Podcast #36: Windham Mountain President Chip Seamans

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Who
Chip Seamans, President and General Manager of Windham Mountain, New York
Recorded on
January 25, 2021
Why I interviewed him
Because there it sits, 1,600 vertical feet of fall-line skiing within day-trip distance of New York City. Windham is one of four surviving Catskills mountains that together make up the first serious skiing cityfolk encounter when they point north into the wilderness. Hunter is the madhouse. Plattekill is the rebel. Belleayre is the cozy easy ski spot where you take your kids for warm-up rides on the gondola. Windham is something different. It draws Hunter’s crowds but without the concentration of knuckleheads straightlining double black diamonds in their Jets jerseys. It has Plattekill’s fall lines but with more vertical and faster lifts. It has Belleayre’s family appeal but without the awkward layer-cake trailmap (all the steep stuff is up top), that limits top-to-bottom family runs to a few trails off the shoulders. It’s a big mountain and a good one, and since the podcast hasn’t focused enough on New York ski areas, this seemed like a good place to start.
Looking up from the beginner area. Photo courtesy of Windham Mountain.
What we talked about
The exhilaration and intensity of coming up at Sunday River during the American Skiing Company’s heyday; snowmaking university; what ASC got right and wrong and how that impacts the ski industry to this day; how Seamans ended up running Kirkwood; how the South Tahoe snow bullseye and gnarly, cliff-hucking terrain was like a whole different planet from the snowmaking-intensive, over-groomed East; transitioning back east and landing at Windham; upgrading the mountain’s snowmaking; why they dropped a beginner area over the parking lot; the slowly expanding trail network and where we may see more additions; whether the mountain might further develop Wilderness Bowl or additional terrain expansions elsewhere on the mountain; why it may be a while before we see any of those additions; a hypothetical future second base area; why Windham finally cut an on-the-map glade and whether they might cut more; land development in New York State; how Windham massively upgraded its lift system with a creative chairlift shuffle; how difficult it is to move and shorten a 25-year-old high-speed quad; potential future lift upgrades; Baker isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; RFID; how Windham sets its season pass prices and why those ended up far higher than anticipated post-Covid; why the mountain joined the Ikon Pass and how its passholders responded to that partnership; a phenomenal run in season pass sales; what the Ikon-Windham partnership means for the New York City market; why the mountain decided to require Ikon Pass reservations this season; why Windham was left off the Ikon Pass even though it was a M.A.X. Pass mountain; thoughts on competing against state-subsidized Belleayre; who owns Windham and what their long-term intentions are; life in the age of Covid ops; and which changes may hang around after Covid fades.
Seamans (in black) crushing fresh tracks at Windham. The mountain doesn’t get a lot of days like this, but they’re glorious when they come. Photo courtesy of Windham Mountain.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Because Windham is making moves. The mountain just wrapped up a massive chairlift upgrade/switcheroo that strung a high-speed six-pack to the summit and replaced an aging triple with a high-speed quad. It’s added new trails in recent years, including a sprawling beginner area isolated from the chaos above. And it’s the Northeast’s newest addition to the Ikon Pass, both as a five- and seven-day partner and as a buy-up option for Windham season passholders. They’re not done yet. To understand the logic behind these moves and what might be next, I wanted to talk to the person guiding it all.
Questions I wish I’d asked
I’d liked to have talked a bit more about recovering from Hurricane Irene, which was Seamans’ first task when he arrived at the mountain a decade ago.
What I got wrong
Oops I referred to Wilderness Bowl as “West Bowl” but frankly I probably can’t name more than 10 ski trails in the entire country if I’m not looking directly at a trailmap because it’s just not something I pay attention to.
With two peaks and few intersecting trails, Windham skis big. Photo courtesy of Windham Mountain.
Why you should go there
Because Windham is one of the best ski areas in New York State. It’s better than you think and better than you remember. It’s big. The infrastructure is top-notch. The grooming is beautiful. Unlike neighboring Hunter, the trails actually follow the natural contours of the mountain. There’s little crossover between trails, making each run feel distinct and the whole area ski big. Is it expensive and crowded? Sure: welcome to the Catskills. Do I wish there were more glades and more bumps (especially in the spring)? Yes. Do I wish they’d stay open into April more consistently? Also yes. But this is a first-rate operation, ever evolving to meet the challenges of operating two-and-a-half hours from the nation’s largest city in a location that sometimes gets terrific amounts of snowfall and sometimes has dirt-bottomed forests in the middle of February. It draws a high-end crowd with high-end expectations and it delivers consistently. That’s harder to do than it sounds, and Windham gets it.
Additional resources
Lift Blog’s inventory of Windham lifts
New York Ski Blog’s Windham adventure archives
A Storm Skiing Podcast with the owners neighboring Catskills mountain Plattekill
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