Lindsay DesLauriers, president and CEO of Bolton Valley Resort. Photo: Baldwin Photography
“She would make an excellent governor of the state of Vermont.’’
by Joyce Marcel, Vermont Business Magazine
Lindsay DesLauriers’s story is a family story as much as it is a business story.
The beloved Bolton Valley Ski Resort, of which she is CEO and president, was founded and developed by her father, Ralph DesLauriers, in the 1960s on land owned by his farmer father. Just 30 minutes from Burlington, the idea was to have a workingman’s resort where people could ski after work. Its night skiing is still famous today. And in an era of consolidated ski resorts owned by out-of-state corporations, a family-run ski resort is a treasured rarity.
Growing up on the mountain. DesLauriers, 44, does not remember a time when she couldn’t ski.
DesLauriers has taken an engaging yet eclectic path to her current position. She went to Sarah Lawrence to study literature, then became a ski bum out West, then came home to have a baby, then earned a master’s degree in Romantic poetry at the University of Vermont, then became a high school English teacher, and then became a lobbyist at the State House in Montpelier. She founded the Vermont chapter of Main Street Alliance and was a force behind the successful movement that brought paid sick leave to Vermont.
But the family’s daredevil gene did not abandon her; she is an avid mountain biker.
DesLauriers mountain biking. Photo: Bear Cieri.
Meanwhile, back on the mountain, the family business was in trouble. By 1997, when Bolton Valley Ski Resort was close to bankruptcy, Ralph DesLauriers was forced to relinquish control. The resort struggled in the hands of several other owners before the last ones asked DesLauriers if he would like his mountain back.
He and his son Evan put together a deal and gathered investors. Bolton Valley passed back into the hands of the DesLauriers family in 2017.
The purchase included six lifts, a 64-room hotel, 10 lodge condominium units, four restaurant facilities, a small general store and deli, and a 20,000-square-foot indoor sports complex, totaling about 700 acres of land, according to a statement released by Bolton Valley to Ski Magazine.
The DesLauriers family is the largest shareholder through its management company, and Ralph now is the chairman of the board.
“We have about 20 investors locally who we’ve raised money from,” Lindsay said. “We raised a first round for the purchase from a small group. And then I raised another bigger round, which has been the sort of primary source in addition to debt, but really kind of the leading source of capital for our major investments since we’ve been back.
“Our initial closing on that capital round was in July of 2019. And then it took about two years for all of that money to come in. We would raise it as we needed it for projects, and that was $4 million in additional investor capital, through additional sale of equity. So we’ve got a lot of partners.”
The original plan was for Evan to learn the business from the still-in-place GM. And Lindsay took over the area’s water system, but essentially remained in her job at the State House.
Best laid plans and all that, and the GM decided to leave.
“There’s always that challenge of aligning the old vision with the new vision when you have a transfer of ownership,” Lindsay said. “And that was certainly the case. Not In a bad way, but just in a factual way. He gave his notice and that was when that arrow, like, landed on me, as I suspected it might. Never, for one second in my life, did I think I would run a ski area until it happened. Literally.”
Evan, who is quite a bit younger than Lindsay, had much less experience. He was never meant to jump right into the top leadership role.
“We expected that the previous GM and president would stay on longer, which was maybe a little naïve in retrospect. And to be honest, I don’t think we fully thought through what would happen when he inevitably moved on,” Lindsay said. “When I agreed to do it — since I was really the one of the siblings in a position to at that time, considering geography, experience and personal life circumstances — it was a really a decision between me and hiring a new GM outside the family.”
That was Lindsay’s dilemma.
“I was literally in the middle of the legislative session,” she said. “I had to do this crazy soul searching. Did I really want to give up this path that I loved, and that, frankly, I had forged for myself? I felt like I was going places. I had momentum.
“By then I was a single parent. I had gotten myself to financial stability, which meant a lot to me. I had found work that I loved, and I had carved out a niche for myself where I was able to support myself and my daughter. I was just getting to the point where I could take a vacation and do stuff like that. But I grew up here on the mountain. My father built this place. And I really wanted it to succeed. And even though it wasn’t the path I had forged, it was an incredible opportunity for me to step into a business and have a shot. So I made that decision.”
In the middle of the winter season of 2018, Lindsay became president and CEO of Bolton Valley; she hasn’t yet looked back.
Bolton Valley today is running in the black. Its night skiing is wildly popular. A happy group of local investors is funding major improvements. It has a staff of 400 at the height of the winter ski season and maybe 125 in the summer. And it had well over $10 million in revenue last year; Lindsay is aiming for $15 million next year.
