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Posted by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Jon Schaefer
The Innovative Skier

Jon Schaefer is Owner and Ski Area Operator of Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont and Catamount Mountain Resort in South Egremont, Massachusetts. He also runs various seasonal outdoor adventures from zipline tours and whitewater rafting to outdoor concerts and mountain biking.  We spoke to Jon about his work on and off the slopes.

Tell us about your background and how you came to Berkshire East and Catamount.

My father purchased Berkshire East before I was born. I was raised on the slopes, in pump rooms, business offices and in lodges. I ski raced well enough to be able to travel the world and came back to Charlemont after coaching the Middlebury Ski Team and going to Middlebury, spending some time at Stamford and the University of Vermont.

I came back to Berkshire East in 2009 and immediately began working on summer activities, and on our wind turbine and snow making.

In 2018 my family bought Catamount Resort and immediately began reinvigorating the business. We are in our fourth year, and by the end of next year we will have installed three lifts, tripled our snow making capacity, added ponds and lodges and really reinvigorated the business.

You recently won a Ski Area Management award (SAMMY) for your innovations during COVID-19.  Tell us about your initiatives and your collaboration with the Commonwealth on establishing outdoor recreation safety guidelines. 

Googles for Docs was an amazing collaboration between many people from across the ski world. An ER physician from NY, Dr.  Mike Halperin asked us for ski googles in the early days of the pandemic; this was when there was no PPE available anywhere. I jumped on the idea and gathered an initial round of volunteers.  We formalized it into a mechanism to have hospitals put in a request for goggles as PPE and for people at home, or manufacturers, to send goggles to those health care facilities in order to fulfill the needs of the staff. We were able to facilitate about 65,000 individual goggle deliveries to over 1,600 hospitals in 17 countries. It was a tremendous effort from thousands of individuals. It also was exhausting.

After the ‘first wave’ wrapped, I was asked to Co-Chair the reopening committee for the Commonwealth for outdoor recreation. We wrote policy that covered ski areas, rafting, hiking, biking, parks and almost every conceivable outdoor recreation in the state. Essentially, we had two or three weeks and we built the fire truck on the way to the fire. As a member of the committee and a member of the recreation world, I was thankful how the Governor prioritized outdoor recreation as a healthy diversion during the pandemic. We then regrouped and wrote the ski rules in the fall.

What kind of skiers do you attract, and how do you expand your user-base year-after-year to bring skiers to you?

Our skiers are local, regional and now destination visitors with the Indy Pass. Our primary group of new guests are people fleeing the overcrowded corporatized resorts that surround us. We aren’t for everybody, but people come to Berkshire East and Catamount and take a deep breath and relax, the vibe differential is immediate.

Ski areas are fast becoming multi-purpose year-round facilities.  What are some of the other activities you’ve developed at Berkshire East and Catamount?

Last year we had a music series headlined by Adam Gardner of Gustier, Marc Roberge of O.A.R. and KT Tunstall. We run 5 zip line tours, two whitewater rafting businesses, a mountain coaster, one of the largest adventure parks on the East Coast, and one of the biggest downhill mountain bike parks on the East Coast. We are making a large investment of time and capital into an improved food and beverage experience. All of these combine to form a growing segment of the market known as ‘experiential tourism.’

Western Massachusetts is a wonderful region for outdoor adventure and natural beauty but also for culture, history, fresh food and culinary riches.  How do you work with local groups to market this destination to visitors?

We are active partners with multiple regional tourism councils (RTC). We enjoy the support of several very active RTCs such as the Mohawk Trail, Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1Berkshire and the Franklin Chamber of Commerce.  Diana Szynal from the Franklin Chamber and members from all of these organizations have been active supporters of our business. They have become personal friends and frequent collaborators.

Thanks Jon.

Find more information by visiting Berkshire East Resort and Catamount Ski Area.