COVID-19 & Skiing Podcast #5: Berkshire East/Catamount Owner & Goggles for Docs Founder Jon Schaefer – First to Close, Then A Great Goggle Airlift
What this is: This is the fifth in a series of short conversations exploring the fallout to the ski industry from the COVID-19-forced closure of every ski area on the continent in March 2020. Click through to listen to the first four: author Chris Diamond, Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher, Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway, NSAA CEO Kelly Pawlak.
Why I interviewed him: Because Jon has done two incredibly consequential things that helped shift the momentum of the COVID-19 response in tangible ways. First, he turned the lights out on his two Massachusetts ski areas on Thursday, March 12, becoming the first ski area on the continent to close specifically to help stop the virus’ spread. In doing so, he lit a fuse that would soon blow up the entire industry. Second, he willed an errant email from a New York City doctor into a nationwide initiative to transfer goggles from the bottom of 10,000 dusty ski bags to the faces of front-line medical workers, giving them the eye protection that somehow our medical system is not equipped to provide. How and why he did these things is a story that I wanted to hear.
What we talked about: Jon’s thought process leading up to the shutdown; when you take away skiing you’re taking away freedom and the emotional toll of making that decision is significant; how the sacrifice was “an act of honoring” the more vulnerable members of the tight-knit communities that wrap both of those mountains; how those communities reacted to his decision; “crickets” from the industry when he closed; there are some advantages to not being a 6,000-mountain conglomerate, and one of those is the ability to move very quickly in an instance such as the COVID shutdown; he’s already figuring out how to put his employees back to work; when everything goes haywire, the government responds with resources for businesses but you’ve got to dig in to figure out what they are; the vast internet bazaar of government auctions is an overlooked resource in this crisis; could we see temporary farms on the slopes of Berkshire East and Catamount?; the single email that launched Goggles for Docs; how he organized the avalanche of emails that followed; Inntopia steps in to order the chaos with a website; how rapidly the number of listed hospitals in need grew and how that happened; a de facto corporate order emerges from the let’s-do-this pent-up enthusiasm of hundreds of nearly home-bound volunteers; the exponential growth of donations; virtual apres is ongoing to raise awareness and you’re welcome to drop in; “the intensity with which the ski world is attacking this … is just phenomenal”; your old goggles are gold right now, so get them out of your closet and into a hospital; this thing went global quick; Goggles for Docs is a case study in the power of crowd-sourcing; this gives you something you can do other than sit at home and feel as though there’s nothing you can do; what made him think about shutting the whole thing down and why he didn’t; why he’s not preoccupied with the fact that the healthcare system was shockingly short on equipment to meet this crisis; how you can donate or otherwise help; how enormous the need is; yes your goggles may be beat up but official medical orgs have approved this so go for it.
Recorded on: April 5, 2020
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The Storm Skiing Podcasts: Killington & Pico GM Mike Solimano | Plattekill owners Danielle and Laszlo Vajtay | New England Lost Ski Areas Project Founder Jeremy Davis | Magic Mountain President Geoff Hatheway | Lift Blog Founder Peter Landsman | Boyne Resorts CEO Stephen Kircher | Burke Mountain GM Kevin Mack | Liftopia CEO Evan Reece | Berkshire East & Catamount Owner & GM Jon Schaefer| Vermont Ski + Ride and Vermont Sports Co-Publisher & Editor Lisa Lynn| Sugarbush President & COO Win Smith| Loon President & GM Jay Scambio| Sunday River President & GM Dana Bullen| Big Snow & Mountain Creek VP of Sales & Marketing Hugh Reynolds |