LONDONDERRY — Earlier this week Magic Mountain began selling shares of the mountain to the general public, marking the change to a cooperative style ownership model.
In December of 2008, President of Magic Mountain, Jim Sullivan, began looking at the Mad River Glen ski area whose ownership is a co-op format.
" It seemed to fit not only in terms of the capital needs, but probably even more importantly in terms of the spirit of the mountain," Sullivan said. "Essentially what we're trying to create here is a skier's mountain. A skier's community. A mountain that's owned by and run by the skiers."
Initially, 1,000 shares were released for purchase at a price of $3,000 a share. While Sullivan said selling the 1,000 shares that were released is a lofty goal, he said it was not unattainable. Furthermore, Sullivan said the goal is to sell the 1,000 shares over a period of three years. The immediate goal is to sell 300 shares in the first year.
"That's sort of our threshold benchmark and I anticipate that we'll be able to obtain that level of share sales pretty quickly," Sullivan said.
Through informal discussions Sullivan said he has had with a number of people, he believes selling 300 shares in the first 90 days is possible and that the real goal for the first year would be to sell 450 to 500 shares.
Those who purchase shares will have majority representation on the five member board, voting rights, and a say in how the mountain is run, Sullivan said.
If 300 shares are able to be sold within the first year, the snowmaking capabilities — which have been a deficiency at Magic Mountain for years — will be improved.
The process is expected to the take three years with repairs being made to the snowmaking system this year to ensure that it is efficient and effective. In the subsequent two years, Sullivan said the mountain will begin to replace and reengineer the snowmaking system and try to take it to "a place that it's never been before."
"What I really anticipate is going to happen is that we will now have the requisite funding to not only repair and modify and upgrade the snowmaking system, but actually operate it," Sullivan said. "Those are two areas where this influx of capital is going to make a tremendous difference."
If the benchmark of 450 to 500 shares were to be reached this year, Sullivan said it would only help the mountain to accelerate the implementation of their plan.
Not only will the mountain be looking to increase its snowmaking capabilities, but Sullivan said they will be ramping up marketing efforts in the future as well.
"We're going to dedicate money toward marketing promotions," he said. "People are going to start seeing the Magic brand out there more frequently. It's going to be much more visible."
Increasing the snowmaking capabilities and marketing efforts are two of the strides that the mountain will take to try to double their attendance. Currently Magic Mountain averages about 16,000 visitors per season, Sullivan said. Magic Mountain is hoping to gradually increase the number of skiers over a five year span to about 35,000.
In past years, attendance has been limited to 16,000 a year largely because skiers have had the perception — because of the minimal snowmaking capabilities — that Magic Mountain was only a good place to ski if there was two feet of snow. That's a viewpoint that Sullivan said the mountain is intent on changing.
"If we can, which we will do, put snow on the hill consistently and not be subject to closing down because of thaws and that type of thing, I think the perception will change, because the general perception out there is this is a great mountain," he said. "It's got classic terrain. It's got great traditional Vermont trails. It's family friendly. So that's the positive perception, but the negative perception is they just don't have a consistent enough product on the hill.' So that's what we're really going to be able to change."
Sullivan said that he did a study in April of 2008 and the one thing that really stuck out among the skiing community was that people wanted to see the mountain succeed.
"I've got to say the groundswell of support has been really encouraging and I think it's essentially fortified my belief that this can work and is going to work," he said. "There's a level of interest out there to support this philosophy."