By Smarty Guest Blogger Shawn Williams, Beech Mountain Resort
When people ask me what I do, they always look surprised to hear me say, “I work for a ski resort”. My responses to their next round of questions usually include “Yes, I live in Charlotte; Yes, there is good skiing in North Carolina; Yes, I realize it was 65 degrees in January last week; And yes, I’m a pretty good skier”.
Operating a ski resort in the South has its own sets of challenges and creates some pretty crazy days. Even crazier is when I look back at how our family got into this business. My grandfather, Ray Costin, was a heck of a businessman. Most of his career was spent in real estate development and construction, however in 1974 he was presented with an opportunity to become involved with some ski resorts (Bryce Mountain, Massanutten and Blue Knob). Having never been involved in this industry prior to that, he quickly became enamored by it. So in 1986 when Beech Mountain Resort was facing financial hardships under their current management, he jumped at the opportunity to purchase the resort and focus his interests on turning it around. Yep, he bought a ski resort! This is where my family really became entrenched in the North Carolina ski industry and our wild ride began.
My father, John Costin, began working along side my grandfather, serving as General Manager. This meant my family split a lot of our time between Charlotte and Beech. We basically grew up on the mountain every weekend as kids. Mom would load the 5 of us up every Friday after school and drive 3 hours to the mountains, with only the radio and conversation to keep us entertained. Clearly my mom is a saint because she did that all winter long with 5 kids. I mean she made 3 different stops for fast food because no one ate the same stuff. They tossed us out on the mountain to ski in whatever the weather had for us that weekend- no complaining just go. It was awesome. We spent all weekend on the Ski Team and “working” if my dad needed some help. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
Fast forward to 2004- this is where I started working for my dad. He needed some help, so I jumped in along side him working downtown in the office I grew up visiting. The office was shared between several of their companies – Beech, the construction company and the real estate development company (which both my aunts were involved in as well). It was clear that my Dad’s interests were mostly in Beech than the other businesses, so in 2008 he divested his interests in the other businesses to his sisters and acquired 100% of Beech. So now we were 100% all-in and it was time to go to work.
Dad briefly resumed the position of General Manager, but after being removed from the day to day operations for so long, he recognized that we needed someone committed to it full time that could also be more in tune with the current trends of the industry. Enter Ryan Costin, my younger brother, fresh out of Resort Management at Western Colorado. Ryan was 22, smart, eager to learn, and seriously dedicated. He was the right choice and to this day my strongest ally in the business. We began dissecting the logistics of the daily management – what was working, what wasn’t and where we could improve. The resort had been operating the same way, under the same management for 10+ years and in need of change. There was a lot of work to do and a lot to divide up. Ryan became the face of the organization – living and breathing it every day on site. Meanwhile, I peeled off the pieces that didn’t need to be on his plate and could be managed mostly from offsite – HR, payroll, insurance, retail buying, etc. Now, I haven’t even mentioned my other brother Jack, he works with us too! Jack is the head of the outside grounds operation and everyday works his tail off running around making sure things are going smoothly in every facility and outside in the village. Yes, you are reading this correctly, 3 out of 5 siblings work together, and we work for our dad! (Just to be clear my sisters love us but don’t want to work for the resort AT ALL.)
Everyday, every single day, I am proud of how far the resort has come under the new management. My dad is the president/CEO of the company, Ryan is the General Manager, Jack is the head of Ground Operations, and me – I have lots of titles depending on what I am doing that day! I am lucky to have a relationship with them that makes working the way we do possible. My brothers work their tails off! I mean, I work hard don’t get me wrong, but I have a desk and a computer. They do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Since we have taken over the management, the list of improvements speaks volumes to how far the resort has come in such a short period of time. Improvements in our snowmaking capabilities have been tremendous, now covering 100% of our terrain and can do so in record time. We have added a one of a kind bar at the top of the mountain, called 5506’. We now have our own onsite brewery, producing our own beer throughout the resort. Nonskiers can now enjoy our onsite tubing, with over 700 feet of runs. Our summer operations have expanded, truly making us a year-round destination, with offerings including mountain biking, disc golf, and scenic lift rides. 5506′ has quickly become a popular spot for lunch, live music, or Mile High Yoga. We have also become a destination wedding location, hosting weddings at the top and dinners/parties in the village. And we have plenty more up our sleeve in terms of expansions and new offerings!
The weather over the past few weeks has really tested our resolve, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. As I type this, winter is starting to come back around, the snowguns are being turned back on and the wild ride continues on!