On February 21, 2018

Hairball, huckleberries, and happy people: Killington’s ambassador program thrives

By Karen D. Lorentz

KILLINGTON—Hairball greets families arriving at Ramshead with hi-fives, a good morning or a “Yo” if it’s a teenager, and always a smile. He’s Killington’s first—and only—monkey-ambassador.
Scenes of green-jacketed mountain ambassadors interacting with and helping guests repeat every day at Killington Resort.

Glenn Jacobi gives “tame the Beast tours” and promises participants that he’ll “prove to them we do have alligators on the mountain.”

Bob Giordano, better known as Bobby G, likes to think of helping people as “comedyraderie. “Leave’em laughing” is his motto. He starts a tour with, “I’m not an instructor but here’s a tip you won’t forget: Oak, maple and birch are hard woods. If you’re going to hit a tree, hit a pine.”

Ben Lawton, a Killington ambassador since 1986, volunteers because the ambassadors provide an invaluable service and he enjoys sharing his own love of skiing. “The camaraderie among ambassadors keeps me young,” he said.

What these and other volunteer ambassadors have in common is a keen desire to share their passion for the mountains and to help provide memorable experiences so guests have fun and want to return, said Ambassador Program Manager Pete Duffy.

“They are passionate about the mountain, the sport, and they want to help people,” Duffy noted.

To do that, ambassadors dispense information ranging from how to navigate the seven peaks of Killington and Pico to tips on restaurants and events guests might like to attend. They greet people mornings and help them find their way back to starting points at the end of the day.

Some give the free morning Meet the Mountains tours, which start daily at the Snowshed Courtyard.

Ambassadors also offer daily mountain orientations at the large trail sign at the top of the K-1 Express Gondola and at the top of Skyeship Stage Two by the large trail map. “They’re stationed there so people can ask questions, find out what’s going on, and get directions,” Duffy said.

Ambassadors assist in other ways, from helping ski patrol or aiding Huckleberries (reuniting separated parties) to greeting arriving bus groups.

Hairball and helping
“Children don’t get lost, parents do,” commented Laurie Canterbury, an ambassador since 1996. “When ambassadors radio in to report ‘a lost parent,’ they identify the children as ‘Huckleberries,’ not ‘lost children,’ and stay with them until parents arrive,” she explained.

The humor in parents’ gathering up “Huckleberries” takes the edge off a serious situation – the type of good vibe ambassadors are known for.
Canterbury’s mantra is, “You can grow old, but you don’t have to mature,” which helps to explain Hairball.

“It was in the 90s, when lousy weather was predicted for Thanksgiving, that we were told to plan on being indoors with kids,” Canterbury explained, noting she and a friend decided to bring puppets, and that is how the Hairball puppet came to be.

“He has an arm I can move to do high-fives with, with kids and adults. He can blow kisses, too. Hairball makes people smile. He lightens up the day for frazzled parents who have forgotten the kids’ gear or mittens. When the Little Penguins [children in the ski program] head up to Ramshead, Hairball makes the uphill hike fun by saying, ‘Bet I can beat you,’” Canterbury added.

“Hairball also interacts with older teens who come for college weeks. All energetic on Monday, they often are tired out by Friday and Hairball eggs them on,” the “monkey lady” impishly admits.
Yes, that is what people call her, including a waitress, who once exclaimed, “I remember you from when I was a little kid – you’re the monkey lady!”

That recognition illustrates how her helpfulness, through humor and a monkey’s touch, is long remembered. It’s one of many rewards she’s experienced as an ambassador.

Another occurred when Canterbury overcame her fear of public speaking by greeting a bus full of skiers. When a woman who had been watching her asked if she had gone to ventriloquist school, Canterbury was thrilled that the things she had learned to say without moving her lips were appreciated!

“Ambassadors are outgoing, happy people who get a lot out of volunteering – maybe even more than the guests. It’s a passion for all of us,” Canterbury observed.

“Enabling people to connect to the mountain is a reward in itself,” added Bobby G. Praising the friendships ambassadors make with each other and guests, he noted a couple from England took his tour and that he got to know them and their children through repeat visits. Their friendship led to his trips to England and even attending the daughter’s wedding, he said of the bonds created through volunteer work.

How it all began
The Killington Ambassador Program began in the 1962-1963 season with volunteers deemed to have “an acute case of Killingtonitis.” In love with skiing the mountain, they became good-will troubadours, singing the praises of Killington to ski clubs and others in their home states.

They distributed brochures throughout the East and helped other skiers enjoy the slopes by giving out information or other assistance. They could even be found parking cars, directing traffic, officiating at races, serving hamburgers, relieving ski-shop cashiers, and doing other helpful work to ensure the success of the young and growing ski area.

Eventually the need for ambassadors faded and the group dwindled to six. However, the Skier Courtesy Ambassador group was organized in the 1980s to promote skiing in control and courtesy on the slopes. At that time the on-hill duties included mostly checking on guests on weekends.

In the 1990s, the program grew again to 80 ambassadors under director Janis Albrecht. Duties were expanded to include more helping functions and even conducting customer surveys and acting as a source of feedback on how Killington was doing for its guests.

After John “Grizz” Puchalski became the first snowboarding ambassador in 1994, he was soon handing out candy to guests and convincing management that the volunteers should be all over the mountain and serving midweek, not just weekends. He became director for the 1997-1998 season and expanded duties to include other seasons and increased the number of volunteers so as to accommodate the needs of the mountain. (The summer assistance by ambassadors became a separate summer host program in 2016.)

Duffy’s duties, delights
Duffy, an ambassador since 2007, became the program’s manager in 2016-2017. He noted a growth in services, including staffing information desks at Skyeship and Ramshead lodges on weekends and holidays and having ambassadors at the Grand Hotel on busy check-in nights to greet guests and answer questions they might have.

The Killington Ambassador program operates out of offices at the Killington Medical Clinic. It’s there that Duffy gives early morning briefings to the those on duty that day. He shares information that helps them answer guest questions – snowmaking, grooming, and events updates along with safety and other tips.

A large part of his job is working on scheduling and assignments for the 275 volunteers. He interviews men and women over 18, focusing on whether the candidate would be “a good fit” and able to provide the required 21 days (200 hours) of service.

Duffy also communicates and works with other departments throughout the resort. They contact him if they want assistance, such as lifts needing people to help with long lines or events letting him know what assistance ambassadors might provide. He himself also helps out “wherever needed, parking cars to lift line duty – just as entire executive teams do,” he noted.

His assistant, Clairetta Corron, oversees the survey ambassadors, a group of 12 who gather information used for the net promoter score. She also covers for Duffy on his days off.

Asked about interesting experiences, Duffy cited being asked to assist with marriage proposals. He takes dyed water and writes the wedding proposal on the snow under the chairlift, which adds to the delight of many, he said.

“We have ambassadors who ski all around the world, and we have yet to find a place that has more people serving as ambassadors or hosts,” he added of his delight and pride in the program.

“Killington’s Ambassador program is the largest, most robust program in New England, if not the country. We have 275 passionate volunteers who do an outstanding job assisting with wayfinding and helping guests understand where they are going at any time of day. This place is massive, and the ambassadors are always out in force first thing in the morning at all the base areas. They offer invaluable help and truly enhance the guest experience. It is an honor and privilege to have them here,” commented Rob Megnin, Killington and Pico director of marketing and sales.

As for the alligators, between his magic tricks and easygoing, let’s-have-fun attitude, Glenn Jacobi will show you how tame the Beast really can be! Guaranteed – his license plate reads, “No Moguls.”

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