TELLURIDE – Lift operators take notice.
Greg Pack was a liftie at Keystone earning $3.65 an hour in 1989 when he decided that he would someday run a ski area. A quarter-century later, he is president of the Telluride Ski and Golf Resort.
“I saw the director of mountain operations give direction to some of us and then hop on his snowmobile,” Pack recalls of the start of his career in the ski industry. “And then later I saw him take off in a helicopter. And then after that I saw him working in an office and I thought, ‘That is the coolest job.’”
Pack, who is 44, quickly worked his way up the ladder, running lift operations at Breckenridge and serving as director of recreation at Keystone before being named president and general manager of Moonlight Basin in Montana in 2007.
He moved into the president’s office at the Telluride Ski and Golf Company last month.
Pack’s move to Telluride began in October when he took a call from Telski owner Chuck Horning, who proceeded to ask him about guest services and employee relations at Moonlight Basin.
“I thought the call was just one ski area operator to another, asking questions about how we did things,” Pack said during an interview in his office. “But then Chuck said, ‘I need somebody like you to run this thing.’
Pack was happy in Montana, but “when the top ski resort in the country comes calling, you have to listen.”
A few months later, Pack was in his new job, meeting with employees in every department at the ski company, and with business and political leaders in the region, “doing a lot of listening,” he said.
“I believe it’s important to understand before you can be understood,” he explained.
It was that philosophy, which Pack reiterates as he talks, that particularly appealed to Horning, who frankly told Pack that he, Horning, made a few mistakes when he first came to Telluride, and he hopes Pack can avoid doing the same thing.
“Chuck told me to ‘check my ego at the door,” Pack said. “He wants me to learn and understand before setting goals and priorities.”
His first questions, as he meets Telski employees, are: “What are your priorities? What can we be working on to help you do your job better?”
And his first impression? “It’s been a fun conversation. From lifts to guest services, we have incredible people here at the resort.”
Telluride boasts a “very relaxed and welcoming environment,” Pack said. “I think there is room for improvement on our service levels and the amenities we offer, particularly summer amenities. Ski resorts everywhere are working to build a year-round model.”
For this ski season, based on his discussions with Horning, Pack has identified two priorities on which he will focus.
The first is to improve the employee experience, “to give employees all the tools they need to be successful.” That includes additional training and professional development opportunities.
The second priority is on guest services. To that end, Pack is working to set benchmarks that Telluride will strive to meet or exceed, as compared to other resorts. The big question, he said, is, “What will make us world class?”
Just a month on the job, Pack has also found himself leaning in to the details of the ski company’s master development plan, which is due for an update with the U.S. Forest Service. It is far too soon, he said, to suggest what that plan could eventually include. Also a priority, Pack said, is working with the regional air organization to improve air access. Getting visitors to a remote destination can’t help be a challenge for Telluride, but it is a challenge Pack also faced at Moonlight Basin. There, he said, regional cooperation proved highly successful.
“I want to be a good community partner,” Pack explained. “I have no hidden agendas, I speak from the heart, and I am willing to listen to folks and take input. My job is to earn the respect of the community. And part of that is done by me telling the ski company’s story. I’ve learned that if you aren’t telling your story, people make stuff up.”
Pack did his research before taking his new job and is aware there have been some rocky periods during Chuck Horning’s ten-year tenure as owner of Telski, including considerable executive turnover. Just last year Horning terminated the contract of five-year CEO Dave Riley and took direct control of day-to-day management of the ski company. Although Horning said at the time he had no intention of stepping back from that role, a year later, he has handed the reins to Pack.
“Chuck will be as involved as he wants to be,” Pack said. “He owns the company. But he has told me he’d like nothing more than to hang out at his ranch in California and take it easy.” Moreover, Pack expressed confidence that he and Horning are on precisely the same page when it comes to the goal of making Telluride a world class resort, and specifically, about what it takes to get there.
Pack has settled into a house in east Telluride, where he will be joined in January by his wife Sharon and their two daughters, ages 12 and 15.
For now, he said, “I am thrilled to be back in Colorado.” Pack, who grew up in Colorado Springs, first visited Telluride twenty years ago, on a family vacation. “Telluride has really changed,” he said.
“But it is as beautiful as I remembered it.”