By Win Smith
Twenty years ago was bittersweet for me. On September 10, 2001, we signed the purchase and sale agreement to buy Sugarbush from ASC. The next day thee World Trade Center towers collapsed only a block away from my office at Merrill Lynch. At the time I was in Tokyo on a business trip, and I watched CNN in horror all night knowing the world had changed forever but not yet understanding how. At 3 a.m. Tokyo time I joined a call with our executive management team to begin formulating a plan of action on how we would operate in the days ahead. Sugarbush was a remote second thought.
While my partners and I understood the challenges we would face purchasing Sugarbush, namely years of deferred maintenance, a loss of market share, poor employee morale and community relations, we were optimistic about the potential. But 9/11 was unexpected as was a severe drought that shut down snowmaking as we headed into the holiday season.
In addition, my friend and partner, Joe Riemer, passed away before opening day. That first year as well as the next few were quite challenging. But thanks to the great team at Sugarbush, the support of The Valley community and our guests we once again became a respected and sustainable resort.
However, the challenges we faced 20 years ago paled to what the families of the 9/11 victims endured and what our dedicated troops encountered in Afghanistan. The post mortem on our 20 years there is yet to be fully known. As I watched the sudden unraveling of the Afghanistan government and the chaos unfolding around the Kabul airport I thought back to the original decision to pursue Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda and to hold them accountable for their horrific actions on 9/11. In my opinion, it was the correct decision then but redefining the mission and staying two decades may not have been. History will be the judge. Ending our involvement may have been wise, but the execution in my opinion was terrible and leaving our fellows citizens and allies behind was shocking. I fear the consequences that will be felt for years to come.
I have only visited my old neighborhood a couple of times in the past 20 years. It is a vibrant area once again and hard to imagine what it looked like on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. I recently visited the 9/11 Memorial which is something everyone should try to do. It is sobering as well as inspiring and exists to make sure we never forget that day.
Nearly 3,000 innocent people were slaughtered. We must never forget to remember and honor them as well as the brave first responders who rushed to the scene, many of whom perished and many more who have suffered severe health consequences in later years. And, we must never forget the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform who fought Al Queda and the Taliban these past two decades. We are safer today because of them. Hopefully, that will continue to be so.
I did not know it at the time but the jets that flew over Manhattan and my office on 9/11 and on subsequent days were those of the Vermont Air National Guard. It was symbolic in hindsight as my days in New York were ending and my Vermont days were beginning. While I am now settled here in The Valley, my thoughts will always return to my former neighborhood each year on September 11.
Win Smith, Warren, is the former owner and president of Sugarbush Resort.