However, the devastating season of 1979-1980 saw attendance drop to 88,800 visits and another low-snow 1980-1981 winter caused the area to divert money slated for a new chairlift to snowmaking on the summit. In 1982 visits bounced back to 146,000 only to see Okemo’s line of credit pulled. Shareholders voted to sell Okemo in what was becoming a highly competitive and weather-challenged business. This decision was buttressed by a Sno-Engineering master plan that noted Okemo’s potential to be a major destination resort with mountain expansion and additional condominiums. It also spelled out deficiencies and a need for $8 million in improvements, including more chairlifts. Enter the Entrepreneurs After a career in homebuilding in southern Vermont, Tim and Diane Mueller had moved to St. Thomas to manage and expand a beach resort for Diane’s parents, gaining hospitality, as well as resort construction expertise, in the process. With son Ethan approaching school age, they wanted to return to the States, and the potential at Okemo appealed to their entrepreneurial instincts. Tim said he had spotted a “diamond in the rough” when he saw the master plan, and in August 1982 they became majority owners of Okemo (sole owners in 1993). Their attorney, George Nostrand, said of the purchase, “It was a struggle and a monumental risk. They had limited funding and if it failed, they would have lost everything they owned. I told Tim that I personally wouldn’t have had the stomach to take this kind of risk. He said to me, ‘Well George, that’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a lawyer.’” Without time to investigate and finance a chairlift, the Muellers spruced things up and focused on instilling a good customer-service ethic in their employees. But it was a difficult first winter with equipment malfunctioning. “Things were old or under-sized... At the weekly departmental meetings, we discussed fixing things according to a triage system. It was constant, week-to-week decision-making and so much was critical that we always had to consider alternate solutions. It was a tough year, but long hours often solved the problems,” a former vice president had recalled. Complicating matters, it didn’t snow until January 14, 1983. Snowmaking saved the holiday business as they ran the system full force, and the Muellers were encouraged by a small operating loss, compared to prior poor seasons. Replacing the Red Poma with a triple chairlift in 1983 bolstered confidence in the Muellers, and the constant improvements that followed — enhanced Clock Tower base area, lifts, trails, snowmaking, lodges, condos, programs, services — impressed skiers who flocked to the mountain in increasing numbers. Although the changes made Okemo’s progress look easy, the challenges continued and became ever more costly as environmentalists objected to growth and expansion in the ski industry. lives on under Vail Resorts ownership Mueller leg acy - continued from page 63 - page 64 > winter 2018/19 > okemo magazine