SE3:EP13 - Bill Jensen: New Look at Sundance


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Visitors to Sundance Mountain Resort this winter have found a wonderful new experience at one of Utah’s great hidden gems. Working with the experienced Sundance team, legendary ski industry leader Bill Jensen has helped them transform the resort with new lifts, terrain, snowmaking and much more. Jensen, a longtime visionary who has led some of North America’s most notable resorts, talked to Ski Utah’s Last Chair about his storied career and the fun he’s having coaching the team at Sundance.

After stewarding Sundance for over a half-century, film legend Robert Redford sold his interest in December 2020 after carefully curating potential buyers to ensure his legacy would remain. The new investors included Broadreach Capital Partners and Cedar Capital Partners. But what was most important for skiers and riders was the inclusion of Jensen as a partner.

While he didn’t discover skiing until he was 19 in southern California, Jensen quickly grew passionate about the sport, starting his career at Mammoth Mountain as a liftie. In the decades since then he’s hopscotched around in leadership roles from Vail to Whistler to Telluride and Intrawest. In 2019, he was inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame.

In his new role, he fell in love with Sundance the day he hiked up to the top of Ray’s Lift and then up to Mandan Summit. His vision came clear in an instant when he soaked in the view of Mt. Timpanogos from Mandan.

This winter skiers were treated to a host of positive upgrades:

  • The new high-speed Outlaw Express taking skiers from base to Mandan Summit in just seven minutes.
  • New beginner and intermediate terrain off Mandan offering stunning new views and options. Check out Broadway!
  • A new beginner area with three magic carpets.
  • A new return lift, Stairway, from the back mountain along with a new run allowing Bear Claw to base skiing or riding.
  • The new Lookout restaurant with stunning views of Timp from the base.
  • New snow guns as part of an upgraded snowmaking system, including a water holding pond.

While he’s been the top executive of the biggest ski resort companies in North America, he remains a true mountain guy always anxious to take visitors up on the mountain. Here are a few teasers from the interview. Check out the full conversation on Last Chair, available through all podcast platforms.

Bill, you had a bit of a non-traditional introduction to skiing.

Unfortunately, later than most people I know. Born in Hawaii and grew up in Southern California. When I was 19, for some reason I walked into a Sports Ltd. store in Woodland hills. They were showing the K2 Performers video. I saw skiing for the first time and was fascinated. I just went, ‘wow, this is incredible.’ So I went skiing that winter one day, and that was it.

I’ll bet you were pretty excited to get a job as a liftie?

It just connects you to people, and, candidly, it was fun! So that's where it all started. It was all happenstance. I had no idea that a ski area was even a business. I just saw it as some great recreational fun pursuit. And I just - I fell in love. You know, I always say, I love skiing, but I became passionate about the ski industry and the business and that's where things unfolded.

You’ve lived in some great ski towns: Mammoth, Sun Valley, Whistler, Vail, Breckenridge. What has attracted you to those towns?

In small towns, you get to know a lot of people. And I also like the fact that people depend on each other, whether it was helping them split their firewood or snow removal or whatever. You built relationships and,in ski towns, there's a common denominator that everybody loves snow and they love sliding on snow, whether they snowboard or ski now. But, you know, I just felt very comfortable in that environment. Living in a ski town, to me, just fit my ... who I was and my persona. I really like small mountain communities.

What did it mean to be honored in the Hall of Fame?

It's touching. It's gratifying. It wasn't something that you aspire to. I really believe in the sport. I believe that the skier is important and I've worked hard over my career to mentor people and bring new people into the business and see their careers grow. And that has been the most fulfilling part of my career.

When you visited Sundance in 2020, what stood out to you?

You know the word, and I don't want it to be overused, but just the sense of arrival and walking through the base - there's something magical about this resort and part of it is the environment it sits in, Mount Timp and the views. It is truly one of very few unique ski areas that have this setting. And because it was Robert Redford's business, it really was a family business, is what I would call it. And you can sense that in the culture, the staff and the people who are here. My sense is everyone feels a bit of a sense of ownership of Sundance and how it's played a role in their lives.

What was the vision for the new alignment of Outlaw Express to Mandan Summit?

When you're on the top of Mandan, it feels like you can just reach out and touch it (Timpanogos). It made a lot of sense for us to actually implement that lift alignment and put it all together. It was a bit more expensive than just putting something back in the place of Ray's lift. But I think for the long term and summer and everything else, it was the right decision. I think the view of Timp from the top of Mandan is probably the signature view!

As a resort leader over many years, any memorable powder stories?

So, Whistler Blackcomb in 2010 at the Olympics. One of the sayings in the ski industry is if you want it to snow, hold it downhill. It snowed to beat the band and the downhill was canceled. And up on the high alpine, I'm not exaggerating, there was 30 plus inches of fresh snow. And because the Olympic Committee was controlling access, there were very few people there.

And as the head of Whistler-Blackcomb at the time, you can be sure he was there!

Bill Jensen may be new to Utah, but he does have a favorite Utah craft beer! Learn about that and more in a fascinating discussion with one of America’s visionary ski leaders about his newfound passion working with the team at Sundance. And while he’s going to leave it to the Sundance staff to announce future plans, he at least gives us a few hints. Take a listen!

Chad Linebaugh: Blending Art, Nature and Skiing at Sundance Mountain Resort

Learn more about Sundance in this earlier episode from 2020 with President Chad Linebaugh.

When you look at Sundance Mountain Resort, you need to view it as much more than a ski area. Today, Robert Redford’s Sundance is a wonderful blend of art, nature and skiing. Sundance may be a small ski area, but it skis big. President and General Manager Chad Linebaugh will take you on a tour of his favorite Sundance runs in his conversation with host Tom Kelly, plus some little known facts about the famous actor.

44 episodes