Featured, Local News

Meet Eb Kinney: Okemo’s senior director of mountain operations

By Karen D. Lorentz

Eb Kinney was born in Rutland, grew up in South Dorset, and learned to ski at age 8 in the after school Junior Ski Instruction Program at Bromley Mountain. Like so many Vermont kids, he worked at the mountain for lift tickets while in school, first in daycare and then as a lift operator.

After graduating from Burr and Burton High School in 1981, Kinney attended Ohio Diesel Technical Institute in Cleveland to become a heavy-duty truck and equipment mechanic.

How that led to his current position as Okemo’s senior director of mountain operations is a result of his being “a mechanic by nature” and “loving the outdoors.”

Throw in a passion for change and challenges, and you have an enthusiastic and engaged mountain man who says of traveling to ski resorts in France, Colorado, California and beyond, “I thoroughly enjoy going to see other areas and how they do things. If you don’t come back with a few good ideas, you weren’t looking.”

Q&A with Eb Kinney

Mountain Times: So how did you end up in Vermont?

Eb Kinney:  After graduation I went to work for New England Truck and Equipment in Revere, Massachussetts, for three years. I lived right on Revere Beach, which was exciting during the summer. While on vacation in August 1984, I met my wife Gene Ann, who was finishing up nursing school at Castleton College. We married in July 1986 and bought a house in Brownsville, where we still reside.

MT: And that location led to work in the ski industry?

EB:  Yes, Ascutney Mountain Ski Area was looking for a chief mechanic for their maintenance shop. I applied and started in November 1986.

Ascutney was a great area to learn about everything, both mechanically and about working at a ski area. At a small area, you are responsible for your specific line of business but also help with everything —lift maintenance, lift ops, grooming, snowmaking, construction, blasting, and mowing trails in the summer. Whatever it took, we would help each other out. It was a great way to learn about mountain operations.

Unfortunately in 1989 Ascutney entered Chapter 11 so in July of 1990, I interviewed with Barry Tucker and Gary Martin, two legends at Okemo, and started work as a mechanic in their shop in August.

MT: How did you get to your current job?

EB: In summer of 1991, I was offered a job as a lift mechanic, which incorporated the two things I love — working on equipment and working outside! In 1992 I became lift maintenance manager, and in 1997 I was promoted to director of lifts, overseeing the lift operations and lift maintenance departments. In 2002 I became assistant mountain manager under Barry Tucker, a mentor to all of us at Okemo and a person for whom I have the utmost respect. In 2010 I became mountain manager, and when Okemo became part of Vail Resorts [October 2018], my job title changed to senior director of mountain operations.

MT: What are your job duties and responsibilities? 

EB: I oversee electrical, shuttle, patrol, terrain parks, snowmaking, lift operations, lift maintenance, maintenance shop, purchasing, road maintenance, grooming, trail maintenance and tubing departments.

Seems like a lot, but I have the best group of people working with me, and they help make my life easier for sure. I’m lucky!

MT: What do you like about your job?

EB: I love the challenge and that every day is different.  Mother Nature likes to throw you a curve ball every now and then.

I really enjoy the people I work with — having fun joking with one another can take the edge off any situation. It’s a real team here — every person would help the other person out in a heartbeat.

Working with Tim and Diane Mueller [Okemo’s owner/operators 1982-2018] was great. They gave us plenty of opportunities, and it was up to us to capitalize on those opportunities.

There’s a ton of pride within mountain operations. Many in this group have helped build Okemo. Whether it’s new lifts or trails, infrastructure for development, bridges, roads, snowmaking ponds, we’ve been a part of it.

Now working with the Vail team has been a great experience. The passion from within is huge. Everyone I’ve met from the Vail team is as dedicated as we are at Okemo.

MT: What’s the best part of your job for you personally?

EB: I like that we never sit on our heels and expect that since we were successful last year that we will be successful this year. We’re always thinking of ways we can run more efficiently and become better. It’s a competitive world in the ski industry, and you always want to be out front. If not, you will be left behind.

MT: And the reward?

EB: I truly feel the reward is looking at what this team has accomplished.

MT: Any challenges other than the weather? 

EB:  It can be challenging to find men and women who want to pursue a career in the industry. Fortunately, as a Vail Resorts property, the growth and leadership opportunities that are available give us an advantage.

MT: What are the greatest changes you’ve seen at Okemo? 

EB: The Northstar Express, Okemo’s first detachable lift and the Sunburst Six, the first six-pack bubble.

In snowmaking things have changed so much in the past 20 years. Today’s snowmaker is a technician and safety expert. It takes skill, knowledge of weather trends, and grit.

The development of the Low-E gun has changed snowmaking for the better. Guns that perform better in marginal temps but will also perform in cold temps as well and are very efficient. We are pumping as much water as ever through these guns, but using half the fossil fuels we did in the early 90s. Grooming equipment has changed dramatically. More efficient, operator ergonomics, machine specific park cats, winch cats.

All these have been positive changes that improve the guest experience.

MT: Any particularly memorable experiences for you?

EB: Completing some of the big capital projects has been memorable. I truly enjoyed building the lifts and the mountain coaster.

Probably one of the most memorable was the Nov. 29 2014 grand opening of the Sunburst Six bubble chairlift. I was helping out at the unload. My wife and two daughters rode the bubble up that morning and surprised me.

That was a challenging project, starting on July 14 2014 and completing it in that amount of time was a huge accomplishment achieved by everyone involved.

 MT: Any influences or mentors? 

EB: Barry Tucker. I worked for and with Barry for 25 years. He created a great team and I appreciate everything he did for the mountain and how he mentored me through the years. He taught me about being humble, to never expect to be good at something, rather to earn it.  He set the bar high for all of us at Okemo and we aim to keep that expectation.

MT: Do you get to ski? 

EB: I try to ski a few times each week. Attention to detail is something we’ve been pushing with all of our guys. We hold each other accountable, so skiing and looking at all aspects of the mountain through the guests’ eyes is extremely important.

MT: How do you spend your time outside of work? 

EB: I enjoy spending time with my wife and family. Seeing my daughters and son get married and having a new grandson have been very special as is having a wife who understands what it’s like to be married to someone in the ski industry.

I also enjoy camping, love to hunt, and and have been producing maple syrup each spring since I was little.

MT: What’s your take on winter? Vermont? The mountain lifestyle? 

EB: Winter is a great time of year. Get out and enjoy it. Vermont is bigger than you think and has a ton to offer. The mountain lifestyle is like sugaring in the spring — it gets in your blood and you can’t get away from it.

MT: What advice would you give someone who wanted to work in the ski industry?

EB: It’s a great industry, fun, rewarding. It’s changing every day with lots of room for growth. If you want to have a great career, look into it.

MT:  Do you have a favorite movie or book?

EB: “Dances With Wolves.” I love the idea of learning about people and how to work with others and the vast openness of the range.

MT: Any advice or words of wisdom? 

EB: Be humble, work hard, be safe, work together as a team, enjoy what you do, and have fun.

MT: Anything else you would like to share? 

EB: Okemo’s mountain ops team is the best anyone could ask for — they’re the reason our guests keep coming back.

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