Chris Jarnot takes over helm at Vail
Aspen, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colo. ” One moment, Chris Jarnot, the new top executive at Vail Mountain, cruised down a catwalk a little ahead of his skiing partners. The next moment, he was out of sight, having popped into some trees, a little shortcut down to the Game Creek lift.
Then he’s waiting in the lift line for his lagging partners, ready for his next run.
Jarnot knows about strategic vision, brand identity and lift upgrades. But, besides that, he can ski. And while that’s not necessarily a given for a ski-company honcho, it’s natural for a born-and-bred Eagle County native.
Jarnot, 40, was named chief operating officer of Vail Mountain earlier this month after Bill Jensen announced he was leaving to take the top post at competitor Intrawest.
“This is, as far as I’m concerned, the best job in the company,” Jarnot said. “If not the world.”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he said as he gazed out of the gondola. “To come and be responsible for America’s greatest ski mountain.”
It’s been quite a climb for Jarnot, from skiing at Vail in Buddy Werner leagues as a local grade-schooler to taking the top position at the resort.
In between, he’s been a front-line worker loading skis onto buses at Beaver Creek during his college breaks, an intern in the marketing department and an marketing executive who migrated to Broomfield with Vail Resorts’ corporate headquarters.
Jarnot has worked for Vail Resorts his entire career, climbing to the position of senior vice president for marketing in Broomfield before his most recent promotion.
He started with the company in 1985, working for guest services at Beaver Creek during breaks from college. After graduation from CU ” he started as a finance major but changed it to tourism management, eyeing a career in skiing ” he was hired by the marketing department.
He’s been in Broomfield for more than a year, but, admittedly, he was plotting a return to the mountains.
“I feel fortunate to be back here in the valley,” he said.
Jarnot, who grew up in Lake Creek in Edwards and graduated from Eagle Valley High School ” his dad taught at Battle Mountain High School and his mom worked for the town of Vail ” said he dreamed as a child of escaping this valley for a big city.
But he soon realized the value of this small-town atmosphere and the accountability that comes when everybody knows your name.
“I like running into everyone I know at the grocery store, at the post office,” he said.
From the top of Game Creek, Jarnot headed for Widge’s Ridge with purpose.
“This is one of my favorite lines,” he said, carving aggressive turns down the Sun Down Bowl run.
Jarnot likes to ski ” and snowboard, too ” all over the Back Bowls, he said. But he thinks of Blue Sky Basin when he considers his greatest accomplishments with Vail Resorts.
The research and marketing for the opening of Blue Sky, including helping to come up with that name, was one of his proudest accomplishments with the company, he said. That included helping to name Pete’s Bowl and Earl’s Bowl, a nod to Vail’s founders, Peter Seibert and Earl Eaton.
He also helped with the revitalization of Vail that began in the mid-’90s as some saw the town growing tired. Events like Street Beat and Spring Back to Vail were launched as the company began plans for new buildings such as the Arrabelle at Vail Square and the Mountain Plaza.
A self-described introvert, Jarnot said he likes to cultivate one-on-one relationships with his employees.
“I’m not an incredibly outgoing guy,” Jarnot said on the way up Chair 5.
He certainly won the confidences of Vail CEO Rob Katz, who tapped him for the new position.
“(Jarnot) really does understand what makes Vail what it is,” Katz said earlier this month.
Jarnot takes over for Jensen, who has led the mountain for about a decade. Jarnot praised Jensen’s leadership, calling him a mentor.
“It’s not like I have to come fix everything that’s wrong,” Jarnot said.
Jarnot said he has to build on the success Vail has already had. That means improving the skier experience ” from the highway to the parking garages to the pedestrian streets to the edge of the snow to the top of the mountain, he said.
Plus, Jarnot will try to shepherd through proposed mountain improvements such as lift upgrades and a new restaurant. And Jarnot wants to get Vail back to No. 1 in the SKI magazine poll, too. Last year, it was No. 2 behind Deer Valley in Utah.
At the same time, Jarnot knows it isn’t his job to drive snowcats or run lifts. Vail has good people who are already doing that, he said.
“Although I would drive a snowcat if they let me,” he said.
That desire to be among the customers ” whether it’s putting skis onto a bus or studying skiers’ spending habits ” was another thing that brought Jarnot back to Vail. Each season gives him another shot to get it just right.
“I’m addicted to what we do,” he said. “Every time we go through the cycle I come out going, ‘Wow, I know I can do that better.'”
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