Vail chief Jensen jumps to competitor |

Vail chief Jensen jumps to competitor

NWS Bill Jensen KL 8-16-06

VAIL, Colorado ” Bill Jensen, the top executive at Vail Mountain since 1999, is leaving Vail Resorts to work for a rival company that owns Whistler, Copper and Steamboat.

Jensen will become chief executive officer of Intrawest, it was announced Tuesday.

“For me, it’s just the next step,” Jensen said.

At Intrawest, Jensen will oversee not only the company’s ski resorts ” it owns a stake in 10, both in the East and West ” but also its real estate development, its hotel and property management and its golf courses.

Jensen’s last day at Vail is Jan. 31.

“It was an extremely difficult decision that I thought long and hard about,” he said. “For many, many weeks.”

Besides holding the position of chief operating officer at Vail Mountain, the ski-industry veteran Jensen has overseen Vail Resorts’ other ski mountains ” Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly ” as president of the mountain division.

John Garnsey, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek, will now oversee Vail and Beaver Creek as co-president of the mountain division.

Eagle County native Chris Jarnot, a marketing executive at Vail Resorts, will replace Jensen as chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. Jarnot, who grew up in Edwards, moved with Vail Resorts’ corporate offices to Broomfield in 2006 but said he’s excited to come back.

“My heart’s always been here in the mountains,” Jarnot said.

Jensen presided over Vail Mountain as it notched repeated No. 1 rankings in the annual SKI magazine poll. He also pushed for improved customer service, more grooming and increased environmental initiatives ” including Vail’s move to offset its electricity with wind power.

“I think Bill was one of those people who really understood how to achieve excellence on the mountain, excellence with the employees and develop real relationships with partners and the community,” said Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.

Katz said he supported Jensen’s move.

“I think he’s going to be a very worthy adversary,” Katz said.

After Vail Resorts’ corporate headquarters left Avon for the Front Range in 2006, Jensen became the top local official for the company, which runs the two ski resorts in the county. He is often the public face of Vail Resorts here, from chamber of commerce meetings to Town Council meetings to ceremonial events.

“He was always very responsive and would give us answers and would get right back to us,” said Rod Slifer, a longtime Vail mayor who recently left office.

Jensen has also been an industry leader, serving as chairman of the National Ski Areas Association since 2006.

Observers said Jensen was able to elevate the level of customer service in Vail, both on the mountain and in the town. He understood what guests wanted ” from grooming to high-speed lifts to restaurants ” and gave it to them, said Kaye Ferry, executive director of the Vail Chamber and Business Association.

“It’s almost inconceivable to get worse news in the town of Vail,” Ferry said. “His hallmark is customer service, understanding who our guest is and what our role is in regard to the guest.”

Andy Daly, a former Vail Resorts president who is now a Vail councilman, hired Jensen in the late ’90s. Jensen is one of the few people in the industry who would be qualified to do the Intrawest job, Daly said.

“It’s a wonderful compliment to what he’s been able to do at Vail Resorts, in the ski industry and in the community,” he said.

Jensen understood skiing’s aging population, and worked to upgrade lifts and expand grooming, Daly said.

But the transition will be smooth under Garnsey, Daly said.

“John knows this community and valley as well as anyone,” Daly said.

Earlier in his career, Jensen worked for the company that owned Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Bear Mountain Ski Resort in Southern California. Prior to that, he worked for Sunday River in Maine and Kassbohrer All Terrain Vehicles.

He started his career as a liftie at Mammoth Mountain, working his way up through the ranks. Mammoth founder Dave McCoy became a mentor for Jensen.

Jensen shared oversight of Vail Resorts’ mountains through last year, when the other co-president, Roger McCarthy, left Vail Resorts to start a ski resort near Sochi, Russia, the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

For the 2007 fiscal year, Jensen received $1.15 million in compensation, according to a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in October.

Jensen will start his new job June 1.

“It is an exciting opportunity,” Jensen said. “I’ve spent my entire career in the ski industry, and the chance to work in an organization as broad and diverse as Intrawest and still be involved in the ski industry was an opportunity that I was fortunate enough to have come along.”

Jensen replaces Alex Wasilov, a former Intrawest board member who has been CEO for the last 15 months and will now return to the board. Wasilov took over in 2006 after New York investment group Fortress bought the company, taking it from a public company to a private company.

Vail Resorts remains a public company traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

Vail Resorts and Intrawest are the two giants in North American skiing. VR owns five ski resorts encompassing 17,400 acres and 127 lifts, while Intrawest has a stake in 11, encompassing more than 20,000 acres and 177 lifts.

VR reported $838 million in revenue in 2006, while Intrawest reported $1.61 billion.

Jensen will be based out of Vancouver, British Columbia ” not quite a ski town, but close to Whistler.

“I’ve never lived in a city,” he said. “Talk about a new experience.”

Jensen declined to say which is a better ski mountain, Vail or rival Whistler.

“Call me in a couple years,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

Support Local Journalism