Less than a decade ago, Shane Gadbaw operated a hedge fund full-time in New York City. Today, he’s revitalizing Southern Utah’s Eagle Point resort with a clever combination of operating days and a branded, full-mountain rental that’s turning midweek lulls into good business.
Gregg: Shane, give us a 30-second version of your story.
Shane: I purchased the land and lodges that you now know as Eagle Point Resort in 2009 while I was living in New York City, where I operated a hedge fund. Most of you will remember the era – the financial crisis which started in 2008 – when banks, home prices and some of the country’s oldest companies were facing devastating declines and government bailouts. As an investor at the time in many condo developments around the country, my investors and I were greatly affected as well. It was a tough time in the markets, and for many Americans.
Gregg: Fascinating, what made you decide to leave?
Shane: As I spent my days commiserating with investors, colleagues and fellow investment managers about the cratering U.S. economy, my mind often wandered to the grassy meadows, colorful wildflowers and big vistas of the Tushar Mountains and the new, distressed ski property I purchased with a friend. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave the Big Apple and move out west to the mountains? I could trade my suit and tie for jeans and boots and my power lunches with sharks for picnics with family and friends. Instead of explaining complicated derivatives to insurance companies and high net worth investors, I could help families from Utah, Nevada and California escape from their own big city madness that engulfed me, and instead make memories and second homes in the mountains. Could I really leave New York City to go run the resort with my family in Beaver, Utah?
Gregg: And that’s exactly what you did?
Shane: As it turns out, those day dreams are now my day job as the owner and operator of Eagle Point Resort. For nearly eight years, I have gained valuable experience helping families make memories in the mountains while visiting the resort.
Recently, I became a licensed real estate agent in Utah. It was a logical move given all of the time I was spending with incoming families helping them find property and understand the merits of the area. These interactions with families made me realize that my team and I, after seven wonderful winter and summer seasons entertaining guests visiting Eagle Point Resort, had successfully created a place that people wanted not only to visit, but to make a home. Thus, I became an agent and started Aspen Equity Real Estate to provide buyers and sellers of real estate in the Eagle Point area with the highest level of professionalism, decades of valuable experience, great customer service, and of course plentiful local knowledge.
Gregg: Talk a little bit about your decision to operate Friday – Monday instead of seven days a week and why that was right for Eagle Point and how the “As You Wish” idea ties into that.
Shane: Never manage the opening of a new ski resort from your desk in New York City is one of the most important takeaways in my story. I initially hired several “experts” from the ski industry who, despite my incredulity, insisted that Eagle Point should operate 7 days a week “if it wants to be a destination resort”.
I went with conventional wisdom my first year, which was a banner snow year, but was too early for seven days at this location. The long weekend did well even in the first year but the resort was scantily populated during midweek. It was obvious to the naked eye that I wouldn’t last long in this business operating a seven days a week resort at this stage of its existence.
In the summer between winter 1 and winter 2, I remember the moment it “clicked” with me that I had figured out a way to be closed midweek to the public but still have the potential to make more money than on our busy weekends with the “As You Wish” idea. I knew that the marginal cost of operation was still well within the budget that a 100-200 person group would consider a great value to have an entire mountain and its resources privately for a day and night. The “As You Wish Experience” was born around that revelation.
Gregg: A few resorts have offered similar whole-mountain rentals before, but I love that you have a brand and some collateral in place for yours. How big of a role will this program play in your overall marketing mix this season?
Shane: As You Wish is the fastest growing segment of our business. We have already hosted the prototype As You Wish Experience when the organization, Love Your Melon chose Eagle Point as the venue for their Apex Experience, in which 200 of their brand ambassadors converged on Eagle Point for a mind-blowing, one-of-a-kind event.
Among other amazing attractions, Love Your Melon hired the popular country act, Big & Rich, to play a private concert in the Canyonside Lodge to the delight of an intimate crowd of 250 people. The three day event stretched our imaginations with the potential of private events at Eagle Point Resort. We have had several events since then and there are already multiple reservations this year for As You Wish experiences at Eagle Point.
Gregg: That’s awesome. How aggressive have you been so far in your sales effort? Is it unique enough or a product/story that some good PR is generating all the interest you need at this point or do you have a sales person or team actively looking and pitching opportunities to brands?
Shane: A notable travel writer, Larry Olmsted, wrote a great piece in Forbes which went viral and led to early bookings (here’s the link). We don’t advertise or have a dedicated team although I really should and will get around to organizing that some day, though I have always been a fan of providing incentives to “finders” for bringing me business whether it was back on Wall Street or here in the mountains.
Gregg: You mentioned earlier that some “conventional wisdom” from resort operators wasn’t as wise as it seemed. Any other big lessons you’ve learned from running Eagle Point?
Shane: I have learned that a ski resort is like a power tool; if you don’t use it correctly, it can really hurt you. I’ve had to learn every aspect of the business from the ground up in order to be a good manager of the business. It has been a wonderful experience for my family and me and we look forward to making guests smile and laugh while making memories on the slopes for many years to come.
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