The mountain remains a family affair. Oldest brother Rob, who is also an investor, remains a developer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but also serves as Lindsay’s key adviser. Evan does miscellaneous projects and also helps out with lift operations at night. Brother Adam runs the backcountry programs and does graphic design. Eric, who had been living in Tahoe for 35 years, came back this past summer to be director of mountain operations.
“My favorite thing has been the connection with my family,” Lindsay said. “This has brought us back together profoundly. My brother Eric has moved back. My brother Rob is coming back to visit and advise a lot more now. And the rest of us kids, we all live up here. Literally. We all live on the same street. My dad lives in the house we grew up in. My mom, who is divorced from him, lives in the house next door to him, at the end of a shared driveway. One brother lives in the condos across the street. Go up five houses and there is my house. And literally next door, I look out my window at my other brother’s house. W e all work here together.”
It might be annoying at times to live and work in close proximity to one’s family, but DesLauriers said she is happy the way things turned out.
Lindsay DesLauriers, president and CEO of Bolton Valley Resort. Photo: Baldwin Photography
“Nobody would believe me if I said that it’s always great,” she said. “Our board gets a kick out of me and my dad because we do ’push-me, pull-me,’ you know? But I feel we live a charmed life up here. Living where we grew up, having this legacy, being together and working together. I’m so lucky in that way, because I have such a support network within my family. But it was almost as if the lobbying in the Main Street Alliance set me up with all the people I would need to know in order to do this job.”
There is a lot going on at Bolton Mountain. Now a four-season resort, it has affordable day and evening ski tickets, a three-star hotel, mountain bike trails, hiking trails, a cross-country trail that leads all the way to Stowe, a high-end wedding venue that is booking into 2025, a number of restaurants, a gear shop, a few rental shops, a sports center that houses a Nordic and backcountry program, a full bar, indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, exercise equipment, bouncy houses, basketball hoops, games and more.
DesLauriers has “breathed life back into Bolton Valley,” said Rob Lair, who manages investments for Hula. His venture capital fund was an early investor.
“It’s in her blood,” Lair said. “She grew up there. She is an absolutely tireless worker. She has put together an incredibly good group of investors who really care about Vermont. Bolton Valley is the closest ski area in Chittenden County. A large part of what they do is family-oriented. And it is a vital asset for northern Vermont. I’m so proud of her.”
Lindsay — earnest, intellectually curious, verbal, energetic and emotional — has also become something of a beacon of entrepreneurship in the state.
“She’s become a tremendous leader among female founders and CEOs,” Lair said. “She is in the vanguard of female entrepreneurship leadership in the state of Vermont. She’s incredibly impressive, and it’s for a number of factors. She knows her craft. She knows Bolton Valley. She knows the ski industry. Her family knows the ski industry. She’s incredibly smart and focused. And she is extremely creative, too. She brought in the mountain bike initiative, so in summers Bolton Valley can be also used and monetized. She did a terrific job of getting one of the top biking trail builders in the country to take on Bolton Valley. We just love that creativity. And she’s just relentless. She doesn’t give up.”
Neale F. Lunderville, former Vermont secretary of administration and now president of Vermont Gas Co., has skied Bolton Valley all of his life. He now sits on its board and enjoys his front-row seat as he watches DesLauriers transform the resort.
“One of the things about Bolton is that a lot of people in in the area grew up skiing and boarding there,” Lunderville said. “They’re really excited to keep skiing there, but also to take their kids there to ski. That drive to bring families into skiing is something that’s been imparted down the line from Ralph to all of his kids.”
Lindsay does an amazing job, Lunderville said, “with a lot of passion and grace and real clarity.”
“She has an extraordinary ability to understand an objective and drive toward achieving that objective,” he said. “For Bolton she has a very long-range vision about the experience she wants to be able to offer to skiers and riders. She is the kind of leader who also builds a great team and then relies on that team to be able to do the work. As a result, they move very fast. They deliver great results. And the result has been fun to watch. Bolton has blossomed under her leadership.”
While she was a lobbyist, DesLauriers impressed many important people at the State House. The word these legislators most often use to describe her is “tenacious.”
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth was Senate majority leader while DesLauriers was lobbying.
