The Buck Stops With Chuck at Telski
by Seth Cagin
Jan 17, 2013 | 8892 views | 9 9 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Executive Exodus Part of ‘Reset’

TELLURIDE – Chuck Horning, the owner of the Telluride Ski and Golf Company, said this week that he has no intention of stepping back from day-to-day, hands-on management of the business.

Nor does he have any interest in selling the company, Horning said in an interview scheduled at the request of The Watch to discuss recent changes in management at the company.

“I have no intention of ever selling [the ski company],” he said. “I’m focused on how we can make this great in the long term. I love it. I’m quite enthused and committed to getting this company reset.”

Horning described the “reset” as both necessary in order to put the business on a sustainable financial footing and to ensure a departure from the management style of his former CEO, Dave Riley, whose contract Horning terminated in August.  

Where previous management was a “top down,” Horning said, he prefers a “decentralized” management structure that includes asking questions of employees at every level and customers as to how operations might be improved. 

Following the change in management from prior CEO Riley to Horning and the subsequent launch of the reset at the start of this ski season, at least nine longtime company executives and department managers have left the company.

They include executives and managers in finance, legal, food and beverage, sales and marketing, mountain operations, the ski and golf club, snowmaking, and retail. 

Horning said that some employees have left since he took charge for personal reasons and some because they either could not or did not want to adapt to a new management philosophy.

Although Horning has not taken an executive title, he affirmed Tuesday that he is responsible for making major business decisions at the company.  But, he said, “decisions are made based on good information after going through assessments.”

“We’re less of a corporate structure and more a group of people working together,” Horning said.  He said that the company was formerly encumbered by too much bureaucracy, along with low morale.

The vacant positions brought on by management departures have been filled in most cases by moving employees in the affected departments up to management positions, Horning said.

“People enthusiastically want things to be different,” Horning said.  “But when it comes down to making changes, it’s difficult.”

Horning was joined in the interview by two senior executives, Jeff Proteau, who oversees mountain operations, and Ken Stone, who is directing sales and marketing.  Both said that Horning has “shaken up” Telski’s corporate culture and work environment for the better. As an example, Proteau said that he and Horning spoke directly to employees in the snowmaking department and were able to very quickly determine where improvements can be made for next season.

One of the bigger businesses Horning managed prior to purchasing the Telluride Ski Resort in 2003 was American Health Centers, which had between 2,000 and 3,000 employees, he said.  A division of Horning’s holding company, Newport Federal, American Health Centers built and operated healthcare facilities.  Horning no longer owns American Health Centers.

Over time, he said, that business was also “decentralized” under his direction.

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February 19, 2013
I am an ex Tell-ski employee and I hate too, but have to agree with “workingstiffed” on his entire statement including the part about TSP. I jumped ship a few years ago because Chuck and Dave made everyone’s life miserable. You know what they say, “shit runs downhill” and Telluride is steep!

The people I use to love to work with started worrying about their jobs, losing self-esteem, then questioning everything anyone was doing in fear of it might affect their job or, god forbid, their title. This was all manifested by Chuck and Dave. When you have a family to support, and want to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, you will do whatever you need to keep your piece of paradise. Both Chuck and Dave made these wonderful people feel like crap and from my perspective, they did it just because that is who they are. That is how they (Chuck and Dave) live their entire lives. So don’t believe any part of the article that suggests Chuck has any interest in anyone other than himself. The only smart thing Chuck every did was getting rid of Dave.

I am happy to no longer be employed by people who use negativity and intimidation as a way of motivating people. Stay strong Telluride! Eventually, Chuck will drink himself to death and his son will take over! Well, stay strong anyway. You live in an amazing place.

January 22, 2013

There is a drunk with no skills running a circus with no plan, the bozo is "in da house".
January 22, 2013
Yes, another dedicated and long time employee of Telluride Ski & Golf here. I feel that I must speak out as I am profoundly sad and disturbed by what is going on at TSG and feel that I must warn Watch readers not to believe what Chuck Horning says are his good intentions to "reset" this company!

Chuck Horning is not dedicated to this community, this resort, its employees or their well-being. His management style consists of creating chaos so that he can appear to be in control. The intelligent, inspirational and dedicated managers who have left this company, have done so becauase they can see the writing on the wall and understand that there is no ability to be successful in this environment.

Chuck Horning has no plan. He is not leading. He is undoing the success that many others have been working toward for 40 years!

Can we be better? Of course! But driving out employees and creating chaos is hardly the way to go about improving our guests' experience...
January 20, 2013
I am another employee of Telluride Ski & Golf and totally agree with workingstiffed. Thank you for your bold and real commentary!

In response to Chuck’s “day-to-day, hands-on management of the business”: how terrifying! Chuck has NO clue how to manage a team of intelligent people who are (and obviously have been) committed to providing a great experience to our guests. Unless you are a snowmaker or some other “operations guy” or come to work extremely needy, Chuck has no idea who you are. He takes no initiative to learn who you are, your role in this company, or your goals & ideas.

When all of these extraordinary people left their positions, we lost essential leadership that provided each department with accountability and inspiration. We lost our friends & our mentors. We are all in the process of losing our sanity & the drive to do our best.

That #1 rating in Conde Nast is guaranteed to be short lived, as is the health & sustainability of this company. All of the smart ones are jumping on the lifeboats now before the ship sinks completely.

In response to his “decentralized management structure”, I agree that asking front-line employees and managers for their opinions is important. Actually doing something about what they say is a completely different undertaking, which takes some serious dedication. As we’ve all witnessed time and time again, Chuck seriously lacks that serious dedication.

