If one were to compare Whitefish Mountain Resort to the magical land of Oz, Chester “Chet” Powell would be the man behind the curtain.
Except, in addition to bearing an enormous responsibility to keep the cogs turning on Big Mountain’s ski area, Powell is also one of the most recognizable figures on the slopes.
Time to pull the ropes and let skiers down the front side on opening day when early-season conditions persist? That’d be Chet.
Time to make the call and evacuate a stalled chairlift, something that occurred recently for the first time in more than a decade? Chet’s the man for the job.
For the past 41 years, Powell has with increasing acuity become the eyes and ears of an institution so beloved by the local communities and travelers near and far that even minor or trivial changes to the ski area’s aesthetic can prompt revolt or rapture.
The people in charge of executing those decisions must strike a fine balance to keep skiers and riders content sliding down their snow-covered slopes, and nobody has been more instrumental in expanding Big Mountain’s footprint with a delicate touch than Powell.
Powell was first hired in 1976 to work on the ski patrol. During his four decades at the resort Powell held positions in several departments before settling into the “mountain manager” role, which later became operations manager and then part of the resort’s senior management team as the Director of Mountain Operations.
During his time at Big Mountain, the resort has grown exponentially while still maintaining its authentic character and rich history, all while expanding to include 3,000 skiable acres and making annual improvements to its services.
Powell was a part of construction projects such as the Big Ravine and snowmaking ponds, and expansions of the ski area into the North Bowl, the north side and Hellroaring Basin. Most recently he has overseen the installation of the Bad Rock lift, the Flower Point trail system and lifts, as well as moving Chair 5 from Ptarmigan Bowl to the East Rim.
Showing a visitor the old Model T wheel affixed to an old larch that once served as a rope-tow sheave, Powell can recite the sweeping changes that have occurred during his tenure.
Except it doesn’t feel like all that much has changed.
“So much has changed since that era, but at the same time it hasn’t changed at all,” Powell said, describing raising his family on the ski slopes, his children now grown adults. “That was a totally different time, but the family-friendly environment still defines this place.”
But to many, Powell’s departure feels like a big change as he plans to step down after this winter season, even if he’ll still stick around in a part-time role to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Bill Cubbage, currently the director of Snow Sports at Whitefish Mountain Resort, transitioned over as Assistant Director of Mountain Operations on Feb. 1 and will spend the remainder of the winter season with Powell in order to understand the various requirements of his new role. Cubbage will take over mountain operations on May 1.
At that time Powell will step into a part-time role as Director of Special Projects, where he will oversee the installation of the new alpine slides and coordinate with the U.S. Forest Service regarding the Hellroaring Basin project.
“We are so grateful for Chet’s contributions to this resort and our community. He has always been there to provide insight and education in areas of mountain operations. His institutional knowledge is vast and he has played a key role in getting the resort to where it is today,” Dan Graves, CEO of Whitefish Mountain Resort, said. “I could always count on Chet accomplishing what was needed for the resort in his good-natured way. To say that I will miss him doesn’t quite express my gratitude, respect, and reliance on him. I will miss him greatly.”
Graves also voiced strong confidence in Cubbage, who has been an integral part of the resort’s success since 2009.
“Although Chet will leave behind big shoes to fill, having a leader like Bill with a strong belief in the Whitefish Mountain Resort culture should make this transition as easy as it can be,” Graves said. “We are confident that Bill will excel in his new role. In addition to his knowledge of operations he has a proven ability to lead others and is well respected and looked up to across the resort.”
Mike Davies will succeed Cubbage as director of Snow Sports and Summer Activities. Davies, manager of Children’s Programming in the Snow Sports department, transitioned to his new role Feb. 1.