“I think a lot of times people have one of two skill sets,” Baruth said. “They’re either really good with policy and numbers and data, or they’re really good with people. And Lindsey is good with both. For that reason, she’s now engaged in a real transformation of the Bolton Valley property and the business. Her secret is that she’s a people person and a data person. And if you can carry both those sticks, it’s pretty formidable.”
The two have another connection. Baruth teaches in the English department at the University of Vermont, so at the same time he knew DesLauriers in Montpelier, he was on her master’s thesis committee.
“She was working on the paid sick days campaign and working on her master’s,” Baruth said. “I was very proud to vote to give her the master’s, because her work was exceptional.”
Where does a master’s degree in Romantic poetry fit into life on a mountain?
“It was really just pure interest,” DesLauriers said. “Though at the time I still thought I would end up as a high school English teacher. I’ve always loved literature. As far as that specific topic, I was then, and still am, drawn to the Enlightenment thinkers. I thought it was interesting how the Romantics took up those subjects of philosophy through their poetry.”
“She was an extraordinary person in both worlds, literature and public policy,” Baruth said. “She has a massive amount of bandwidth. She has a daughter that she’s been raising, as well as performing in all of these other areas. I have yet to see her maxed out. It’s not to jinx her to say that she’s doing a lot of things simultaneously that would have stymied a lot of other people.”
It seems DesLauriers had an idyllic but lonely childhood, even though she is the fourth of five children, and has four stepsisters and stepbrothers from her father’s first marriage.
“My younger brother is nine years younger,” DesLauriers said. “So it wasn’t exactly like we were all the same age and all doing the same things, or at the same ability levels in sports and skiing. When I was growing up, Bolton Valley didn’t have a lot of people living up here. Now it does.”
There were seasons when playmates were difficult to find.
“In the winter we had the night skiing and after-school programs,” she said. “Everyone was up here. And then the rest of the year it was very quiet. I lived far away from everyone. There were no kids. And my brothers were either too old or too young to play with me.”
Her father had developed all of the condominiums.
“By the time I came around, they were mostly all built.” she said. “But back then, those were really second homes, vacation condos. And they were short-term rentals.”
On her mother’s side, DesLauriers is descended from a long line of French-Canadian Vermonters.
“It was a Sisters of Mercy type of family,” Lindsay said. “My mother grew up in Burlington, went to Mater Christi and Rice, and then UVM. I also went to Mater Christi. Back then it was Mount St. Mary’s. My grandmother also went to Mount St. Mary’s, so we’ve got a long legacy.”
DesLauriers’ mother managed all the rental contracts and short-term rentals for the condos on the mountain.
“She would do the housekeeping, upkeep the buildings, all the roads and just completely manage the rentals of those buildings for the owners,” DesLauriers said. “That was a very good business, and she did very well. After she sold her business, she didn’t go on to start another one or have another major career. She’s never totally stopped working, but never with the same kind of intensity again.”
Her mother’s business continued even after her father lost the mountain.
DesLauriers in the backcountry. Photo: Bear Cieri.
“She is now mostly retired,” DesLauriers said. “But you can’t quite escape the family business here, so she does the books for the water company, which we also own, and she owns a handful of condos that she manages for herself.”
All the DesLauriers children worked in the family business.
“We worked from a very young age,” DesLauriers said. “Our first job, I think, was stuffing envelopes. I can’t remember ever not having some kind of a job. In the summer there was lots to do, and in the winters I remember being at the ticket booth a lot.”
The DesLauriers children were paid for their work.
“I remember being paid because part of the motivation to work was to have pocket money, or spending money,” she said. “The boys did it too, although we did different jobs. We fell right into our gender roles. The boys were working on the tractors and with chainsaws, and I was working at counters and selling things and working in food and beverage.”
Later on, the summer brought a vibrant tennis program and more potential playmates.
“We had eight outdoor courts and two indoor courts, and we had tennis pros,” she said. “A lot of those second homeowners would come up in the summer. So in the heart of summer, again, there was a lot of people around, and they became my summer friends. A lot of the kids I would get to know would come back year after year in the summer. And so I would have seasonal playmates in the summer, seasonal playmates in the winter, and then quiet around that.”
She does not remember learning to ski.
“None of us do,” she said. “We were in a backpack until we were between our mother’s legs. I can’t remember what it’s like not to know how to ski.”
She did not become a mountain biker until much later.
“I didn’t learn to mountain bike until after college, when I was living out West,” DesLauriers said. “But I brought that love back. And obviously it’s informed some of the decision-making up here around building a mountain bike park.”
After her parents were divorced, DesLauriers lived in Burlington; she graduated from Burlington High School and went on to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she studied history and literature.
