“The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” - Socrates
Transition is an inevitable aspect of life. Eventually, everything changes. And over the summer at Holiday Valley Resort, a substantial change took place. Ron Kubicki, Holiday Valley’s Director of Snowsports for nearly the past two decades, retired from the snowsports school that he had helped build into one of the top ski schools in New York state.
Under Kubicki’s leadership the ski and snowboard instructors at Holiday Valley grew as a cohesive unit; a fact that was made evident at the start of every season when large percentages of the staff returned to spend another winter out on the slopes, teaching people about the sport that they so thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the men on the snowsports team was a retired Information Technology Manager from GE Transportation in Erie, PA by the name of Bob Armour, who, along with his wife Karen, was just about to return to Holiday Valley for his fourth season as part of the snowsports staff. When it became known that Kubicki was ready to transition on to other passions, many qualified replacements were discussed, but it was Armour who ultimately showed the management team at Holiday Valley that he was the candidate best suited to follow in Kubicki’s formidable footsteps.
So what was it that inspired the former GE IT Manager, who was responsible for training both customers and GE employees at various international sites, to come out of retirement? After all, we are talking about a man who was once responsible for managing all of GE’s locomotive global inventory and who still occasionally consults for his former company on special projects. It’s not like he has to prove himself to anyone at this stage in his life. His accomplishments speak for themselves. But his accomplishments were made possible because he is driven, and upon sitting down and talking with Armour, one quickly sees that he is driven when it comes to snowsports, and the art of snowsports instruction, as well. In fact, Armour himself said it best when describing his personal philosophy regarding skiing and snowboarding instructing. He hopes “to continually strive to provide the best possible experience for our (Holiday Valley) guests. It is about creating a connection with each and every guest and of course, it’s about having fun!”
Fun connections. Holiday Valley has grown in leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, but the concept of having a good time out on the slopes and making new friends is one that has remained to this day. Ron Kubicki emphasized the importance of that mentality to each and every person he ever hired during his tenure. And now that mindset lives on with Bob Armour. Your new Holiday Valley Snowsports Director.
INTERVIEW WITH BOB ARMOUR
HEGEMAN: Exactly how long have you been at Holiday Valley and how did the transition from being a ski instructor to being the snowsports director take place?
ARMOUR: This will be my fourth year at Holiday Valley and my 45th year working in the snowsports industry. I originally started as a ski instructor and have been a supervisor of instructors for 40 years. A number of years ago I was also the director of a small ski resort in western Pennsylvania. I enjoy all facets of snowsports including the business side of the sport.
HEGEMAN: You are from Erie, PA. What's the draw to Ellicottville? There are closer ski resorts that you could be working at.
ARMOUR: My wife, Karen, and I are from Erie and both of us worked at Peek’n Peak Resort which is much closer to Erie. I worked there for 40 years, full time while in college and part time before retiring from there. I also retired from GE Transportation in Erie. Retirement has given me the flexibility to be able to broaden my horizons. Holiday Valley is a much larger resort than those closer to Erie and was rated the 3rd best winter resort in Eastern North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. Ellicottville is such a fun town and it is close enough to Erie that friends and family can visit and we can still return home.
HEGEMAN: You are PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Level III certified (for those who don't know, Level III is as high up as you go … it’s an impressive accomplishment). Your predecessor was very active within PSIA. Do you plan on continuing where Ron left off in terms of emphasizing the importance of PSIA and AASI within the snowsports school?
ARMOUR: PSIA and AASI are instrumental in setting the standards in the industry and assuring consistency between resorts. I have always encouraged and helped train candidates as they strived to attain higher certification levels. PSIA and AASI offer a plethora of educational and training information with manuals, videos, on-snow and indoor clinics, and other information which is invaluable to the success of our instructors. A sense of camaraderie also develops between members as we strive to improve ourselves, the organization and the snowsports industry. I value the friendships that I have made over the years. I continually emphasize the importance of membership in PSIA and AASI to others and to the members of our staff.
HEGEMAN: The school grew in so many ways during Ron’s tenure. What plans do you have to help it continue to grow and to be able to put your own stamp on the school?
