We’ll take our Kliffy, straight up, hold the ice. Here’s the story.
“I’m a flatlander from Long Island, New York and the youngest of three boys. My parents were of Scandinavian heritage so everything was ski-oriented and all vacations were ski, ski, ski. There was no negotiation on that. Every Christmas week we’d go up to the Berkshires, go to Catamount, Butternut, Bousquet and Jiminy Peak. That was always the Christmas vacation for probably fifteen years in a row. Next came the “big trip” to southern Vermont. My family would stay at the Village Inn in Landgrove, Vermont for a week, where we’d ski Stratton, Bromley, occasionally Okemo, then every once in a blue moon, Killington. My mother didn’t like Killington because she thought it too big and intense. She liked Bromley because she could keep an eye on the family. My parents enjoyed Stratton because at the time they had the Stratton Mountain Boys who were a Tyrolean-style band that played traditional Austrian music. My parents were really into the European dancing and all that crap.”
You attended Lyndon State. Was your goal to run a ski resort?
“We’ll back it up to skiing at Bromley. My dad was an aerospace engineer at Grumman Aerospace so he, of course, wanted me to go into engineering. Apparently, I was successful in never showing him my math grades. My dad was engineering-oriented in all ways, so if you presented a problem to him, his mind would think analytically to figure it out. I remember riding the chairlift at Bromley back in the early 80’s and my dad said to me, “Well son, you’re 15. What do you want to do with your life?” And I answer, “I don’t know. I think running a ski area would be a pretty cool thing.” He said “Okay,” and I went off and skied with my cousins and my dad skied off with the adults. Later we met at the base lodge, finished lunch, but before we headed back off to the slopes, my father says, “Hey wait, before you go back out, you have a little project. I’ve arranged for you to have an interview with the president of Bromley.” I was like, “Daaad! What are you doing to me?” Here you are at fifteen, insecure; you have zits, you don’t have your place in the world yet. My dad also arranged an interview with the guy who was running Stratton, so over a period of two days, I interviewed these guys.
My first interview was with John Cueman, who was then the president of both Bromley and Magic Mountain. During the appointment with him, he instructed me to get a degree and then come back and see him. And that’s what I did, and how I landed my first job at Magic Mountain.
Second interview: I was always just this big passionate skier so I will never forget the crushing words from the guy at Stratton. Do you remember Stratton Mountain when they had the big red sweaters with the Austrian eagle? It’s a very vivid picture in my mind, this guy was a big wig in the company, sitting there dragging on his cigarette during the interview, with this big personality, and a big red sweater with the Austrian eagle. I went to ask him, “What’s the most exciting thing about running a ski area?” He put his hand up to stop me in the middle of my question, pushed his cigarette out in the ashtray and said: “What you need to understand first and foremost, is we are a real estate development company first, and not a ski area.”
I thought I was never going to be able to pick my heart up off the floor. I said, “What are you talking about? The skiing is everything!” I’ll never forget the disappointment that I felt. I’ll never forget it. That meeting has been part of my DNA from there on out. I always considered myself a business guy, but first and foremost I consider myself a caretaker of this facility and want to make sure I leave it like a Boy Scout–better then I found it. Then I worry about the profitability and then worry about all the other stuff. I always believe in doing the right thing long term, for the SKIING experience. That’s kind of where I’m at. That negative experience is how I figured it out. I went to college and dumb enough to stick around, and survived.”
1993-ish. Rockin’ it early Pearl Jam
Lyndon State College
“My graduating class was pretty good one at Lyndon State. Bruce Schmidt was a suite-mate who lived one door from me in the dorm. Bruce was my little cluck’n redneck who is now the GM at Okemo. Then we had Jamey Wimble, who was the GM at Mad River Glen and finally Scotty Reeves who is the VP of Operations at Stowe. We were all within a year of each other.”
“I began my career at Magic Mountain from 1985 until about 1991. I started out in snowmaking for four to five years. As I would actually show up for work, I was made a shift supervisor and then ran the night crew. When I got out of college, I got the snowmaking supervisor job, in charge of the snowmaking plant. At that time Magic ran into financial trouble, and we were trying to straighten the ship, I was given Timberside, the backside of the mountain to manage. That was when I started cutting my teeth as a lift mechanic as well as snow-making and giving a hand with grooming. When Magic closed I came over to Pat’s Peak in charge of snowmaking and lift maintenance and then worked my way up for three or four years and was offered the opportunity as GM.”
So when we speak to younger people entering the industry today, this route you’ve taken by educating yourself, coming up through the ranks of ops…do you feel that path can still land you a GM’s job?
“It’s a pretty unique industry as you know. If someone was looking to get a GM job and was looking to work at Vail, I’m not sure I would start out as a snowmaker. Your claw up the rope would be pretty arduous. There’s a lot of luck involved that I was able to get one of these coveted GM jobs, but I’d also like to think that I worked my ass off to get to this position. What I find a little frustrating– though I certainly do not want to sound like my father– the ski business is a pretty complex animal. I think the biggest thing to let the next generation know is they need to put in the time and have the patience to stick it out. Someone can’t just be given the keys to the facility, as you can’t teach experience, you can’t teach how to fire people, you can’t teach how to work with different personalities. There are a lot of things you gain by just doing.”
1991:The first year at Pat’s with Kasey
Life at Pat’s Peak
“Why is Pat’s so successful? It’s the “chicken soup theory“ of ingredients. We’re one of the most accessible ski areas, except for Wachusett and Nashoba coming out of Boston, but we’re next up on the totem pole. As the commute here is all highway, our tagline used to be, “There’s one stop sign between the Big Dig and Pat’s Peak, what’s stopping you?” We’ve got committed ownership with the Patenaude family. The family has always been in support of capital improvements. I like to think that I’m a pretty frugal guy and don’t spend money very easily. We’ve got after-school programs that fluctuate between 7,500 and 9,000 skiers and riders every week. We keep a larger than normal staff for an area our size. The owners and our team are very meticulous that the place is looking good. We want the walls painted, and the carpets changed, lifts painted, and we always try to do something new and exciting. I’m a believer that to keep things fresh; you have to present four to six ideas that keep the skiers coming back. It’s kind of a silly business with the amount of capital dollars you got to put into it. A big shout out to our snowmakers as we probably have one of the most powerful snowmaking systems in the New England per acre. All of it together makes for a great recipe.”
Kliffy and Roxy on their daily walk-about.
Where’d you get your name Kliffy?
“Back in the Magic Mountain days, Jim Shultz, who was the Mountain Manager was looking at purchase order sign-offs and asked the parts manager, “Who’s KB?” The parts guy says “yeah, uhhhh.. that guy you just hired for snowmakin’? Kliffy Bromberg?” He said that in front of like three lift mechanics and snowmakers. You know op’s guys. They ate that up for dinner, and the rest is history.”
“I have a very lovely wife Jennifer and my daughter Halle is in college. Halle likes the slope-side location of my office. During Christmas week my office is packed with cousins and jammed with ski boots and clothes and equipment all over the place. I enjoy the chaos that family life brings. It’s what its all about isn’t it?
And yes, Poppa did get to see me as a General Manager of a ski resort. He was a proud parent of all of his three boys. We all “done good” before his passing in 2013.”