By Dave Dahl
As he prepares for the upcoming season, Rich Fanelli brings a lifetime of ski resort experience to the top post at Kissing Bridge.
Now overseeing the ski area, where he started his career at age15, Fanelli hopes to draw more skiers and snowboarders with a series of enhancements. Entering his 28th season at Kissing Bridge, the new president believes his experience will aide him as he leads the business during uncertain financial times.
Following three consecutive “bad” winters, Fanelli plans to inject energy into the place where he began his career working in the ski shop.
A 1985 Orchard Park High School graduate, Fanelli attended Erie Community College and Buffalo State College, where he majored in international business. He left the college in 1987 to work for Vail Associates in Colorado.
That experience cemented his interest in the ski business. “It just really was a defining point in my experience with the ski industry where I decided to stick around and get more involved,” he said.
At Vail, he worked on the trail crew and in snowmaking. He also served as a concierge in the lodge and learned about public relations.
In 1991, Fanelli brought that knowledge back to Kissing Bridge, where he became a sales representative. As part of his duties, he made the arrangements for schools’ ski clubs and attended ski shows.
He earned a promotion to vice president in 1995 and executive vice president in 2012 before becoming the president on May 1.
Fanelli replaced Mark Halter, who retired after spending 31 years at the helm.
The board of directors promoted Fanelli because of his extensive experience, said William Magavern, the board’s chairman.
“He is very well experienced in the industry and at Kissing Bridge,” Magavern said. “He is a high-energy, enthusiastic and creative leader. He’s just a team leader who produces.”
Magavern also praised Fanelli for founding the KB Moto dirt bike events from May to October, which allow the ski area to generate year-round revenue.
“He created summer business where we didn’t have it before,” Magavern said.
Another new summer event series has been planned again for next year. Gowanda Harley-Davidson Bike Night, on the third Friday of each month from May to September, has tapped into a different customer base.
Fanelli estimated the last event drew more than 900 motorcyclists.
“KB Moto was kind of a vehicle to get us here,” he said. “It offered us exposure to a lot more of the population.”
After returning from Colorado, Fanelli observed ski areas in Western New York offer more personalized service, as opposed to the corporate atmosphere of a large resort in a western state.
“It’s kind of a grass-roots level here,” he said.
Fanelli hopes to enhance that personalized service with some changes for the approaching winter.
A revamped snowmaking system with 20 new snow guns will allow more artificial snow to be created when the temperature reaches the low 30s with high humidity. Normally, those conditions prevent ski areas from making decent snow.
“We dug into our system and looked into what’s holding us up at marginal temperature times,” he said.
He expects the system to show a 30 percent improvement over previous seasons.
“Everything has been tested multiple times to make sure we’re ready,” he said.
Customers will also notice a new entranceway at the central area’s repaved parking lot with benches and a fire pit. Guard rails have been replaced and buildings have been repainted.
For beginners, a Magic Carpet conveyor lift has been installed on the Candy Cane slope in the central area.
“It tends to be a lot more efficient,” Fanelli said.
To recapture early morning weekend business, a once-popular lift ticket has been re-established. The “dawn patrol” ticket, valid from 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, will be available for the first time since the 1990s, when the management eliminated it in an expense reduction.
“That was actually our most popular ticket and it went away in the 1990s,” he said.
In conjunction with the “dawn patrol” ticket, restaurants and lodges will open at 7 a.m. on the weekends.
Weekend morning skiers may also receive free “quick tips” from instructors who will watch them ski and point out ways to improve.
Night skiers and snowboarders will also benefit as Fanelli plans six Late Night, Great Night events, in which lifts will remain open until 1 a.m. on Friday nights. Kissing Bridge only offered three such nights last winter.
In another change for night skiers, lift tickets may be purchased an hour earlier, starting at 3 p.m.
Another lift ticket has been eliminated. The four-hour ticket, which sold for $60 on weekends and holidays, will no longer be offered. The weekend and holiday unlimited ticket, valid from opening time to closing time, has been reduced from $62 to $60. Fanelli believes removing the four-hour ticket will reduce confusion.
Some slopes have also been altered.
Devil’s Funnel, named for its shape, became a terrain park several years ago. The slope will return to its previous status, while the terrain park has been moved to the Twister slope, which no longer has moguls. Skiers who desire moguls will still find them on World of Your Own.
There is also a new terrain park for beginners at the top of the Holly slope.
On the Moment of Truth slope in the north area, skiers will see a difference. “We’ve modified the pitch and at the bottom; it’s steeper,” Fanelli said.
Skiers and snowboarders who want to check conditions may find it easier as Kissing Bridge has rejoined the Ski Areas of New York, an organization that reports ski conditions on its website. The ski area left the organization four years ago in a cost-cutting move.
Those who check the Kissing Bridge website, www.kbski.com, will notice a new look after the ski area reveals its redesigned website in mid-October. The site will feature a new online store, events schedule and a downloadable application with trail maps. “Ease of navigation is the reason,” Fanelli said.
With all the improvements and alterations, Fanelli hopes some customers will rediscover Kissing Bridge, which has experienced financial trouble in recent years because of lackluster winters.
“We’re digging out of a hole,” he said.
For more information, visit kbski.com.