Cold Mountains

By Brian Hudgins

When Gamble left a subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company to embrace ski bum status, he wasn’t expecting it to become a career

A skier since childhood — thanks to family trips from Kingstree, S.C., to the Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, N.C. — Jay Gamble left his position at Helena Chemical Company in South Carolina to turn skiing from a temporary pursuit into a full-time passion.
“That was 39 years ago,” he says.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Clemson that had schooled him in science, math, physics, accounting and business electives, Gamble made his way to Vermont in the spring of 1982 and began building chairlifts for Lift Engineering & Manufacturing Company. From there, he became a lift operations supervisor at Killington Ski Resort. This experience gave him a ground-up view of ski area operations that benefited him later.
“I spent my early years in mountain operations,” Gamble says. “Skiers come for the skiing, and the mountain is where that is happening. If we don’t have good snow, lifts and skiing, we are not going to get people to come back just because the resort has a good hamburger.”
Six years in Bethel, Maine, followed, where he served in mountain operations and chairlift construction at Sunday River. In 1992, he returned to Vermont to become the Eastern U.S. manager for Poma of America (a subsidiary of POMA, a French firm that engineered and manufactured chairlifts). New Hampshire came calling in 1998.
Two decades as general manager at Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, N.H., solidified Gamble’s expertise in the ski industry and prepared him for his next GM job at Ragged Mountain, where he has a hand in all aspects of the business, including tracking weather patterns. “The weather is what keeps us up at night,” Gamble says. “When we have cold temps, we can make snow.”
As Gamble watched the weather throughout late November 2019, he was constantly preparing for changes and making adjustments for his crew. He compares his year-round job to being the manager of the Boston Red Sox: “Skiers who are season pass holders and aficionados of the sport are never reluctant to tell me what we could do better. A lot of our ideas for improvements come from our clientele.”
With Ragged Mountain being only 90 minutes from Boston, many skiers drive up for the day as opposed to multiple-day destination trips to Colorado or Utah. The short travel time and family-friendly nature of the sport allow multiple generations to enjoy the slopes together. “If a grandparent or parent is a skilled skier, a younger family member sees them through that lens — someone who is having the same thrills and enjoyment as they are.”
Gamble’s skiing adventure has taken him from the warm subtropics of South Carolina to the cold mountains of New Hampshire, where he has forged an almost-40-year career. He wouldn’t change it.
“There is no boredom operating a ski area,” he says. “It’s seven days a week!”