Mount Washington Featured Employee
President Mount Washington
In an industry that attracts customers with downhill thrills, ski resort president Peter Gibson's career path has been a textbook case of upward mobility.
Before there even was a Mount Washington Alpine Resort at all, back in the spring of 1977, the Courtenay native was working hard to help make it a reality. As a skiing buddy of the son of one of the project's developers, he jumped at the chance to perform tough physical labour on the Vancouver Island site, "chainsaw in hand, cutting trails, cutting stumps, preparing the terrain," he says. Although he had heeded his parents' wishes to get a good education (he earned a BA in political science at UBC and then a teacher's degree), "my goal was always to ski," he says. For several years he alternated between the heavy lifting at Mount Washington each summer and teaching skiing at Whistler and Grouse Mountain in the winter.
As a result, Peter learned the business at Mount Washington literally from the ground up. "We were creating a resort from scratch," he says, "and in today's society you don't get many chances to be a pioneer anymore. Things are already built, and you're just enhancing them." As the ribbon-cutting approached, he helped set up the ski school and the on-site rental and retail operations. Once the resort officially opened in the fall of 1979, he was made the director of skiing, involving him in marketing and running the ski school. He became guest services manager in 1989, resort services director in 1994, general manager in 1999, and president in 2001. In May 2007 Peter marked his 30th year with the company, which now employs 100 full-time and 800 part-time employees. Given the complexity of the operation and its infrastructure, plus the need to accommodate thousands of visitors each year, he compares his job to being the mayor of a sizable city.
Peter attributes his success to a demonstrable commitment to the job (a mentor told him to "show lots of enthusiasm and work hard"), people skills gained through firsthand experience, and technical skills he has honed over the years. Even if it means starting with the humblest position, there is no substitute, he says, for having "a hands-on understanding of what makes things tick." Believing in the importance of recruiting talented young people and then encouraging their skill sets, he and his senior management team have instituted an apprenticeship program across a broad range of disciplines, a food and beverage training program, and a subsidization of employees' continuing education.
Even though he's a 57-year-old company president now, he's a skier first and foremost, and Peter makes sure that he keeps his credentials up-to-date, just in case he ever needs to fall back on them. Says the man whose parents used to wonder when he would ever get a real job, "I started out teaching skiing, and I'm completely up to date on all my Canadian and American certifications. And I was scanned on the hill 96 times last year! I think that's important. When everyone sees that the guy running the product knows the product, loves the product, lives the product, it makes a big difference."