“I had gotten inspired by ancient history when, during my junior year at Sarah Lawrence I happened upon a book that spoke to me and drew me in,” she said. “It was (Edward) Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which I found just brought it alive and was so fun to read.”
Following that, she became interested in ancient history and ended up writing her undergraduate thesis on early Christianity in the Roman Empire.
“My family is Catholic, I went to Mater Christi K-8, and so I had a natural kind of connection to and interest in Christian history,” she said. “And I just found that period in history during the later Roman Empire, with the conversion of the empire under Constantine and the formation of the original bishoprics, totally fascinating. Still do.”
After graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 2001, DesLauriers went out West and became a ski bum.
“I was ready to get away,” she said. “I had about $500 and the idea that I would drive out to New Mexico, where I had spent some time during a semester off. So I hopped in my 1988 red two-door Jetta sedan with a sweet sunroof and headed west.”
Short on money, she landed in Boulder, Colorado.
“I found a job working in a dress shop,” DesLauriers said. “The guys who owned the shop had a cabin in a town just up the canyon from Boulder, called Nederland, that was available for rent. So I decided to move there and keep working to save some money. Well, I instantly fell in love with the town and the people and ended up staying there for four or five years, having the time of my life.”
This is where DesLauriers learned to mountain bike. She also entered a University of Colorado master’s program to study ancient history, Greek and Latin.
“English literature has always been my first love,” she said. “But it was really classics that was more of a departure than English. So I was inspired to join the classics department at CU and try my hand at, among other things, learning the languages.”
Her time out West was “a period of great self-discovery, fun and exploration,” she said. “At that time in my life, I just wanted to experience life. Everything felt like an adventure, and it’s just how it happened.”
When she got pregnant, however, she returned to Vermont.
“I wanted to be closer to my parents,” she said. “And thank goodness I did! I needed their help. My mother was my daughter’s full-time day care provider for the first couple of years.”
She returned home in the spring of 2006 and married her daughter’s father two weeks after returning. Her husband at the time wanted to try farming, so for a year they ran a greenhouse and produce operation on some family property in Bolton.
“We thought we would make a go of it, but alas, I discovered that the life of a farmer wasn’t for me,” she said. “We needed some path to financial viability now that we had a child, so it ended up being just a one-summer enterprise. We sold the greenhouse to David Zuckerman and closed up shop after that one summer.”
Her daughter, Juniper, is now 17 and a junior in high school. She applied for an internship this fall with a local lobbying firm, The Necrason Group, and was hired for the legislative session.
Lindsay joined a teacher apprenticeship program, did her student teaching with one of her favorite English teachers at Burlington High School and got her teaching license at the end of the spring semester in 2007.
“Following that, I landed a temporary one-year job teaching eighth grade English at Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury,” Lindsay said. “I had a great time. I loved turning the kids onto reading and literature. But I missed having more time with my daughterm and that was why I decided to apply to the MA program at UVM. I was accepted with a teaching fellowship, so the tuition was free, and I was paid a small stipend on top of that to teach freshman comp. I was able to consolidate my schedule to three days a week, which I really wanted so that I could spend time with Juniper.”
Halfway through the program, in summer 2009, she and her husband divorced.
DesLauriers got into lobbying by chance.
“After wrapping up the coursework for my MA when I was looking to go back to full-time work, the natural thing would have been to apply for high school English positions,” she said. “But my daughter was still young, not school age yet, and so I wanted to find something that would continue to allow me to spend more time with her and was a bit more flexible. I ended up getting a job at the Vermont Family Network for a federal grant program — since defunded — doing parental engagement work with schools around the state.”
She ended up being the director of that program.
“In that role, I was invited by Nicole Mace, who was then the staff lobbyist for Voices for Vermont’s Children, to testify on something at the State House,” DesLauriers said. “It was really fun. Then she approached me to let me know that she was going to move to the Vermont School Boards Association and suggested that I apply for her position, which I did. I got the job, and that’s how I got into lobbying.
“I worked for Voices for Vermont’s Children for a few years before leaving to start the Vermont chapter of Main Street Alliance. It was kind of miraculous. I had never thought of lobbying, but I fell in love with it immediately. It really changed my life.”
Founding the nonprofit organization, which develops community-centered, people-first small businesses to fuel local economies, taught DesLauriers a great deal about running an organization.
