Big Bear Mountain Resort GM Wade Reeser on new role, new ownership and getting more youth on snow

Big Bear Mountain Resort (BBMR) recently named Wade Reeser as its new General Manager.

Born and raised in the Big Bear Valley, Reeser grow up on the slopes of Snow Summit and has served in a number of leadership capacities at the resort, including most recently as vice president of operations. As GM, Reeser will lead the resort under the company's new ownership group, comprised of affiliates of KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company.

wade reeser

Wade Reeser, GM of Big Bear Mountain Resort. Photo: Big Bear Mountain Resort

Related: Deer Valley Resort to be acquired by KSL Capital joint venture

Although a name for the new resort holding group has not yet been divulged, Reeser and the crew at BBMR are preparing for growth moving into the 2017/18 snow season, as the resort gears up for more than $2 million in capital improvements that will increase the size and capacity of what is already Southern California’s largest beginner ski and snowboard facility at Bear Mountain.

Reeser is taking over leadership from former President Dave Likins, who helped lead BBMR through its integration into the Mammoth Resorts family and oversaw a number of other improvements at both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.

We talked with Reeser to understand the strategy he is working on for the season ahead, which includes placing a priority on bringing new skiers and snowboarders to the mountain.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BBMR has gone through a couple ownership changes recently, first joining the Mammoth Resorts family and now as part of the new KSL/Henry Crown joint venture. You’ve been at Bear through all of it, what’s changed most?

The change has come faster than anyone around here, myself included, could have predicted or fully prepared for. For the better part of 50 years our ownership group was more or less the same, but in the span of a few years things have changed dramatically, not once but twice.

There's a natural resistance to change, and we certainly sensed that from the community in the beginning, but ultimately Mammoth kept the promises that were made to invest in the resort experience at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. The product has improved, and that's what our guests care about. They wanted to see it before they believed it, as they should.

As we begin this next chapter as part of a much larger organization, I think Big Bear Mountain Resort is well-positioned to maximize its full potential. We now have access to the resources and expertise to mold Big Bear Mountain Resort into something pretty special.

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What hasn’t changed or won’t?

Dick Kun, who passed away last year, was an absolute icon in the ski industry and a mentor of mine. As a long-time leader of the resort, he meant so many things to so many people, and he left a legacy of incredible innovation. He had the vision to create a model for modern snowmaking that many resorts have emulated. He really embraced terrain parks and lift-served mountain biking before anyone else. Under Dick's leadership, Bear and Summit were always on the leading edge and that won't change, if anything it will accelerate.

How does Bear fit in this new larger organization?

Southern California is the largest winter sports market in the United States. There are more skiers and snowboarders in our backyard than anywhere else in the country. Similar story with mountain biking. We want to continue to be hyper-focused on making BBMR the local mountain resort for SoCal. If we can continue to succeed there, the benefits to the larger organization are multiple.

Our new ownership has been pretty outspoken about the value they place in each resort staying true to its character. We will continue to cultivate an experience for a distinct segment of our customers that’s unlike anywhere else in the country. We’re known for providing our guests with an authentic SoCal experience and that's something we will continue to deliver moving forward.

What are the biggest challenges in front of you in this new role?

As an industry, if we don't start spreading the stoke a little wider and make the sport more accessible to people, we're going to have some tough decisions to make in the short and long-term. The numbers are what they are, but to our credit the lift lines at Bear look different than just about any lift line in the country with all different walks of life represented.

We've done a great job of introducing the sport to new and different audiences, but we can and will do better. A lot of the improvements we've made at Bear and Summit the past few years have been aimed at the beginner experience – making the process of learning how to ski or snowboard easier and faster. It's working, but we still have a lot of work to do.

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Snow Summit has made some substantial improvements to the mountain bike park and trail system. How does mountain biking fit into the resort’s overall summer vision moving forward?

Mountain biking is a huge part of our summer mix, along with the expanded base area activities at Summit. Given our proximity to Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego, the importance of providing products and services to drive year-round visitation is multiplied.

Over the past five years we've made some significant additions to the trail system by working with the Forest Service and partners like Gravity Logic to build a mountain bike experience that our guests appreciate.

We have a sophisticated customer when it comes to mountain biking – a couple jump lines and flow trails won't capture their imagination or keep them coming back for long. It's a process of continual evolution and our Trail Crew has done a phenomenal job of managing resources and expectations.

That said, expanding the park is something we're definitely looking into. These things take time and require a lot of careful study and approvals by all the necessary entities, which we're working on.

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Snowmaking has been a huge part of the equation at BBMR given your location. Moving forward, man-made snow is likely going to be a reality we’re all living with, how have you made it work?

When it comes to snowmaking, I think embracing our geographic location and the challenges it presents has as much to do with our success as anything. Sure, the infrastructure, water agreements, and years of experience are important to the on-snow experience our guests have come to expect, but the reality is we're not in the Rocky Mountains, Eastern Sierras, or Cascades, so we have to be a little more flexible and snowmaking allows us to do that while still providing a first class experience.

What changes or improvements can we look for at BBMR in the next couple years?

Short-term, we're working on a substantial expansion of the beginner terrain at Bear, including some new magic carpets, and improvements to the locker rooms and physical infrastructure at Summit which should be finished before this season starts.

Long-term, the trajectory of the resort is something all of us are stoked on. There's a reason we've been acquired twice in the last few years — our investors see the same thing we do: there's a tremendous opportunity here, and we're excited to make the most of it.

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