Conversations with Hilary: Andy Wirth, CEO Squaw Valley

What do you believe to be your greatest accomplishment?

“My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.” Winston Churchill. Mr. Churchill and I have this in common. I most certainly “married up.”

Do you have a prized possession(s)?

Two “possessions;” however, while these are material things that are “prized” to me, they’re value has nothing to do with their monetary value, as they have deep meaning, soul, sound and carry with them (both) a great number of very powerful memories.

One, I have a custom made saddle, chaps, spurs and bridle that are holdovers from my days of working with horses at my ranch back in Colorado. The saddle is a slick fork working saddle that is what I think to be the perfect saddle for working with horses and working cattle. The saddle, spur straps and bridle were made by a legendary saddle maker out of Oregon. My other prized possession is a custom made K24ce Taylor Guitar, made of Koa wood. It sounds remarkable – perfect – and is, simply put, beautiful.

If you could be anything other than what you currently are, what would it be?

I would be a horseman, much like my good friend Buck Brannaman. Buck worked with Sparks on the book, The Horse Whisperer and with Bob Redford on the movie by the same name. There was recently a documentary about Buck, too. Buck doesn’t help people with horse problems; he helps horses with people problems.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

I am typically up in the morning quite early – around 4:30am. I try not to wake my wife Karen while kissing her good morning; feed our dog Max Chance Wirth – he’s a Border Collie we rescued from a high-kill shelter in Wyoming; check email while reading the Wall Street Journal and The Economist.

What’s your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?

Whatever Karen (my wife) wants to do! That said, If it were to include – summer time – a long trail run with Max, an intense work out, a great movie at a real theatre and a terrific, healthy dinner accompanied by really good wine, that would be awesome…if that’s what shewanted to do!

What do you like most about what you do for a living/career?

Being the CEO & President of a mountain resort operating company is most certainly a dream position; doing it here at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley takes it up the dream-scale three notches, as these are incredible, truly remarkable mountains.

In the role as CEO, I am able to merge an original and lifelong passion for the mountains, skiing/riding and the undeniable fact that I am driven to and focused on aspects of success in business. Moreover, I am so very fortunate to be able to work with a group of over 2,300 outstanding people whom, while maintaining a diverse background and being motivated by a variety of things, all ultimately share a passion for the mountains and this incredible environment.

What were you passionate about when you were…. a kid and a teenager?

I was born in and spent my younger years in Germany where my passion was playing marbles and buying Haribou Gummy Bears from a particular store in Kaiserslautern.

As a teenager, I was crazy about baseball and still have so many great memories of those years … all of which sneak up on me and make me tear up at the end of the movie, Field of Dreams. Later on, I went on to row on a crew team in Colorado and then in Scotland, at the University of Edinburgh. I still carry profound, complex memories of the absolute beauty, the pain and the camaraderie of rowing. I remain best friends with the rest of the guys from the four, in which I rowed.Lastly, as a young man, I developed and still maintain a very “deep current” passion for the mountains. I grew up reading Muir and Leopold, went on to be a backcountry ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park and still carry a very strong conservation ethic to this date.

What are you passionate about now?

Skydiving. I have the benefit of jumping with some of, literally, the best skydivers in the world who call Squaw Valley home – Charles Bryan and JT Holmes. I jump out of Lodi and Perris California. Currently, my favorite thing to do is delta tracking, which means flying at slightly enhanced rate of air speed (approx. 130 mph) with your chin tucked in, legs straight and arms at your side. I smile if not laugh uncontrollably when I am tracking. I love flying and l really enjoy tracking.

What’s your favorite season? Why?

Winter & Summer – it’s an even tie…As long as both are in the mountains. In the winter, there’s nothing even close to the bright blue sky – mid winter – after a fresh snowfall, and the quiet, stark beauty of a mountain landscape. Alternatively, the warm breezes and the openness of the mountains come summer are impossible to replicate. Both do something for me and for my soul and ultimately are simple yet substantial rewards for the choice I’ve made to live in the mountains.

If you were a cocktail or drink what would it be?

Margarita, rocks n salt – made with exceptionally good anejo tequila, agave nectar, a bit of triple sec and roses lime served over twice frozen ice.

If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

My grandfather, Conrad Wirth. Gramps was a truly remarkable man and the patriarch of our family – he was also, in his career, Director of the National Park Service for Eisenhower, JFK (JFK and Gramps were good friends) and Johnson. Gramps passed away on the night of my thirtieth birthday and I miss him more than words can describe. I would then ask for Martin Luther King and John Muir along with my wife Karen to join in. If there were room at the table, I would likely also invite Johnny Cash and a famous fighter pilot, who I got to know towards the sunset of his life, General Robin Olds.

If your life was made into a movie, what would it be called?

Mountains & The Horseman. The original book and screenplay would be co-authored by Larry McMurtrey and Homer, two of my favorites.

Do you have any regrets?

At home, too much time in the office; not enough time with my wife and my children. At work, too much time in the office; not enough time with the team and on the mountain. And there are horses that I regret selling. I somewhat regret never going to grad school at Stanford, but not much.

Define Freedom.

Freedom is the ability and the right to make choices. Freedom is precious and something I never take for granted and I nevertake for granted those who created and protect our freedoms.

What are your personal core values?

When she was 11, I think my daughter summed them up well with the hand drawn artwork she put on my refrigerator one day, interlaced with the following:

  • Be a best friend;
  • Tell the truth;
  • Over use “I love you”;
  • Go to work;
  • Do your best;
  • Don’t outsmart your common sense;
  • Never let your prayin’ knees get lazy;
  • Everything is okay in the end, if it’s not okay now…its not the end;
  • Kill people with kindness – always, always pay it forward;
  • Dance like no one’s watching and sing like no one’s listening;
  • And love like crazy.

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