“It gave me the experience of putting a budget together, managing a budget, managing an office, managing staff, hiring people and firing people,” she said. “It was on a small scale in a nonprofit setting, but it taught me how to run a business. It also taught me about putting a board together. We were working with small business owners and policy and the Legislature.”
In the beginning, DesLauriers knew so little about lobbying that she had to Google to find out how a bill becomes law.
“But I loved lobbying so much,” she said. “That environment of people, discourse, ideas, policy. You’re dressed up. You’re in committees. You’re having intellectual conversations. You’re reading laws. I loved the logical thinking of it. It was as if it was made for me. I walked into the State House and within the first week, I was like, ’Aha! I’m a lobbyist!’”
She created a strong network at the State House.
“When I came to Bolton Valley, I had a ready-made network of business mentors,” she said. “And to be honest, the budget of $10 million or $15 million is not that much different to operate than a budget of $300,000 or $500,000. It’s just scale.”
Senate President Pro Tem Baruth recalled when DesLauriers was lobbying for paid sick leave.
“The campaign lasted over a year,” Baruth said. “So if it fails, then it moves forward, and then maybe it fails again and moves forward again. So when we went through those unsuccessful pushes in the State House, she would come back with more business owners and more data. The fallacy that was prevalent at the time was that all businesses in Vermont would be angry if they were asked to offer paid sick days. And I think the key to pushing that through was Lindsay showing up with hard data that it was not the case.
“We are a socially responsible state, and most businesses want to conduct their affairs that way. Seeing her run those campaigns, there was a sequence of moments where she had to keep coming back. And then, ultimately, the bill was signed by the governor. It was a culmination of a long campaign, and she deserves huge credit for that.”
Former House Speaker Shap Smith calls DesLauriers “extremely smart, tenacious and very persuasive.
“She does not take no for an answer,” Smith said. “With paid sick leave, we would tell her that we weren’t sure we had the votes. And she would come in and give us a list of people that she believed were yeses. And she was right. She is the type of person that could be successful in any endeavor. For example, she would make an excellent governor of the state of Vermont.”
Bolton Valley might not exist without the interstate.
DesLauriers’ grandfather owned a farm in South Burlington, which her father was running when the Interstate came.
“It went right through the middle of South Burlington,” DesLauriers said. “And that was the farm. Their farm was all down Dorset Street. My grandfather was one of the original developers of the Dorset Street area, where, I believe, the UVM Ag Center is now. All of that was farmland. The interstate came through, and they paid him some amount of money for it. And he used that money to buy that 8,000 acres. He was going to log it.”
Then DesLauriers' father did a fly-over of the area.
“My dad was in his mid-20s and in the Coast Guard,” DesLauriers said. “He had a friend and they took a helicopter up, and they looked around. It seems they owned several mountain peaks. And they picked out a spot they thought would be fun to build a ski area. My grandfather told him if he could raise the money and do it, he could use the land. But he had to figure out how to do it himself.”
A million-dollar loan from a banker friend did the trick, along with a deal with the state to build an access road.
“The access road built the ski area,” DesLauriers said. “They did it all in one year. Built the first three lifts, built the base lodge, the first 12 rooms of the hotel. Everything was minimal permits back then. And they opened in time for Christmas in 1966.”
Her father ran the mountain for 30 years, from 1966-67 to 1996-97. The winter that DesLauriers graduated high school was the year he lost it.
“I think it had been falling on hard times for a while,” she said. “He didn’t officially go bankrupt, but it sold under duress, let’s say. And it went through, I believe, four but maybe five owners over the course of those 20 years.”
During that time, DesLauriers’ father left Vermont. “He ended up going out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where my brother Rob was,” DesLauriers said. “My two oldest brothers, Eric and Rob, were famous in the ski world in the ’90s. They were some of the earlier pioneers of what was called extreme skiing. Now it is called big mountain skiing. They were in Warren Miller movies and part of the North Face Extreme Team, traveling all over the world doing crazy things jumping off cliffs and so on.”
Before Rob was a ski daredevil, he went to Cornell University for hotel management and development.
“He was thinking about Bolton Valley, obviously, at the time,” DesLauriers said. “But out there in Jackson, when he was winding down his ski career, he met this guy who owned land at the base of Jackson Hole and who wanted to develop a hotel there. He and Rob connected, and they ended up partnering to build the Teton Mountain Lodge. That really launched Rob’s development career.
“He invited my dad, who had obviously done a lot of development, and my Uncle Chuck, who is also a developer in Burlington, to come out and advise him on that project. My dad ended up staying out there and doing a couple of other projects. He was there for a number of years.”
