By Richard McGuire
As you climb the road to Mount Baldy from the valley below, the rainy drizzle and clouds give way to fresh snow and – if you’re lucky – clear blue skies.
It’s a different climate above the clouds with a base elevation of 5,650 feet above sea level.
The friendly local mountain is also a far cry from the larger resorts where 45-minute waits for a lift aren’t uncommon.
“On a Saturday morning, we don’t have that,” says Andy Foster, who took over as general manager of Baldy Mountain Resort in the spring and is getting ready for the resort’s second season under new owners. “We also have amazing powder where we’re located, we’re extremely family friendly and we have great pricing.”
Foster was initially hired as assistant general manager to work under “Snowy” Joey O’Brien, who led the relaunch of the resort last season under a group of Chinese-Canadian investors.
When O’Brien took another position in the spring at Crowsnest Pass to be closer to his family, Foster stepped into the general manager’s role.
He spent his initial months listening and learning.
“I believe you can only make decisions once you really understand information,” Foster told the Rotary Club of Osoyoos recently. “You’re an idiot if you don’t look back at history.”
Admitting he’s focused on numbers and details, he also gives priority to customer service.
“I believe it’s all about the customer,” he said. “I love customer service and that’s why I love tourism. I’m so happy to be back in it.”
Foster’s diverse career background has seen him study business, photography and tourism management at different times.
He did his co-op at a Whistler eco-tours company, later going on to manage it. He later stepped away from tourism to work as a marketing and events leader for Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers.
The new management team at Baldy brings back some familiar faces. Kevin Rand, who has been with the mountain for 19 years, is operations manager. Matt Koenig, who has been there 16 years, is facilities manager. Tina Hesketh looks after accounting and human resources and Wade Wilk manages construction.
Stephanie O’Brien, Joey O’Brien’s daughter, works remotely as marketing manager.
Foster says he’s tried to ensure that Baldy offers a happy work environment.
“That is key for a mountain of our size,” he said. “When the people there are happy, that will convey to the customers.”
The season kicks off with a First Chair Festival on Friday, Dec. 8, which runs through the weekend.
It will include live music, longer hours in the newly renovated Baldy Bar, guided tours and family-friendly activities such as a scavenger hunt and slalom course on the Magic Carpet.
“I come from an event planning background,” said Foster, whose accent reflects a blend of his Zimbabwean birthplace and English upbringing. “I want to make it something people don’t want to miss.”
Even before that, visitors had a chance to see the newly renovated Baldy Bar at a grand opening event coinciding with the Grey Cup on Nov. 26.
“We’ve kept that nice kind of local feeling in the bar,” says Foster as he shows off a wall decorated with old photos and Baldy memorabilia.
The bar has a homey feel with lots of wood, a few sofas and a fireplace, eschewing the modern look of shiny metal and glitz.
The resort has also opened some new terrain for use this year for skiing and snowboarding.
“We’ve opened up some more terrain that hasn’t been open in about 10 years,” says Foster.
This includes gladed areas where skiers can ski through open spaces through forests.
“We’ve got perfectly spaced trees up here for those people who love to ride powder through the trees,” says Foster. “There were some areas that got overgrown during a few years of being shut down. They went in and brush cut it and opened it up so it’s just trees rather than trees and brush. So it’s a lot more accessible.”
Foster sent a husband-and-wife team of operations manager and risk manager – one a skier and one a snowboarder – to make sure the new terrain met the needs of both demographics.
Signage is being updated to give it a fresh look and feel.
And the resort has been rolling out a refreshed website.
Last year, the resort was hampered in its efforts to get real estate sales going because the subdivision plans were years old and regulations have changed.
“We had to jump through some real hoops,” said Foster, adding that the resort has now cleared those hoops and will be allowed to sell lots.
A marketing campaign for lot sales will likely launch in January when people are enjoying the winter season at Baldy, he said.
Plans to develop Baldy as a four-season resort will take longer.
“I come from a summer background,” said Foster. “I see massive opportunity for a four-season resort up there. It’s going to take a bit more time. We have to focus on what we do and make sure we do it well, which is our winter. We’re going to start slowly rolling out some summer programs.”
A company has been hired to start surveying for mountain biking trails, though it’s not yet clear if construction on these will start next year, he said.
Meanwhile, recent precipitation has meant a rapid accumulation of snow, with even more falling every day.
The fresh, white snow is ready for another season.