Chris Sununu, CEO, Waterville ValleyFor our inaugural interview we take a lift ride with Chris Sununu, who with a group of investors just brought ownership of Waterville Valley back to New Hampshire!
Q: When did this process begin? Were you actively searching for a ski area to invest in, or did the opportunity of owning Waterville Valley in particular start the process?
A: About 15 months ago Tom Gross, a local businessman and now our President of Valley Operations, approached me and encouraged us to look at the opportunity. This was a deal that had been tried but failed many times before with Booth Creek so we approached it very cautiously. We have a huge love of the Valley and would never have even considered any other resort. The timing and relationships were just right to help make the deal possible. It was a lot of work but in the end we got it done and done right. It was a win-win-win for Booth Creek, us, and the residents of Waterville Valley.
Q: Ski area ownership and management are a labor of love. How much of this venture is based on passion vs. business?
A: Separating the passion from the business is a daily battle. This is a business first and foremost so we worked very hard to structure a deal that was financially attractive. I am also a believer that nothing is better for business than taking care of the customer, which is where the passion of a 35 year skier comes in handy. We have a great vision for Waterville Valley and are aggressively implementing some much need changes.
Q: You grew up skiing NH's slopes, give us some background on your interest in skiing and how often you hope to be on the hill this winter given your time constraints of owning a ski area and being an elected official?
A: I believe that the best CEO's don't sit in the office and the best Executive Councilor's don't sit in Concord. Both jobs require me to be out there talking to people and as accessible as possible. I have hired some of the best day-to-day managers in the ski business and that takes a huge burden off of me, allowing me to oversee marketing, strategy and long term planning. My family and I still maintain full time residence on the Seacoast and therefore will remain very visible in that part of the state and serving the district. All scheduling constraints can be overcome with good time management and a wonderful wife. I have both.
Q: What's your most memorable moment of skiing here in NH?
A: My two most memorable moments actually both occurred at Waterville Valley. My family hosted the Christa McAuliffe Ski Invitational here for many years which were always exciting because of the celebrities and fanfare. I will also never forget watching the great Alberto Tomba and Marc Girardelli battle here in the 1991 World Cup Finals. An incredible level of skiing that has never been duplicated on the East Coast.
Q: What do you feel sets Waterville Valley apart from all the other areas in New Hampshire and New England?
A: There is no doubt that Waterville Valley has features that other resorts envy. First is our unbelievable setting. Surrounded by mountains 360 degrees, Waterville Valley is truly the ultimate recreational cul-de-sac in the midst of pure New England charm. We are also the closest major resort to southern NH and the Greater Boston Area and have the capacity to become a fully integrated 4-season resort. And let's not forget our Ski Academy which is among the finest in the country turning out Olympians almost every four years. It's hard to be here and NOT see what makes it so special.
Q: In the past Waterville Valley enjoyed international fame thanks to factors such as the Kennedy family skiing here, World Cup races down the slopes and being the "birthplace of freestyle skiing.". Any aspirations to bring that type of notoriety back or will the focus be solely on families and value?
A: Part of our strategy in returning Waterville as the premier East Coast resort is to reintroduce large scale events back to the valley. Professional ski/snowboard races, musical venues, celebrity events, etc. It is all part of our future plans.
Q: You have to take a ski vacation with your family and it can't be Waterville Valley, where are you heading?
A: I have never skied in Europe and would love to tour the Alps.
Q: High speed quad or vintage double chair?
A: Magic Carpet.
Q: Who are you skiing with for one day and why? Glen Plake, Bode Miller or Clint Eastwood?
A: Interesting choices. But the answer of course is Clint. Talk about overcoming adversity, he did not one, but TWO movies with a monkey and is STILL considered one of the best ever in his field. There's a lot you could learn from a guy like that.