Another commendable idea is asking the guests what we should do to improve, but first, let’s take away all the amenities and distinguishing moments they have come to expect in Telluride and then charge them more to ski. Of course they’re going to say the experience and reputation of Telluride is diminishing.

I used to be proud to say I work for Telluride Ski & Golf and initiate conversations with guests and locals alike; I now am so self-conscious that it goes unmentioned. I do, however, love my job and the incredible people who work alongside me. As we travel down this road of lunacy & frustration, I am increasingly nervous about the uncertainty of our jobs, our wellbeing, and the livelihood of this entire town.

January 19, 2013
I hate to say this, but WorkingStiffed is right in every respect. I am one of those who “left to pursue other matters.” I loved Telski and the team of people I had around me. I used to love coming to work knowing that our job was to create a fun experience. That’s not how it is up there any more.

I left because I got tired of working for a person who had no idea what I did, wouldn’t listen when I explained my duties or suggested ideas, and then insisted on taking steps that ultimately would cause long term financial damage and ruin our reputation. As I look around the industry for new work,everyone knows what is going on over here and they feel terrible for Telluride.

Chuck’s “reset” probably comes from some good intentions, but how he takes action and carries out those ideas is just bad medicine. He has said at numerous meetings that our job is to listen to people’s concerns, but not really take any action. So, don’t be impressed when he wants to talk to you-- he just wants to appear to care. He wants to be BMOC, so he will listen but not doing anything about it. He wants to teach organizations like TMVOA and Telluride Foundation how to run business by poking them in the eye with a stick. “We are going to teach them to fish!” he will say, and then push and annoy them to try to get his own goals accomplished. He has questioned employees about what their daily duties are, then told them they don’t know what they are doing, and then openly talked of replacing them to other members of the community. A few people have told me that Chuck wanted to replace me with someone else. Classy! That’s when I knew it was time to leave. He doesn’t fire people; he makes you uncomfortable and so deflated you want leave the company.

The passion I had working for Telski is dead. I am certain I am not alone. Sad.
January 19, 2013
Telluride is evolving, more people are coming, and I am not sure it's ready. Infrastructure is getting old and insufficient AND there are alternative destination. Not as beautiful to some of us but most certainly there are others.

I truly hope owners and management are up for the challenge, so far this season ( a challenging one) there has being much to be desired.

There is too much at stake, for too many people, so get it right !!!!!
January 17, 2013
Dear online readers. I am a longtime employee of TSG. I was appalled when reading this article on Telski and Chuck Horning. This article tries to get to the bottom of what is going on at Telski. The firings, the resignations, lift closures, terrain closures, low morale and just bad bad business practice.

Horning is sending up a huge smokescreen. DONT BE FOOLED Telluride. What Horning and his yes men are saying in this article is rubbish. Things are not well on the hill. Far from it. People are leaving the sinking ship. Almost nobody can work with Chuck, that is why workers are leaving in droves. Employees are scared to disagree or speak out. You will either be fired or treated so badly by management you quit. It has happened repeatedly. Those people who have left or been fired are still out there. Don't take my word..ask them.

He says he is resetting the company..bull. He has no idea of how to run a ski area and has no one to do it for him. There is no mountain manager to coordinate operations. Ski patrol has been the only force trying to do this and has been rewarded with standing out on the trails slowing people down, (Chuck's current obsession) not opening things up. Horning is not interested in extreme terrain. If and when it snows things will be dicey on the hill. Patrol has not been able to preform its snow safety work as usual and it will show.

When Horning uses the term "decenteralized" management it really means nobody is steering the ship. No one has left this company for personal reasons. They have left because the boss behaves like a fascist clown and no one wants to work with someone like that. Again..ask around. You will hear stories about his rants and raves, knee jerk reactions, public confrontations and intoxications. (doing shots in the lift line..really? ) More indiscretions than can be mentioned here, and we are relying on this person to keep the engine running.

Nobody there is working together. They are just keeping their heads down and mouths shut, hoping he goes away. He says he is not. This is bad news for our whole community and it will be evident next season when visitors do not show up. Would you come here again if you were yelled at to slow down, forced to eat crappy expensive food and not even have a nice bathroom to rid yourself of it. Would you come again to wait in line for a hour just to get off the mountain. Would you come to see some of the best extreme terrain around closed because patrol is standing out on blue runs waving at people.

People need to speak up. Contact the Forest Service. Write letters to the editor. Send Chuck a e-mail although it will go unheeded. This guy needs to go before we can't recover. Our community needs a real leader and real owner at Telski, not a hobbyist.
January 20, 2013
It is unfortunate. 95% of the the comments are true. But the fact that they've been made by bitter patrolerrs devaluates it. As a former telski employee (again) i can tell you 90% of Telluride Ski Patrol are amazing human beings, the rest have cry-me-a-river bullshit nonsense entitlement to blather about. It sucks because the majority of the crew actually have to work for a living, the others pretend to know about running a business. As a trained medic I can understand the pressures of dealing with uncomfortable medical situations. However that should never justify the unbelievable rude behavior thrust on guests by TSP. Times are tough, I agree. I just don't feel sorry for you. Getting chuck around will be challenging but I would start with working with staff. You say you are the only dept working to coordinate, i laugh. Stare at your feet tough guy "medic". Say hi.....

January 22, 2013
Louis the Bass a real " tough guy" having to bash a hard working crew of folks on the Internet. Walk in our shoes Mr. " medic" and come on by and " say hi". Don't forget to update your Facebook status and hope that you don't ever need our help.