When the work dried up, Ralph came back to Vermont.
“He was kind of recovered from the heartache and all the other types of aches of losing something like Bolton Valley,” DesLauriers said. “My stepbrothers and stepsisters had property at Quarry Hill behind the Staples Plaza that’s now condos. They developed a number of those buildings themselves. My dad helped them get that off the ground and participated in that. The next thing you know, it’s 2016.”
Buying Back Bolton
When the offer came to buy back Bolton, the DesLauriers family put up the largest part of the capital but needed other investors.
“First of all, the former owners sold it cheap,” DesLauriers said. “So, the price was right. The money for the initial purchase was raised from a small group of people locally who were willing to take an enormous risk with their money, because Bolton had, essentially, failed. Or it had not been profitable for quite a long time.”
DesLauriers said there were three main reasons why it was not making money.
Linsay DesLauriers, right, her brothers Adam and Evan and their dad behind the base lodge during their first winter at the resort. Photo courtesy Bolton Valley Resort.
“First of all, the business requires a total devotion,” she said. “It requires a high level of engagement. You have to watch everything, because there’s a thousand things going on. For the prior owners, this was not the center of their world. It was like a side project to them. The management was hired management — there wasn’t 100% engagement of the owner. The former owners were better businesspeople than myself, and a lot more experienced. They could make this successful if they sat here and did nothing else, like I’m doing. But they had many other things to do.”
The second reason Bolton struggled was that it was being run as a ski resort without any other revenue streams.
“Diversification can take the edge off of a bad season,” DesLauriers said. “It can ‘de-risk’ it, at least to some extent.”
The third reason was a lack of capital.
“This is an old ski area with a lot of aging infrastructure,” she said. “Everything is original up here. And I just don’t think they had the appetite to make the investment that was needed to move it forward and reenergize. Because it does take a lot of investment.”
The Water System
DesLauriers jumped right in to help by taking over management of the water system.
The system is a separate company from Bolton Valley Resort, with different ownership. But like Bolton Valley, the DesLauriers family is the largest shareholder.
The water company serves Bolton Valley Village, which includes the resort and the 200 or so privately owned residential homes and condos there. It provides drinking water and wastewater treatment.
The system was old and needed a lot of work.
“When we first got here, the supply of water was not keeping up with the demand to the extent that they were regularly having to truck water into the system,” she said. “The rates had not been adjusted in many years — the process to do a rate change for a private drinking water system is overseen by the Public Utilities Commission and is a very arduous process — and the revenue of the water company was not covering the costs to operate the system, much less truck up water to supply the deficiencies.”
The wells were running seven days a week, 24 hours day, and had been doing so for over a year.
“Anyone who knows wells knows that’s a path to failure, as the wells cannot keep up with that constant pumping and will eventually fail,” DesLauriers said. “Essentially, the water system was collapsing. I took it over specifically because of the regulatory element of it and my lobbying background at the time. There were so many grants and other things that were needed, and my father and brother just needed to focus on the resort. I did have a sense that I may have to play a bigger role at some point, just because of the way the family was spread out. You could see the arrow spinning, and I had this feeling that it might end up landing on me.”
She immediately went to work getting financing and going through an emergency permit process to drill a new well.
“We had one online before the winter season,” she said. “In retrospect now — having gone through the permitting process under normal circumstances — that timeline sounds miraculous. But we did it and it made a big difference. We did still have to truck some water up that winter, but much less. I also immediately started the process of putting a rate case together to bring before the PUC to help bring much-needed revenue to the water company to support the operation. In the meantime, the resort gave the water company a short-term loan to allow it to operate while we worked on the rate case. The increase was finally approved in the summer of 2018.”
DesLauriers focused on leak detection and repair.
“We found and repaired more leaks than I care to count now over those next couple of years,” she said. “But the result was that we totally stabilized the water company. The issue really wasn’t a shortage of supply, it was the number and size of the leaks in the distribution system. Though we’re very happy to have that extra well and some redundancy to our water system. We haven’t had a water shortage since that first winter, and we’ve made continual improvements with a combination of grants and financing.”
Currently, the resort is in the final design phase of a major upgrade to its aging wastewater treatment plant and is seeking the funds to support that project.
DesLauriers thanks the town of Bolton for its support during this process.
