Heavenly GM Fortune discusses career, vision for South Lake Tahoe resort
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif — Tom Fortune arrives to work around sunrise, walks into his Kingsbury Grade office adorned with vintage and modern ski equipment and a large window featuring a stunning view of Lake Tahoe, grabs a pair of sticks depending on conditions, and heads to the mountain.
The Heavenly Mountain Resort general manager thinks it’s important to be on the slopes interacting with staff and getting first-hand knowledge. His favorite run varies depending on the conditions, but he loves to fly down Mott Canyon and also enjoys a leisurely run down Ridge Run.
He skies about three to five times per week.
In addition to checking out the slopes, he likes to check in with the employees. Interaction with staff is important to him. Each month, Fortune has lunch with 10 frontline employees.
“I’m always blown away by the stories and backgrounds of our staff,” Fortune told the Tribune.
After more than 40 years in the ski industry, Heavenly’s GM knows a thing or two about the business.
Although this is the first season as GM, Fortune is not new to Heavenly.
He started there in 2010 in base operations. In 2016, he was transferred to Kirkwood Mountain Resort as Director of Mountain Operations then was asked to come back to Heavenly in 2019.
“Heavenly is a special place; the scenic beauty, it’s just breathtaking,” Fortune said.
Fortune, who lives in South Lake Tahoe with his wife, Jennifer, started his career as a teenager at Stevens Pass Ski Resort in Wash. He worked his way up from frontline staff to management. He’s also worked at Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort in Idaho and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming.
But from all the places he’s worked, one thing that stands out to him about Heavenly is the variety of terrain and the people he meets.
“It’s a big mountain, there is really truly something for everybody,” Fortune said. “And the people, the employees, the customers that come here are just a great group of people.”
A lot has changed since the 1970s when Fortune started in the industry.
“When I was just a kid learning the business, I worked in a repair shop and I only worked on skis, there was no such thing as snowboards,” he said. Other technology has changed as well, including types of chair lifts and the way people access the mountain as far as tickets and season passes.
Fortune doesn’t think people coming for a day and buying day passes will ever completely go away but he sees direct-to-lift ticketing as the future. If a guest connects their debit or credit card to the reusable ticket, they can skip the ticket window and will automatically be charged when they are scanned at the lift.
In addition to ticketing, snowmaking has changed at Heavenly. With steadily warming temperatures, he sees investing in snowmaking as key. Although there is a lot of focus on winter operations, Heavenly also has a significant summer operation. Fortune is proud that for the last two years, Heavenly has been fully staffed.
With the ups and downs of winter, summer business gives the resort more stability and allows them to keep staff year-round.
“We can now open all of the base areas on man made snow and we are continuing to upgrade that,” Fortune said. “I know it’s going to snow. Some years it will be a little less, some years it will be too much. The key is to be prepared for both scenarios.”
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