Hall of Famer
Well known and respected in the ski industry for his leadership style, diverse skillsets and affable nature, Roger McCarthy made a significant impact at ski areas across the country for over 50 years in resort management and ski area development roles.
Roger’s career in the Canadian ski industry started at Whistler Mountain when he moved there from New Zealand, then to Blackcomb, Mont Tremblant, and eventually to ski resorts in Colorado and lastly in Russia.
But Roger’s time and leadership at Mont Tremblant, was perhaps the shining jewel in his career. He was instrumental in a dramatic turnaround of the resort, which at the time was nearly in bankruptcy protection when Intrawest purchased it in 1991. As the new General Manager, Roger took the run-down ski area, with its disgruntled and heavily unionized staff, and within a few months had trained and inspired the team that built, opened and operated the new Mont Tremblant, which was very quickly recognized as an award-winning destination resort. One of Whistler’s legendary figures Hugh Smythe (Canadian Ski Hall of Fame, Class of 2010) was the President of Intrawest Resort Operations at the time – commented that his long-time friend and colleague built a great team at Tremblant, which went on to win industry awards in as few as four years later.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Roger learned to ski at the Tongariro Ski Club at the age of seven on Mount Ruapehu on the North Island. His skis were handmade by his father – wood wrapped with fibreglass, metal edges, and complete with a custom release binding. Roger completed technical school and went on to take management courses at night school while working at his first two jobs, and continued to be a passionate skier. He would make the four-hour drive to Ruapehu every weekend, where he heard about a new ski area in Canada, in Whistler, and was mesmerized by the stories and movies about the rugged scenery and amazing terrain.
So by the age 22, Roger packed up and moved to Whistler and got his first job as a handyman at the Cheakamus Inn. Soon after he landed a job working on Whistler Mountain as a lift operator at the top of the alpine T-bar; a fortuitous opportunity as he was able to watch and spend time with members of the Pro Patrol, and decided that was the career he wanted to pursue, especially after getting some chances to go on a few avalanche control missions with the Patrol and learn the nuances around explosives.
From the start, Roger impressed those around him with his dedication, inquisitive nature, and passion for the mountains that went well beyond skiing. The following year, in 1973, he obtained his Industrial First Aid ticket and was hired on the Pro Patrol.
Over the coming years, Roger went on to take other positions in mountain and lift ops at Whistler – and as well became a Canadian citizen in 1976, realizing that Whistler and Canada is where he wanted to live long term. He was hired by Blackcomb in 1990 as Director of Human Resources, a role at which he excelled. And in 1991, when Intrawest decided to invest in Mont Tremblant and its resurrection, Roger was tasked with the responsibility.
“I asked Roger whether he could speak any French and, should we be successful in the purchase of Mont Tremblant, would he like to take on the massive challenge of turning around what was likely the worst-run ski resort in North America,” said Hugh Smythe. “His answers: ‘Not since high-school’ … and ‘yes’ so he jumped in with no hesitation, great enthusiasm and his characteristic sense of urgency.”
Roger rolled up his sleeves and went to work on building trust and shifting the highly hierarchical culture. One of his earliest initiatives was the purchase of stylish and warm uniforms for all the staff, something they had never had.
“He made connections with staff at every level – crawling under snowcats to talk with the mechanics, and an open door; always available to meet with staff and discuss their concerns and ideas,” said Hugh.
The result was a monumental cultural shift in the level of engagement among the same workforce, and a total transformation of the level of customer service which culminated in Tremblant winning the Prix Grand du Tourisme Quebecois in 1994 as having the best service in the tourism sector in Quebec. By 1996, Tremblant was recognized by SKI Magazine as the #1 ski resort in eastern North America, a title that it has earned another 22 times since then, along with numerous other annual accolades. This remarkable turnaround of Tremblant became not only the economic engine of the northern Laurentians, but reinvigorated snowsports throughout Quebec.
In 1998 Roger was promoted to Intrawest’s SVP Eastern Region, which included Blue Mountain, Mont Ste Marie, Mountain Creek, Stratton and Snowshoe. On multiple occasions, Roger was recognized for his high standards and ability to enhance guest experiences and employee engagement at each of the resorts he was involved in.
Eventually, his responsibilities were further expanded to Europe, which included Intrawest’s venture developing and operating a snowdome in Madrid, and he also served on the Boards of Compagnie des Alpes and Courmayeur resort, both of which Intrawest held shares in. In 2000, Roger was headhunted by Vail Associates, the largest ski company in the U.S., to join them as COO at Breckenridge and two years later he was put in charge of Keystone – putting him in charge of two of the most visited ski resorts in the U.S.
“Roger raised the bar on guest service levels at Breckenridge and Keystone, resulting in a significant increase in annual SKI magazine rankings for both resorts” said Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.
In 2007, Roger resigned from Vail to take on a completely new challenge – a unique opportunity brought to his attention by his long-term friend and business colleague, Paul Mathews, President and CEO of Ecosign Mountain Planners. His role was to lead the development of a new resort in Russia, Rosa Khutor in anticipation of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games at Sochi.
Roger resumed full-time residence in Whistler, returning to the community where his career in the ski industry had started and which he has always called home. Roger successfully ran for election as a Councillor for the Resort Municipality of Whistler, and served on Council from 2011 to 2014, during which time participated in or chaired a number of municipal committees.
Roger’s length and breadth of scope over his 50year career, in multiple countries, and multiple languages, but most significantly in Canada, has had a remarkable impact on the ongoing growth and development of snowsports, that will continue to benefit the industry through the future.
RECOGNITIONS AND AFFILIATIONS
- Inducted in the Laurentian Ski Hall of Fame, 2016
- Resort Municipality of Whistler – elected Councillor, 2011 to 2014
- Whistler Chamber of Commerce – Board Member
- Whistler Spirit Program – involved at many levels from inception
- Canada West Ski Areas Association – Associate Member
- National Ski Areas Association – Associate Member
- Whistler Lakes Conservation Association – Founding Board Member, 2020 and ongoing Chair
Roger McCarthy – Canadian Ski Hall of Fame Induction (2023)
Roger (left) at a ski patrol communication station, with Bruce Watt viewing roll of the wind readings, circa 1976. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Museum.
Roger portrait from Whistler (left) and Mont Tremblant.
Roger travelling to Rosa Khutor, Russia.
Roger with longtime friend, colleague and Hall of Fame member, Hugh Smythe.