Written by Linda Carr
Known as one of the premiere ski areas in the Mid-Atlantic region, Wisp Resort is Maryland’s only four season ski, golf and recreational destination. When Wisp long-term General manager Jerry Geisler announced his retirement earlier this year, the search was on for a GM that not only understood the ski industry, but one who also had experience with the other aspects of Wisp’s year-round business. In Ron Hawkes, Pacific Group Resorts, Inc (PGRI), Wisp Resort’s parent company, have found their man.
Ron, a native of Buffalo, NY, came to Wisp Resort from Camelback Resort in Pennsylvania and has decades of experience in northeastern resort areas. According to a Pacific Group Resorts, Inc spokesperson Ron was a good fit on many levels, because he not only offers “strong and relevant experience” to this position, he also “loves the sport itself and shares his enthusiasm with others.”
Ron’s love of skiing came at an early age. Growing up in snowy Buffalo, NY, Ron spent hours at the local ski area and loves to tell the story of how he and a friend “got themselves stuck there” during the blizzard of 1977 staying with local ski instructors and skiing the fresh powder he loves so much.
Ron and his wife Jan are excited to make Garrett County their home. They and their 21 year old daughter all love winter and have done a bit of “storm chasing” themselves — watching for big snow forecasts and travelling to impacted ski areas beforehand to enjoy the freshly fallen snow.
Although Ron has skied and worked in a variety of areas, he is excited about the unique opportunities he is finding at Wisp Resort and in Garrett County. “Western Maryland is pretty spectacular,” says Ron. “You have a beautiful lake and four wonderful seasons. The owners at Wisp have built up the resort to take advantage of all four of them.”
“The ski industry has changed,” he adds. “It’s not just skiing. Successful resorts have to find a diversity of use for their properties and between two gorgeous golf courses, year-round mountain activities like ziplining and the mountain coaster, and the whitewater course on top of the mountain, Wisp Resort is in a great position.”
He continues, “Wisp Resort owners embraced the concept early. The mountain coaster here was one of the first in the country. To have the hotel component and the ability for visitors to stay and dine onsite, as well as be able to host conferences and weddings, makes Wisp very unique.”
Since its purchase of the resort in 2012, Wisp Resort has invested in the property and as the management company of The Lodge at Wisp, most recently completing a three year $37 million dollar renovation of the hotel. With an eye to continually improving customer satisfaction, Wisp has embraced some new technology that will significantly reduce wait times for all who visit them.
Ron explains, “All Wisp Resort tickets and season passes now contain new Radio Frequency ID. They look like a credit card, and contain a chip that allows them to communicate with antennae at the seven chair lifts so that once they have been purchased (which can be done online or at the Resort) skiers and snowboarders can go straight to the lift — no more waiting in line to buy your tickets or fumbling with zippers and pockets.”
You can reload your card after your first visit for the season online or even from your phone as you’re driving to the resort. The best part is if you purchase a four or eight hour flex ticket, your time doesn’t start until you go through your first chair lift gate so guests can enjoy a leisurely breakfast or lunch before their first run and not miss any time on the mountain. As Ron explains it’s all about “enhanced guest experiences”. The other big improvement for the 2019 – 2020 ski season is the addition of new, high tech snowmaking guns.
“The new guns will be positioned along Squirrel Cage and are tower mounted,” says Ron. Using radio frequency, the guns can ‘talk’ to each other and to the main panel in the control office. They can be adjusted without physically walking to them and allow for variables like wind and temperature. They even have their own weather station.”
Although Wisp has always had some of the best snowmaking equipment in the industry, snowmaking is still in the hands of Mother Nature. As always, perfect conditions depend on air temperature, humidity (the lower the better) and wind direction. All guns are placed in the direction where the wind generally blows from but if the wind direction changes and snow blows back into the guns, they will freeze . The newer technology, however, will allow the resort team better flexibility, have a greater range of working temperatures and information to always make the most snow for their guests.
Ron and the entire staff at Wisp Resort are excited about the direction Wisp is headed and all employees (103 year round, additional 500 part-time hired for winter season) are on-board and strive for excellence. Ron’s favorite expression is “Leaders improve, managers maintain.” He explains: “I’m only one person. It takes the entire team to continue to make improvements and do new things. I encourage everyone to look at things through fresh eyes and come to me with suggestions no matter how large or small.” He adds, “some of the best improvements don’t always cost a lot of money.”
As the snow begins to fly, we’ll look forward to what other improvements Ron and his team have in store for Wisp in the months and years to come. See you on the slopes!