Whistler Blackcomb to get new COO 

Q&A with outgoing COO Pete Sonntag

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - ON THE MOVE  Whistler Blackcomb COO Pete Sonntag is heading to Broomfield, Colo., to take a bigger role with Vail Resorts after two years in Whistler.
  • Photo submitted
  • ON THE MOVE Whistler Blackcomb COO Pete Sonntag is heading to Broomfield, Colo., to take a bigger role with Vail Resorts after two years in Whistler.

After two years as Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) Chief Operating Officer, Pete Sonntag is moving on.

On Aug. 23, Vail Resorts announced that Sonntag is moving to Broomfield, Colo., where he will oversee WB and Stevens Pass, as well as Vail Resorts' three resorts in Lake Tahoe and three resorts in Australia.

Geoff Buchheister, currently general manager of Keystone Resort, will become the new COO of Whistler Blackcomb.

Pique caught up with Sonntag and WB's communications director Marc Riddell to discuss Sonntag's two years in Whistler and where the resort goes from here.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your highlights from your two years in Whistler?

Pete Sonntag: I really look back fondly on my time here, even though it was relatively short, and in terms of highlights, for me it starts and ends with relationships, and building a relationship with, first of all, the team here ... my team I grew incredibly fond of over my time here, and understand why WB is recognized as among, if not the greatest mountain resort the world. It's the people.

The relationship that I was able to build with the community is also something that I'm really proud of. I know I came in under some difficult circumstances, being the face of Vail Resorts, and a lot of unknowns that came with that, and I really worked to put a face and a person with that.

What have you learned about Whistler? What are you taking with you back to Broomfield?

PS: I take a lot, and it's not lost on me that I've been asked to join the executive committee of our company ... that's the group that decides the future of the company, and to be a part of that, I'm so honoured to do that, but I also know I was asked to do that specifically because of the background that I bring to that role ... I have experience in Colorado, I have experience in Tahoe, and now I bring this amazing experience from the past two years at Whistler.

All of that, I think ... that's made me who I am, and something that I'm really excited to bring forward as our company figures out where it's going in the future.

How will you advocate for Whistler in your new role?

PS: I think the easy part is, this is an amazing resort with so much potential to continue to do great things, and I see that, and I have a deep familiarity with the projects that we're talking about ... [and] just the issues that we deal with.

So for me to be able to take that voice to the executive committee and really help guide our decisions in a direction that's good for WB, I think is something that I get excited about, and I would say we're the flagship of Vail Resorts, and so when things go well here, things go well for our company, and that's my job, is to see that things go well here.

How well do you know incoming COO Geoff Buchheister? What does he bring to the table?

PS: Geoff is going to be awesome, I've gotten to know him over the ... maybe five years now that he's been with the company, and he was at Park City when we acquired Park City, he stuck it out through that transition, and he's really blossomed as one of the great emerging leaders of our company. He's a great guy, he's outgoing, he's fun, he's easy to talk to, he's very sharp, and he is a ripping skier.

I am very confident he will fit in culturally really well. He's passionate about what he does, and I think it's a great fit, and I'm really excited to see him start in this new role.

I think he'll be starting by Oct. 1, but he'll certainly be up for visits prior to that to get familiar with the landscape.

There's still a lot of discussion about growth management in Whistler. Is that a message you're going to be taking to the executive committee?

PS: Yeah, I mean, the message is, it doesn't change ... we know that we can't do what we do without the support of the community that we do it in. I mean, we're all intertwined, we all rely on each other, and so that's, again, where the relationships come in.

We need alignment among all stakeholders in order to move forward, and that's something that I've tried to focus on here, and something that I think is important to bring forward to the executive committee as well.

Can you offer any insight into WB's relationship with First Nations, and where we stand now?

PS: There were a lot of commitments made prior to my arrival, and what we've done is we are actually fulfilling our commitments, and trying to go above and beyond and exceed where we can, and really, it's not about a piece of paper, it's not about, 'we agreed to this or that,' it's about knowing what the right thing to do is, and then going all in on doing the right thing, and I feel like that's the approach that we've taken, and it's been awesome to see that play out.

We hear a lot of discussions about those deals and commitments, and people in the community are curious. Are you able to tell us any specifics?

PS: No. I can't.

There has been some discussion online recently about WB's plans for South Base and potential First Nations involvement there. Can you tell us anything about the plans for South Base?

MARC RIDDELL: There [are] no plans. It's a part of our [60-year Master Development Agreement], it has been for a long time, but right now there [are] no plans or process in place to move forward with that. It seems to be like it's a fixation in terms of the gossip out there, but that's certainly not on our top priority list right now.

Vail Resorts invested $66-million into lift upgrades last year—can you offer any insight into what you're eyeing next for WB in terms of development or growth?

PS: Nope, we're in our normal capital planning cycle right now, and you know, there's no shortage of great ideas. That's one thing I love about this resort and this business, is there are plenty of places we can invest, so it's really [about] getting the list together, and then ultimately deciding what makes the most sense for the company.

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