Interview with Reese Brown
CCSAA'S New Executive Director
Earlier this year, Reese Brown took over as the executive director of the Cross-country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA), replacing Chris Frado. Brown, 52, will continue to also act as the Nordic director of Snowsports Industries America (SIA). We reached out to Brown, based in Woodstock, Vt., to find out more about his plans going forward.
Congratulations on your new position with the Cross-country Ski Areas Association!
Reese Brown: Thank you. I am very much looking forward to combining this new position with what I do as SIA'S Nordic director. The addition of CCSAA really opens up the conversation with the ski areas, and I feel I have some great ideas to help them provide the best product possible.
Please give a brief history of how you got into the ski industry and your time in it.
RB: I began as an alpine ski racer and moved in to alpine coaching when my racing days were over. I was also an event producer and started doing some work with the Snowsports Industries America. As I became more involved with SIA and running some consumer snowshoe and cross-country ski programs, I fell in love with the Nordic culture. From there, I became its Nordic director.
At a very young age, I came to the question, do I go alpine or Nordic? I chose alpine at that point, but still was an active cross-country skier and would race in what was called the Skimeister, downhill, cross-country and jumping. I did ski through college, which was great fun, but had no future career in racing and turned to coaching.
Are you also involved with the US Ski Team?
RB: I am involved with the US Ski Team. I sit on the Cross Country Advisory Board that supports the National Team through additional fundraising and media and other advisory duties.
Do you have a first 100-days agenda?
RB: I do, but first and foremost, I needed to really understand the inner workings of CCSAA and learn the existing systems. My No. 1 agenda item is creating better communication with the members about what CCSAA is doing for them. To that end, I have rebuilt the database, changed the e-mail platform, restructured the newsletter and added regional meetings around the country.
You previously said that, “Bridging between SIA and CCSAA will provide great synergies that will allow me to advance both organizations in ways that will greatly enhance the Nordic community.” How do you see this unfolding?
RB: By working with both SIA and CCSAA, I speak to the supplier and the resorts. This had allowed me to open communication between the two, but also allowed me to add components to different initiatives I am working on. As an example, we just completed our annual Eastern Meeting at the Eastman Cross Country Center in North Eastern USA where we discussed the return on investment (ROI) of turning over your rental fleet often. This speaks to the supplier and selling more gear, but also the ski area by having fresh rental gear that provides a better experience for its guests.
CCSAA is primarily a U.S. organization – how many members do you have and what percentage of membership is in Canada?
RB: We have been primarily a U.S. organization, but that is not what we want to be. Within day of taking over CCSAA, I took a trip to Quebec to visit with some members there and discuss ways to communicate better with them. Our Annual Conference this year will be at Silver Star Resort in B.C. (Canada), and I intend to push hard to get our Canadian members and non-members there. We did have two Canadian ski areas represented at our recent Eastern meeting and I was able to take some time to speak with them about how to integrate Canada better.
Are there plans to grow the organization?
RB: I very definitely have plans to grow membership, but that will only happen if I am able to show real value for the membership cost. This concept is integral with every initiative we come up with – how will it help our membership. I do feel we are accomplishing this now, and I am seeing new members coming in already.
Currently, there are 280 members, but that number is growing, and I hope to pass 300 by year's end. The annual CCSAA membership begins at $370 [US].
We've heard that fatbiking is being embraced by a number of centres – how is CCSAA involved?
RB: I believe it is CCSAA'S job to create a “best practices” document for integrating fatbikes into our ski areas. This falls under my value proposition to the members. I am working with our members, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and Quality Bike
Products (QBP) to gather information and look at standardizing how fatbikes are used at cross-country centres and creating universal signage. This is a really fun project!
What challenges lie ahead for CCSAA, including climate change?
RB: Climate change is an incredibly important issue and challenge, and we are partnering with Protect Our Winters to activate our membership and all cross-country skiers to help combat climate change. Separate from the climate, my biggest challenge is effective communication with my membership. I can see who reads any of my communications, and the numbers are not where I think they should be. This is my No. 1 priority; we have great programs, but if the membership does not know about them, we lose our effectiveness.
Tell us about your recent summit and this new concept you introduced.
RB: We have had three regional summits and one Eastern meeting since I took over. Meeting face-to-face is so incredibly important, and I know many of our members don't or can't get to the Annual Meeting. By creating some regional off-season summits, CCSAA hopes to reach more of our membership in a face-to-face setting, which, in turn, helps to develop a more personal relationship with members. As I often say, it's not only about what presenters have to say, it's also about the time spent in the aisles, or over coffee or lunch that is so important. You cannot get that intimacy with email blasts.
Were there any noticeable effects from Ski Tour Canada last season?
RB: I believe there were noticeable effects from Ski Tour Canada. Certainly there was a lot of excitement from the racing community about having a race series on our continent. It was also a chance to get lots of local press for cross-country skiing in a non-olympic year. But racing is only part of the equation. In my work with the media, I constantly hear the belief that cross-country skiing is difficult. It can be, but there is more to it, and that is the real story I am trying to share.
Are there other trends or initiatives in the works?
RB: Value and communication: those are my two focal points. In addition to better ways to communicate with our audience, we are working on fatbike best practices, standardizing surface-condition names, how to create a safety and ski-patrol plan, how to fund large capital expenditures and more.
Much has already been said about your predecessor, Chris Frado. Is there anything to add?
RB: Chris Frado was the architect of the association; she is handing me a welloiled organization that I will be able to keep building on. In the transition, she has been incredibly helpful [ in] guiding my groups and providing answers to my countless questions. I am so thankful that she is here and willing to help; I look forward to continuing our working relationship and friendship.
Any final remarks?
RB: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Skitrax readers across Canada and the U.S.A. and I look forward to a continued long relationship with the magazine.
Reese Brown hopes to add value to both roles as new executive director of CCSAA'S while continuing as Nordic director of SIA.