Intrawest enterprise team to polish resort group
New management squad to ensure the best ideas get passed around
By Chris Woodall
In the season of Christmas carols, a gold-plated management team has been formed by Intrawest to keep the resort giant's eight mountain holdings humming in tune.
The senior team of vice-presidents will co-ordinate business opportunities and practices, sharing the best ideas among the resorts without imposing a cookie-cutter approach to each.
"Now that we're eight resorts, this is an opportunity to bring more co-ordination to the different operating disciplines," says Ed Pitoniak, who will direct the team as senior vice-president, resort enterprises.
Pitoniak used to wear the hat that said he was staff vice-president, idea and product acceleration.
"We want to find the critical factors that drive success, but we're not saying that if this works at Whistler/Blackcomb, you should do it that way at Mammoth (in California)," Pitoniak explains, naming two of the eight ski resorts.
Intrawest also owns Panorama in B.C., Tremblant and Mont Ste. Marie in Quebec, Copper in Colorado, Stratton in Vermont, and Snowshoe in West Virginia.
Intrawest is also developing a four-season resort at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, Calif., and is in a joint venture to build resort accommodation and a village at Keystone Resort, Colo.
Also on the enterprise team are Diane Rabbani, vice-president of people and organizational development; Michael Davis, vice-president marketing; Tony Osborne, staff vice-president of project management; and financial analyst David Creasy.
The team is also keeping in frequent touch with the resort lodging group headed by senior vice-president Richard Payette, and the company's real estate development and resort club groups.
"This team will have the opportunity to make a concerted and positive impact on our business," says Hugh Smythe, president of Intrawest's resort operations group.
"Over time we foresee adding business specialists from within our current ranks, ultimately giving the enterprise team the ability to help us achieve the highest standards across the entire guest experience at all our resorts," Smythe says.
Smythe hopes that excellence will beget excellence. "Our most exciting opportunity exists in bringing our properties to a level of excellence that makes all our resorts great places to visit, great places to work and great places to invest capital."
The concept of a "flying squad" visiting good corporate planning on each of its far-flung outposts is not new to the hospitality industry, but it's probably new to the ski resort industry, Pitoniak says.
"I don't know that we've seen anything like this in the ski resort business," he says.
The trick will be to be sensitive to the unique characters of each resort, Pitoniak says.
"Every resort has unique customers, culture, and history," he says. "We wouldn't be doing the customers or staff any favours by imposing one set of ideas. It's more to do with the question is there a way to blend what we do here, for example, with what they do there."
An example is the open "food servery" format of Whistler/Blackcomb cafeterias where the customer helps him/herself then goes to a cashier to pay up. The process is being adapted at Copper and Snowshoe.
"They have different buildings, and the food will be different, but the blueprint can apply," Pitoniak says.
A second example is the new slope-side children's park on Blackcomb. "Another resort may have the same fundamental park, but the flow of the park and its features will be different," the idea accelerator says.
Human resources is a major department for the exchange of ideas. "In the arena of corporate culture and employee experience, it's where we can have the greatest opportunity to transplant good ideas."
Again, the last thing Intrawest says it wants is to build clones.
"While Whistler/Blackcomb is clearly the flagship, people (at other resorts) don't want to be told to create another Blackcomb or Whistler," Pitoniak says.
The enterprise team itself has been a shape-shifting entity.
"We have been evolving toward it after working in an ad hoc team mode of three or so people," Pitoniak says.
"In the end the ultimate test will come in the form of lots more guests going away from the resorts with a totally enjoyable experience," Pitoniak says.