The Muellers Saw The Potential And Took The Risk.

The young Mueller family in their first season at Okemo. Credit: Okemo Resort

When Tim and Diane Mueller purchased Okemo Mountain  in August 1982, it was a ski area with six Pomalifts and three double chairlifts. Under their mom-and-pop hands-on leadership, it became a year-round destination resort with summer activities and programs as well as a vastly expanded two-mile wide ski area with 667 acres of terrain, 46 miles of trails, 98 percent snowmaking, 121 trails and glades, a 2,200 foot vertical, and 20 lifts.

Attorney George Nostrand characterized the purchase as  “a struggle and a monumental risk. They had limited funding and if it failed, they would have lost everything they owned. I told Tim that I wouldn’t have had the stomach to take this kind of risk. He said to me, ‘Well, George, that’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a lawyer.’”

Referring to a Sno-Engineering 1981-82 Master Plan which concluded Okemo could become “a major destination resort,” with $8 million in improvements, mountain expansion and additional condominium complexes, Tim cited “the potential” as worth taking that risk.

“We assumed we would be successful because that is part of being an entrepreneur, but never in our wildest dreams did we foresee Okemo becoming what it did. Tim thought going from 90,000 skier visits to 200,000 annually would be doable, and that was our idea of being successful. We never thought we would reach 600,000 or operate three resorts — that was not a goal then,” Diane said.

Hospitality and Service Orientation

The Classic Red Poma Lift in 1956 which the Muellers replaced. Credit: Okemo Resort

With their background operating and expanding a beach resort on St. Thomas — and a Vermont home construction business prior to that — they had “a lot of energy and experience. There were good employees here with experience so it wasn’t as if we were wildly entering some field blindly,” Tim noted.

Still their first season was a struggle. With no time to research a chairlift, they focused on sprucing up with paint, new signs (saving money because Diane did them), and fixing the lifts as fast as possible when they broke down.

With natural snow not falling until mid January, the Muellers relied on snowmaking and had six trails by Christmas with two from the top, contributing to loyal skier appreciation and a “we can do it” attitude among staff.

They also focused on service. Diane cited their beach resort experience as giving them “a jump on the ski industry” in terms of offering quality service. The emphasis on Okemo and its employees providing top notch service was part of Okemo’s core values that enabled the ski area to grow to such a success, she added.

Their hands-on management style was impressive as they worked alongside their staff and management team . They listened to staff suggestions and were able to delegate responsibilities, which eventually allowed them to add Mount Sunapee (NH) in 1998 and Crested Butte (CO) in 2004.

Expansion and Success

Sunburst Six as it approaches the summit. Credit: Okemo Resort

With employee input as to where the replacement chair for the main Pomalift should go, the Northstar Triple was installed in 1983 (later a quad and then a sixpack). The development of the Clock Tower reception area and base village followed in 1984, creating excitement and a growing confidence in the mountain and the Muellers.

Hands-on resort operators Tim and Diane Mueller shown at the 2005 start of the Spring House at Jackson Gore. Credit: Karen Lorentz

The continuing addition of chairlifts, snowmaking, and new trails was impressive. The expansion to Solitude Peak in 1987 provided the Muellers’ first new lift-and-trail complex on 225 acres and was enhanced by a lodge and trailside units.

The development of convenient trailside condominium complexes — on private land the founders had purchased and on land the Muellers acquired — enabled profits to be invested into mountain improvements, including lodges, halfpipe and terrain parks, another new trail-and-lift complex at South Face (1994), a novice area at lower Solitude (1995), and the Jackson Gore complex (2004-06).

The offering of children’s daycare and ski instruction programs combined with an early welcoming of snowboarding in 1987 enhanced the area’s appeal as family friendly and an avant garde ski and snowboard school further propelled its growing popularity. By 2009, Okemo ranked in the top two in Vermont and the East and top 13 in the nation by skier visits!

When Vail Resorts acquired Okemo Mountain Resort September 27, 2018 it may have been the end of the Mueller era at Okemo, but thanks to their success, it was also the beginning of an Epic era that pays homage to their legacy of creating a great family-oriented resort.

 

5 Comments

  1. Dr. Gretchen R. Besser says:

    Always enjoyable to read your well-crafted pieces, Karen. The Muellers deserve your kudos.

  2. Alan S Cort says:

    I taught at Okemo from 1972-1978. Several of my fellow instructors went on to have successful careers at Okemo, something rather unusual in the ski business, and made possible, I’m sure, by the Mueller’s management focus. I suspect the other real advantage they had was they owned the business and didn’t have a Board to answer to and second-guess them.

  3. K. Toolan says:

    I purchased a Trailside condo in 1985 and watched my family grow as the mountain grew. I owe more than 35 years of enjoyment and family memories to the Muellers. My grandkids are skiing there now and the enjoyment and memories continue. I must say however, when the Muellers left the atmosphere and culture of Okemo changed, and not for the better. I understand Tim and Diane’s well deserved retirement, but I’m one long time Okemo fan who misses them.

  4. Eileen Fishkin says:

    I have skied Okemo since the mid ’80s, and remember the Mueller’s management and focus on the future of the resort. I hope Vail gets a handle on operating an eastern resort devoted to families. As of last year – missed this season, sorry – they had not.

  5. I was an Ambassador for almost 20 yrs at Okemo….memmories were made..The Muellers Rock

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