate. It’s really all about making sure the nation’s largest nonprofit recreation area remains sustainable. I think 100 percent of the users at Bogus Basin would like us to stick around, and I think my being here is one of the reasons to figure that equation out.
And with increases in pricing, everything will be incremental. We’re not going to be jacking the prices way up. We’re going to be making small improvements in the pricing. Also, in the process, we’ll be adding value to the season passes with other products, whether it’s coupon books or partnerships with other resorts, things we haven’t done that a lot of areas are doing to add value to their pass products. So, if you are going to pay more for your pass next year, at least you have these added values.
Q: What does the future look like for the ski industry in general?
A: The ski industry, I would say, is healthy right now, other than the swing in seasons and climate, if you will. The one thing — and I have to say, it kind of attracted me to Bogus — there is a very large demographic change occurring. Baby Boomers aren’t getting any younger, and the Gen-Xers are a relatively small population. And we have these millennials who are 83 million strong, the largest generation to this point. And millennials have different consumer habits and they’re not, in general, following the same suit that the Baby Boomers or their Gen-X parents did in regards to outdoor recreation. So, when you’re looking at that from the perspective of a ski industry that puts a big question mark on the next 20 years. How do we get the millennials to become engaged in skiing and snowboarding? The great thing about Boise and Bogus is that we’re so close to the market and we have a much better opportunity to entice the younger millennials up to the resort. ... So we’ll really be able to engage them, whereas if you’re a destination ski area that requires a pretty significant investment for a week’s vacation, those millennials might not make that choice. But if you have a ski area that is 16 miles from downtown, then we have a much better chance at that generation.
Q: Is there anything else you want to talk about? Any wild hobbies?
A: I do have to say that I’m an avid mountain biker and I’m incredibly excited about the trail opportunities. The weekend that I interviewed a friend of a friend drove me up to Bogus and we rode around the mountain. That’s when I really saw the mountain for the first time, and I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the trails. ... That was a huge draw for me.
Q: So have you started turning around in your mind how mountain biking can change up there a little bit?
A: You bet. I think what we would like to provide is that downhill mountain biking opportunity — and cross country, don’t get me wrong. But we will be looking at some opportunities to put in some downhill mountain bike trails.
The key to success in the summer is not to just have one or two activities. You have to create an attraction that will bring people up the road. So, you need to have a palate of these activities that provide a wide variety of people something to do. So you might have a zip line, a challenge course, downhill mountain biking, cross country mountain biking, hiking and food and beverage and music and events and children’s programs. ... All of those will add up to a real attraction and a reason to drive that 16 miles up the hill.