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Whitetail boss counting on longer run this year

November 01, 1998

Whitetail Pres. an General ManagerBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- After one of the warmest winters in memory, Don MacAskill is hoping Mother Nature will cooperate during his first season as the new president and general manager at Whitetail Ski Resort.

Should there be more warm winters ahead, however, MacAskill can look to a day when Whitetail is a magnet to visitors during the spring, summer and fall, as well.

--cont. from news page--

MacAskill, 43, started his job at Whitetail on Oct. 5 after 17 years with the Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont. For 12 of those years he was the vice president and general manager.

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"I was at a point where I was ready for a change," MacAskill said last week of his decision to take the Whitetail job.

"The recreational resource we have here at Whitetail is exceptional, to create a four-season destination with appeal to families," he said. The resort's proximity to Washington and Baltimore also places it within an easy drive of several million people.

Now he is in charge of a ski resort that was in operation for about 70 days last year, compared to more than 100 days in an average season.

"Last year, from all indications, was a one-in-100-year winter," MacAskill said. It was also the first season since the resort opened in 1991 that Whitetail didn't turn an operating profit, he said.

Resorts can make snow, but not without sub-freezing weather. If temperatures fall back to normal ranges, he expects the slopes to be open from early or mid-December the end of March.

That would be good news for the approximately 800 people who work there during the season. About a third of those are full-time, aside from about 40 people who work for the resort year-round, MacAskill said.

MacAskill used 1996-97 as an example of an average year, when the gross payroll was $2.7 million. "That's what we're looking at budgeting for this year," he said.

About 200 people showed up for a job fair in October, he said. Another is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 15, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the resort's base lodge.

"There's a real diversity of jobs. We can find a spot for almost anyone," he said. Those range from ski instructors and lift operators to food service positions.

Earlier this year, Whitetail came close to changing hands. The Dauphin County General Authority was close to buying the ski resort for $20 million, but backed out of the deal when Snow Time Inc., which owns Ski Liberty in Fairfield, Pa., and Ski Roundtop near Harrisburg, Pa., filed suit, claiming unfair competition from a government entity.

The authority will still own Whitetail's proposed golf course, hotel and conference center, a $10 million project set to open in mid-2000. MacAskill said last week permits for the project should be approved in November with logging on the 350-acre tract expected to begin in December.

"Whitetail will be the managing entity for the golf course," MacAskill said. It will complement the ski resort since a short ski season means a longer golf season and skiers can make use of the hotel when the links are empty in the dead of winter.

Meanwhile, Whitetail Ski Company Inc. is improving the slopes, extending the snowboard park, doubling snowmaking capacity for boarders, and has purchased a grooming machine for the "half-pipe" snowboard course.

Whitetail spokeswoman Rachel Nichols said last week the company recently signed a five-year sponshorship deal with Pepsi/Mountain Dew for the snowboard park.

MacAskill said the company is "exploring a couple of different options" for its future, but wouldn't say if those included negotiations with another prospective buyer for the ski resort.

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