TOWN OF BLUE MOUNDS — Josh Faber has skied some of the best runs in the country, but his most memorable and enjoyable outing happened last winter not in the Rocky or Pocono mountains but in Iowa.
That’s where he ran up and down the bunny hill in ski boots as he took his then 18-month-old daughter, Madalyn, skiing for the first time.
“It was the best day ever,” Faber recalled.
So when Faber began looking at getting back into the skiing industry after a two-year corporate stint at a Chicago snow-and-ice-removal company, he could have easily bolted for a ski resort with bigger hills or mountains, more lifts, people and budget.
But, instead, Faber has taken the reins of one of Wisconsin’s smaller ski destinations as the general manager of Tyrol Basin Ski & Snowboard Area, near Mount Horeb. He replaces Don McKay, who retired after last season. McKay was the cowboy-hat-wearing, mustachioed face of the ski hill for years.
Faber, 33, is no stranger to Tyrol. He grew up in Elgin, Illinois, but began skiing at Tyrol in high school. He went to college to study aviation but after graduating, he took a job as a lift operator at Peak Resorts-owned Hidden Valley Ski Resort, west of St. Louis, that ultimately led to ski hill management positions there and at Mad River Mountain in Ohio. His experiences have schooled him in making snow in less-than-ideal conditions.
Faber started his new position in June, is looking for a house in a seller’s market and is hoping to fire up the snow guns later this month.
Q: How do you make snow in Missouri?
A: It’s amazing. Snowmaking is a wonderful thing these days. There’s a lot of money made and lost in snowmaking. It’s your biggest expense other than labor, and, over the years, I’ve learned how to do some pretty creative things with the timing and efficiency of that stuff to where you can save a lot of money. If we can do it in St. Louis, we can do it here. It’s way colder here.
Q: What did you learn in your corporate job the last two years that will translate to your position at Tyrol Basin?
A: I got to learn a whole new different style of management. I got to learn more about personal and professional development. I learned a lot. The culture starts with the six employees that we have right now. That’s where the excitement starts and then that will bleed off into our seasonal employees and then the customers will see that. It’s kind of a domino effect.
Q: Tell us about the first time you skied at Tyrol Basin.
A: I was probably 15. Growing up outside of Chicago, we would come up here to ski in the terrain park because it was the only park that didn’t kick kids out that were skiers. It was a snowboarder-only thing back in the day at most resorts so we would come here. We went all over southern Wisconsin, but Tyrol always had the best and most exciting park. I’ve always known Tyrol. It grabbed the snowboarding niche and ran with it and has always been on the cutting edge.
Q: How did this job come about?
A: I missed the ski industry. I’m the guy that in July is watching ski videos. And come fall, you get that burning sensation to make snow. I’ve always known I needed to get back in, and I’ve always kept my eye out for the right opportunity. I’m from the Midwest, my wife is from the Midwest. Our family is here, and we have kids so it made a lot of sense to apply.
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Q: Were you surprised when Don retired? He was probably here when you were a kid.
A: He was. I remember seeing him. He’s been in the ski industry for 50 years. I’ve been blessed with some great experience in a short amount of time. However, time is the only thing I can’t speed up. He’s a quick phone call away, and we’ve had to call him. He’s built this place from the ground up, darn near.
Q: Is the ski hill and equipment in good shape?
A: Tyrol Basin has got character. I’ve been at a lot of ski areas and you’re there to turn skiers through and it’s just numbers. But here, you have this niche and we’re kind of out here in the hills. It’s the perfect place to bring your kids to teach them how to ski, and I want to continue that and run with it.
Q: What kind of improvements are you looking at for the 2015-16 season?
A: A magic carpet. It’s about easy as it gets. You just wiggle your skis on it and you stand on it and it takes you to the top. When you have kids, it changes how you look at things and so I look at a tow rope and it’s like, ‘There’s not a chance.’ It’s hard for the customer so the magic carpet will be a huge improvement.
Q: How long is it?
A: It’s 500 feet (compared to the 300-foot-long handle tow). When you ride the handle tow up, you can only go to the right and back down. It’s going to go further up the hill to the nice big flat area so now you can go left or right, doubling the beginner options. So we’re revamping all of the beginner terrain.
Q: What kind of new things are you thinking about for the future?
A: This market is unique. It’s very, very active. There are bikers galore and cross-country skiing is a big deal. So, maybe we look into those possibilities. My wife blew her knee out, and she loves to snowshoe now. So snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fat bikes on snow are very popular. Whatever we can do to get the non-skier out here. It can be a huge piece.
Q: What’s the anticipation level like for you as we get closer to the start of the ski season?
A: It’s a mixed bag. We’ll try to make snow for the open house and that’s Oct. 25. The skier inside of me is very, very excited. I can’t wait. I want to ski every day and talk to the customers, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Q: Are you going to wear a cowboy hat?
A: No. And I’m not going to grow a handlebar mustache.