In his own words: Pete Sonntag, GM of Heavenly
Name: Pete Sonntag, vice president and general manager, Heavenly Mountain Resort
Number of years in this job? 1
Years in this profession? I’ve been in the ski business for 27 years
Education: BS in Economics from University at Albany (NY), MBA from University of Vermont
Last book read? “Onward” by Howard Schultz
Favorite flick? “Cool Hand Luke”
Spouse, kids or pets? Wife of 16 years and three kids, all playing hockey.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Heavenly and the duties of your position.
Pete Sonntag: Heavenly Mountain Resort is one of the largest and most visited ski resorts in North America. It possesses certain characteristics that differentiate it from all other resorts – 1. The best views of Lake Tahoe. 2. Straddles two states. 3. Best tree skiing anywhere. 4. Big casinos at the base offer guests the ability to go hard all day and all night. My job is to focus and support the efforts of the 1,500-plus employees of Heavenly on delivering the experience of a lifetime to each and every guest who visits our resort. The variety of ways we accomplish this and our desire to keep getting better at it make it fun and rewarding to come to work.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Sonntag: I moved to Vail, Colo., when I was 18 years old after one unsuccessful year of engineering school and completely fell in love with the mountains and the lifestyle. I worked at the Beaver Creek golf course on the maintenance crew in summer and a ski shop in Vail in winter for three years before returning to college. Once I became involved in the ski business, I developed a passion for it that has not diminished one bit. I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I do.
NNBW: What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?
Sonntag: How critical the support of my family has been to my success. To know that the people I care most about in the world love me for who I am gives me confidence to handle adversity and inspires me to be the best I can possibly be.
NNBW: What’s new at Heavenly?
Sonntag: Last year we opened the Tamarack Lodge, a 500 seat, 15,000-square-foot restaurant that brought on-mountain dining to a new level in Tahoe. This year we continue the momentum with a brand new Children’s Ski & Ride School facility adjacent to Tamarack Lodge, serving innovative, high-quality meals to kids. In addition, we’re excited to unveil three new trails in the Galaxy area of our mountain that provide stunning views of the Carson Valley and beyond. We continue to upgrade and expand Tahoe’s largest snowmaking system and have added two new Beast groomers (think groomers on steroids) to our fleet, giving us the most of any resort in North America. And our service model continues to improve and evolve. We believe these investments will be noticed and appreciated by our guests this winter.
NNBW: What are your greatest strengths?
Sonntag: I’m tenacious I don’t give up, ever.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job.
Sonntag: I’m in my dream job right now! I have the honor of leading one of the most iconic mountain resorts in the world. I work for the best company in the business. I’m surrounded with a group of highly skilled professionals who are passionate about what they do and who are completely committed to our organization’s success. I live at Lake Tahoe … do I need to say any more?
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Sonntag: Skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, road biking, hiking, running breathing fresh mountain air and working my cardiovascular system hard are as good as it gets for me. I’ll dabble in a bit of golf here and there, but most of my spare time is spent enjoying time with my family, frequently at the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena watching my kids play hockey.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Sonntag: You can have a great career in this business if you go into it with the right expectations. This is a fast-paced work environment, and we hold ourselves to a very high standard. If you come with an open mind and an outstanding work ethic, and you genuinely enjoy people, you’ll do very well.
NNBW: Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.
Sonntag: Being in the ski business does have its perks. Last winter was monumental by any standard, and I had several opportunities to get out and test the product. But frankly, I get the most satisfaction from our monthly recognition parties, where we eat good food and share stories of legendary guest service. There is not a single one that I’ve done that hasn’t had an emotional moment in it. What we do for people is so powerful.
NNBW: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Sonntag: From my dad, the greatest guy I’ve ever known: “Do what you love to do for a career and success will follow.”
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why?
Sonntag: Hell, no! I’m having way too much fun!
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.