“The largest grant we received was a Community Development Block Grant, which we partnered with the town on,” she said. “Actually, the town applied for it and then subgranted to the water company. Block grants are a huge amount of effort, and the town deserves a ton of credit for working on that with us. We are currently exploring other grant opportunities with the town to help support the wastewater upgrade. I also need to give enormous credit to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and VEDA (Vermont Economic Development Authority), without whose support we would not have had the resources in the first couple of years to stabilize the water system.”
In addition to taking on the water company, DesLauriers started attending weekly managers’ meetings at Bolton Valley and taking notes.
Through all of this, she was still working at the State House.
“I was having many phone calls about the water system while I was standing in the halls of the State House,” she said. “There was definitely a lot of multitasking. But the Legislature is only in session half the year.”
Then the general manager gave his notice, and DesLauriers had to decide on her future.
“I had matured a lot professionally and had small-business experience,” she said. “It was experience that could be scalable. And I had connections, a network and a lot of support, so I was poised to have a shot at being successful. So, I made the decision and left with all the support in the world.”
Making A Ski Resort
It helped that older brother Rob was a developer and ski resort operator.
“I collected all the financials from Bolton Valley, got everything from our CFO, all the information, and went out to Jackson and holed up with my brother for a week,” DesLauriers said. “We did a crash course and a big planning session. We looked at everything, and I really tried to wrap my head around the business. He has continued to be a great mentor of mine, and I talk to him on a regular basis and ask for advice. He guides me through new things.”
In the beginning, DesLauriers was worried about making the transition from running a staff of five or six to leading a team of 350 or 400.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was making this transition was to build your organizational chart carefully,” she said. “The number of people who are directly reporting to you is your business. Don’t let the size and scale of the whole organizational chart freak you out. Just think about the line that you directly relate to. It really helped me to understand how you would scale in management from a small business to a medium-sized business.”
One of the first changes that had to be made? Ending freeloading on the mountain.
“We didn’t have the kind of gates where you could scan tickets,” DesLauriers said. “There was no gate or barrier to getting on the lift except a human being checking your tickets. It basically became an honor system. A lot of people were following the honor system, but a lot of people weren’t. So, scanning gates were one of our first investments.”
Bolton Valley had many discount programs in coordination with too many organizations.
Lindsay DesLauriers in 2021. Courtesy Bolton Valley Resort
“You build a partnership with one organization and that goes on forever — for the next 1,000 years — and nobody ever questions it,” DesLauriers said. “When we got here, there were sheets and sheets and sheets of discount programs — inherited historical programs. They had been put in by whoever at some point for whatever reason, and they just ... rinse and repeat. We actually went through every one of them and thought about the partnerships, and frankly, we crossed a lot of them out. We said, ’No, we can’t afford to give away the product that keeps us afloat.’ We basically tightened everything up.”
Diversifying the product became an important part of the operation.
“There’s a metric in the ski industry called the spend-per-skier visit,” DesLauriers said. “How much does somebody spend when they come? They buy a ticket, maybe they buy a hamburger. Do they get rentals? Do they get this? Do they get that? We were talking about what else can we offer that people will want, so that we can add $5 per skier visit. Because that adds up.”
For example, they started selling hand warmers at the ticket booth.
“You might not go into the shop to buy hand warmers proactively,” DesLauriers said. “But if you see them at the ticket booth, and they’re right there, maybe you’ll spend $2 and buy that hand warmer and be glad you did. Because now your hands are warm on the lift. It was little things like that.”
Climate change is a big issue for all ski areas. DesLauriers said Bolton Valley is dealing with it in two ways.
“One is building out our summer business with the bike park, the wedding venue and other revenue streams,” she said. “The other way is by investing in snowmaking.”
Bolton Valley has invested about a $1 million in snowmaking over just the past two years.
“For Bolton Valley, that’s big money,” she said. “We have really improved our snowmaking system. We can make more snow much faster than when we got here.”
With climate change, the window of snowmaking opportunity may be shrinking.
“Now, if you’ve got a 24-hour window of appropriate temperatures, you better be making snow, because you can’t afford to lose that 24 hours,” DesLauriers said. “It’s really important that you get the snow from the pond to the trail as fast as possible, and as much as possible, during those smaller and smaller windows. We need to shrink the amount of time that it takes to make snow on every trail. We’ve been investing in pumps, compressors, sizes of pipes, more guns, more hoses, more equipment and more staff.”
Her motto is “lean into winter and grow into summer.”
Winter was already established.
“We replaced all of our night skiing lights with LEDs, for example,” DesLauriers said. “They are much more energy efficient, and they create a brighter and better experience.”
