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Playing in snow proves fruitful for Verdi company

Rob Sabo

Crews for Verdi’s Snow Park Technologies typically need about 20 days to construct a half pipe at a ski resort. Two weeks ago SPT crews whipped up an 18-foot tall, 450-foot-long half pipe at Heavenly Mountain Resort in a record nine days.

When Heavenly Mountain Resort decided to build its first half pipe in five years it wanted the feature ready before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Snow Park crews used Snowcats to push two mountains of snow that became the sides, and a specialty snow-cutting machine made by Zaugg to shape the walls of the pipe.

Snow Park Technologies, which moved from Truckee to Verdi in 2011, has become the go-to company for northern Nevada and California ski resorts for large terrain features such as half pipes and jumps, as well as a multitude of rails, boxes and the like favored by snowboarders and trick skiers.

Pete Sonntag, Heavenly’s general manager, says it’s worked with Snow Park the past two years to design and construct its parks. Snow Park Technologies has long-standing ties to Northstar-at-Tahoe it operated for years under the Booth Creek Ski Holdings, umbrella before founders Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson and his wife, Genevieve, repurchased the company and moved it to northern Nevada.

Gunny Gunnarson founded SPT in 1997 in Big Bear, Calif. to provide features for the first Winter X Games at Snow Summit Mountain Resort. In 2003, SPT moved to Truckee and worked under a licensing agreement with Booth Creek to help develop Booth Creek’s action sports programs at its ski resorts.

“The X Games is really why this company started,” company Vice President Genevieve Gunnarson said recently from their 15,000-square-foot facility in Verdi.

SPT, which has grown to 16 employees, has since branched out into four main business lines. It continues to provide marketing and project management and construction services for ski resorts, and it also provides design, coordination and construction services for events such as the Winter X Games and the Dew Tour.

SPT also manufacturers terrain park features and grooming tools at its Verdi headquarters, and it also has branched into sports organization, serving as a liaison between athletes and event promoters.

“Anything that has to do with snow, our team will come in and design it, plan it, build it and then help consult on event delivery,” Gunnarson says. “Our business has a lot of components.”

Josh Chauvet, resort program marketing director, says SPT help resorts with a range of services from basic planning to construction.

“It is from establishing goals and objectives all the way to raking a jump to serve the customer better,” Chauvet says.

When Booth Creek began divesting its ski holdings, including Northstar, the Gunnarsons jumped at the opportunity to take full control of Snow Park Technologies. However, it wasn’t easy to part ways with the business acumen of Booth Creek executives.

“Unlike a lot of businesses, we went from being a self-funded small business to having the huge corporate support of Booth Creek and the sophistication that comes with that. They helped the business grow and develop, and it was a really good relationship. But when we bought it we went back to being a small business.”

Working under the Booth Creek umbrella, the Gunnarsons didn’t have to worry about things such as risk management, accounting or payroll. Now, such issues are daily concerns.

“Now it’s on Chris and I,” Genevieve Gunnarson says. “That deep responsibility to (our employees) was probably the No. 1 change for us.”

Purchasing the company has allowed SPT to grow in its home market. Prior to 2011, it could not work with resorts that competed with Booth Creek properties. Today SPT counts Northstar, Heavenly, Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and Sierra-at-Tahoe among its customers.

SPT owns two Snowcats that it trucks to locations west of the Mississippi River, but it rents equipment for work at resorts further East. The company also has taken on projects in Europe, Japan, Russia and China.

“We get to travel the world and do the coolest stuff in snow,” Gunnarson says. “These are dream jobs.”