ARMOUR: I have been very lucky to follow in Ron’s footsteps because he left us with a very well organized, knowledgeable and experienced snowsports staff. Right now, I am working on growing the sport through increasing the sale of Ultimate Passes and Learn to Ski or Snowboard programs, increasing skier and snowboarder retention, and expanding the training opportunities for our staff.
HEGEMAN: I know the season is off to a slow start but what about the job are you liking the most so far?
ARMOUR: I have enjoyed meeting and getting to know the employees of Holiday Valley and also getting to know others in the Ellicottville community.
HEGEMAN: Ellicottville is filled with some very good skiers and snowboarders. What does Holiday Valley Snowsports have to offer those who might feel they are beyond the need to take a lesson?
ARMOUR: We can all work on improving our skiing or riding. Even after 45 years of skiing I still work on improving my skiing every time that I ski. The members of the snowsports staff and our Training Center coaches have many years of teaching experience and have encountered a myriad of different students. They can make recommendations to help each individual guest improve their riding or skiing experience. We also offer NASTAR, the recreational ski and snowboard race program.
HEGEMAN: Are there any new changes, besides uniforms and director, that people should look forward to within the school this season?
ARMOUR: I am working on enhancing the experience of our guests in many different facets. This will include but is not limited to such processes as online registration for lessons and terrain based learning.
HEGEMAN: What is your favorite run at the Valley?
ARMOUR: My favorite runs are the Chute for moguls, Yodeler (where I always go to practice), Firecracker and Shadows. I’m sorry that I couldn’t mention just one. Editors note: No worries, Bob. Not many people can name just one favorite at The Valley.
HEGEMAN: Where is your favorite place to eat in Ellicottville?
ARMOUR: This was one of the tougher questions. John Harvard’s in Tamarack at Holiday Valley and Slopeside Bar and Grill, which is right across the street, are wonderful places to stop after a great day on the slopes. And of course for pizza, I love going to the Depot … they have the best! The Ellicottville Brewing Company has good food and of course, terrific beer. I like the new restaurant, Villaggio, for dinner. Katy’s is the best for breakfast and lunch. I also like the Armor Inn (unfortunately not related) for happy hour and Balloons to grab a bite to eat and listen to some great music.
HEGEMAN: What is your ski of choice these days?
ARMOUR: I have been skiing on Rossignol equipment for many years and have been skiing on the Rossignol Experience 88 for the past few seasons. It is my favorite ski. I wanted to also have a slalom ski for this season, so I just got the Rossignol Hero Elite ST TI but haven’t had a chance to try them out yet. I am also going to use KneeBindings this year.
HEGEMAN: Are there any events coming up at the Valley this season that you're particularly looking forward to?
ARMOUR: I am looking forward once again to the Lisa Densmore “Your Turn” women’s clinic which will be held at Holiday Valley on Feb. 11. I have found that women bring different expectations to the learning and teaching experience. The women’s clinic is taught by Lisa Densmore Ballard, a pro racer and educator, along with our PSIA Level II and Level III woman instructors. Many of our other programs focus on teaching children, but this one focuses on women. Quite often when a woman takes a lesson, she will say that her goal is “to be able to ski (or ride) as well as my children!” I would like to continue to cultivate the entire family experience at Holiday Valley. I am also looking forward to all of the race and freestyle events that are held by our Training Center. I love to watch them!
HEGEMAN: What age were you when your love of skiing started, and where did you learn to ski?
ARMOUR: I didn’t start skiing until I was 17 and I started at Peek’n Peak. I became an instructor two years later while I was in college. By teaching skiing I was able to pay for part of my college tuition. I was lucky because I could take the winters off from college to instruct full time. This meant working from 9am until closing at 10:30pm. The instructors would often help the Ski Patrol sweep the hill after the lifts closed so we would not be finished until 11pm. Of course, you could only do that while you are young!
HEGEMAN: And finally, what is your favorite skiing memory that you have?
ARMOUR: My favorite ski memories are the times that I spent skiing with Bill Giese. Bill had been the snowsports director at Peek’n Peak and one of my best friends. He was seriously injured in a car accident and sustained injuries that left him paralyzed. He was an amazing athlete. No matter where we were skiing, whether out West or in the East, he was the first to jump off a cornice or rip up a mogul field. He would not hesitate to venture or lead us into untracked territory. Often times we found out too late why it was untracked!