On October 18, 2023

Okemo’s Diane and Tim Mueller are inducted into VSSM Hall of Fame

By Karen D. Lorentz

Tim and Diane Mueller hold the Hall of Fame award made by John Todd of Killington.

 

By Karen D. Lorentz

Diane and Tim Mueller were inducted to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame on Oct. 14 at Killington’s spacious new K-1 Lodge. Recognized for transforming Okemo Mountain into a first-class destination resort and providing their guests with memorable experiences, they were also honored for making significant contributions to the world of skiing and snowboarding.

Also inducted to the Hall of Fame Class of 2023 were: John Egan, pioneering extreme skier, film star, and Sugarbush ambassador; Suzanne Rueck, snowboarding standout, developer of the snowboard school at Stratton, and snowboarding coach; and Howard Buxton who moved the U.S. Army biathlon training facility from Alaska to Vermont. Two special awards were made with journalist and author David Goodman receiving the Paul Robbins Award and Nordic Combined Champion Tara Geraghty-Moats the First Tracks Award.

A short informative film on each inductee was made for the occasion. In the Mueller film, Tim recounted their house building experience in Londonderry; their experience building condos and managing a beach resort for Diane’s parents on St. Thomas; and returning to the States for better schools for their children. In selecting Okemo for their next venture, he noted, “People want to be on the beach and on the slopes.”

The Muellers met as 16-year-olds “in study hall” and “have been together a long time,” as Diane said, noting a highlight of Okemo accepting snowboarding earlier than most areas and daughter Erica making it to the U.S. Snowboard Team.

In acceptance remarks, both credited teamwork, acknowledging the contributions made by employees over the years. “The entire team has a passion for what they’re doing,” Diane said, noting the award is an “employees award, too.”

 Tim added, “We get the credit, but they did all the work.” He also noted, “The ski industry is changing and there aren’t so many mom and pop operations anymore.” 

Accomplishments and accolades

As a “mom and pop” team, the Muellers played instrumental roles in the development and success of Okemo.

They purchased the ski area in 1982 after its board of directors set about finding new owners with the wherewithal to improve the ski area. With three double chairlifts and nine Pomalifts, Okemo needed updating to remain competitive. After seeing the master plan for future development, Tim Mueller saw Okemo as “a diamond in the rough,” and they went to work as new owners.

Diane led initiatives to enhance the guest experience. Understanding what families go through to take a ski trip, she incorporated that understanding as part of employee training, thus getting a jump on a ski area focusing on guest service in the early 1980s. She contributed her ideas for improving infrastructure, expanding lodging options, and developing an array of on-mountain amenities. Her dedication to customer satisfaction and a commitment to providing a quality experience for all visitors were instrumental in Okemo’s success.

Tim set about expanding the area’s trail network, snowmaking, terrain parks, housing, and lodges. His construction and beach resort experience enabled him to envision Okemo as a destination resort that that would cater to all ability levels. He also sought input from his mountain workers and established a teamwork ethic that inspired workers to make significant contributions to the area’s transformation to a year-round resort.

Under his leadership, Okemo crews installed an extensive snowmaking system, which included adding snowmaking capability to existing and new trails. When water withdrawals from the nearby Black River met with resistance, crews built a 73-million gallon snowmaking pond (1994) at a cost of over $1 million at a time when Okemo could ill afford it and didn‘t know if they would ever need to use it. The compromise not only met demands for protection of the river and low water flows, it also put Okemo ahead of the game when snowmaking became a necessity during low snow years. Later, they expanded the pond to 150 million gallons, one of the many reasons Okemo gained a reputation for having good snow.

The Muellers also put Okemo ahead of the game with an early acceptance of snowboarding and teaching snowboarding. They developed children’s programs, both childcare and instructional, that catered to families. The development of many trailside condominiums and homes was another factor that played a key role in Okemo’s growing success as the convenience of ski-on/ski-off led to a booming real estate business. Profits were poured back into mountain expansion, snowmaking, and amenities like two nearby golf courses and summer activities. That led to ever-increasing visits and loyalty among families and ski enthusiasts.

The Muellers invested more than $100 million as they expanded the mountain to include three new skiing areas: Solitude, 1987; South Face, 1994; and Jackson Gore, 2002. Crews added trails, which were built in-house and replaced the aging Pomalifts with triple, quad, and six-seat chairlifts. When skiers requested more highspeed detachables, Okemo obliged.

By 1996, Okemo’s annual skier visits reached the top twenty nationally and by 2001 the top three in Vermont. By 2008, Okemo had reached over 600,000 skier visits. With the development of the Jackson Gore Village, which includes adventure center, ice arena, sports center, a hotel and condos and hosts summer concerts and weddings, Okemo became a true year-round destination resort.

As Okemo garnered widespread recognition and accolades, inquiries from other ski areas led the Muellers to lease and operate Mount Sunapee (owned by the state of New Hampshire) in 1998. They took their expertise to Crested Butte in Colorado in 2004, purchasing and improving the ski area and adding more accommodations.

Under the Muellers’ leadership, Okemo consistently ranked among the top resorts in the East. So it was not too surprising that when looking to expand its family of ski resorts, Vail Resorts made an unexpected offer, which the Muellers accepted in 2018. The exceptional service, well-maintained slopes, and family-friendly atmosphere that guests had come to know as “The Okemo Difference” fit in nicely with Vail’s “Experience of a Lifetime.”

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