COVID helped, because people needed outside activities.
“At night, when you couldn’t go to the bar anymore, you could come ski,” she said. “And we’ve kept a lot of those skiers.”
Growing into summer — weddings, mountain biking — means they can keep the staff working year-round.
The DesLauriers family and the full executive leadership team on the deck of the Ponds. Photo: Bear Cieri.
“We’re still not profitable in the summertime,” DesLauriers said. “But even if our mountain biking can cover its own cost of operation, it’s worth it to us to put the effort in to do that. Not only because it brings vibrancy to the mountain in the summer, but also because it allows us to keep that much more staff.
“If you’re keeping your staff, you’re not retraining people. You have much less turnover. You’ve got those core people already here, preparing for winter, instead of bringing them in on Oct. 15, when everybody’s freaking out for six weeks, trying to get the place in order for winter.”
The entire IT system has been modified. Customers can now buy tickets and rent skis online. They have also invested in more heavy equipment for the ski trails.
With all these changes, Bolton has been on a growth trajectory that has almost doubled the size of the business, DesLauriers said
“More than twice the amount of revenue,” she said. “We’ve grown through the hotel renovation, through the wedding business, through the mountain bike operation, through improvements to the ski operation. It’s been a lot of growth.”
Staffing has also grown.
“When we got here, there were about 40 year-round, full-time employees in the summer,” she said. “Last year we had over 100. We’ve been really growing and offering a better product as a result.”
Capital investments continue. “We’re still making capital investments, but not at the same sort of level and pace that we were when we raised all that money,” DesLauriers said.
The concept of a working man’s ski resort is fully active now.
“The night skiing is awesome,” she said. “People come up after work. We light the trails, and the lifts run until 10 p.m. It’s like nowhere else in Vermont, because no one else in Vermont has the night skiing infrastructure to support it. And we’ve got the tavern. The nightlife up here can’t be beat.
“Our after-school programs just started up this week. We’re back in action with the school buses and the vans and the station wagons coming up at 3 o’clock every day. And the place is packed with kids Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 7. My basement is full of teenagers and my mudroom is full of miscellaneous gear that drives me crazy. But it’s awesome. It’s a big part of who we are.”
Like most companies in Vermont, Bolton Valley has had a difficult time finding labor.
“We have the added advantage/disadvantage, depending on the person, of being out here in the middle of nowhere,” DesLauriers said. “For some people, that’s exactly what they want. And for some people, that sounds like a really terrible drive in winter. But the people who work up here love it up here. They feel a personal connection to it. They want to be here. So we have good retention.”
Growth has its challenges. One very public debacle centered around a skateboard park, which the resort recently opened.
“Where we have our indoor tennis courts now, we had let people build a skate park there,” DesLauriers said. “The old tennis courts that were there were dilapidated, and we didn’t have the money to renovate them. So a bunch of local skaters came in, and we let them use this space and they built a skate park.
“It was fine for a while,.” she added, “but it just wasn’t making money, and it cost money to heat the building and so forth. Eventually, we wanted to tear it down, get rid of the skate features and put back in tennis and pickle ball.”
The plan caused quite a stir. More than 1,600 people immediately signed a petition to keep the skate park open.
“I didn’t realize how emotional that was going to be for people,” DesLauriers said. “I didn’t do the outreach to the staff. I didn’t take the time to communicate with them or with the community in a way that was necessary. I really didn’t anticipate the backlash. I just missed it. I had my eye on five other things.”
The closing has since been postponed.
The challenge today is to find a sustainable balance between the right staffing level and capital investment, and to figure out what amount of debt service the resort can comfortably handle.
“These are the types of questions that we’re trying to figure out now,” DesLauriers said. “What’s that sustainable balance as we move forward? We’ve not stopped growing, because believe me, we’ve got a lot of plans. We’re working on our master plan, and we’ve got real estate projects that we’re working on. The growth is not over. But we’ve hit that first benchmark of growth.”
Essentially, “we needed to fill out our clothes but not get too fat for them,” DesLauriers said.
“Last summer, when we didn’t have the business we anticipated, largely because of the weather, we were a little fat,” she said. “Trying to find the balance of being ready to support the growth without getting out ahead of ourselves is the challenge. That’s the balance I’m trying to find.”
Joyce Marcel is a journalist in southern Vermont. In 2017, she was named the best business magazine profile writer in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. She is married to Randy Holhut, the news editor/acting operations manager of The Commons, a weekly newspaper in Brattleboro.