By Mary-Justine Lanyon
For more than 20 years, Kevin Somes gave his heart and soul to Snow Valley Mountain Resort, the last 10 as its vice president and general manager.
After the resort was sold, Somes became aware that the general manager’s position at Snow Valley would no longer exist after the end of the season.
April 12, 2023, was Somes’ last day on that ski hill, as he calls it. But Somes is not leaving the mountain he calls home.
In a message he sent to the Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce – which he has served as president since 2008 – Somes wrote, “My heart is here in the Running Springs communities and my family will continue to own our property here in the area and ultimately I hope to own a business in town at some point in the future.”
Somes’ connection to the mountain communities goes back to his childhood. He was born in Long Beach and grew up in Orange County. His family would come up to Green Valley Lake, where they stayed at a friend’s cabin. Ultimately, his parents purchased a cabin in Running Springs and the family started coming up every weekend.
When Somes was 5 years old, he was part of Indian Guides. He went to Gold Mine, which is now Bear Mountain, and took a ski lesson with his father.
One might think that was the start of Somes’ passion for the sport – but no. “I saw a guy come down the hill on a toboggan,” he said. “He was all bloody. I still see that guy’s face today. I didn’t want to ever ski again.”
A few years later, however, Somes’ sister wanted to learn to ski so the family headed for Snow Valley. That plan was foiled as it was a holiday weekend and the slopes were packed. They went to the Green Valley Lake ski hill but no lessons were being offered. Finally, the family returned to Snow Valley where Somes took a lesson. “I fell in love with skiing after that lesson,” he said. “And I fell in love with a place that became such a big part of my life.”
Somes graduated from UC Irvine in 2001 with a degree in English literature. His next stop: law school. As his father was a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County, Somes decided to follow in his footsteps.
He planned to use the money he would earn as an attorney for his greater plan.
“I always had an interest in skiing and ski resorts,” Somes said. During his last year of college, he found a ski hill for sale in Wisconsin for $890,000. “I thought I’d go to law school, make money, buy a ski hill.
“That didn’t pan out,” Somes noted, “because I despised law school.” He left after one year.
Meanwhile, years before he had written a marketing plan for Snow Valley. That plan found its way to W.R. Sauey, who owned the ski resort (and lived in Wisconsin). Somes had met with Sauey prior to going to law school but turned down a job to pursue what he thought was his dream.
His true dream was realized when he met again with Sauey in 2002. “He wanted me to get involved in Snow Valley,” Somes said. In fact, he said that Sauey “pushed me in and kept pushing me up higher in the company. He liked my plan and took an interest in me.”
When he started at Snow Valley, Somes said, the ski resort was losing money. There were 39,000 skier visits his first year and 100 season pass holders. That grew to a quarter-million visits and more than 4,000 season pass holders.
“By the time I left,” he said, “my hats were about to fall off with all the jobs I was doing.”
Somes said he helped change the culture at Snow Valley. “I had employees who said, ‘You created a fantastic opportunity for me. You invested in me. I owe my career to you.’
“I had a personal connection with people,” Somes said. “If they needed something, they could call me and I’d figure it out.”
Snow Valley’s insurance representative told Somes he had brought a “culture of safety” to the resort. “Out of his business portfolio,” Somes said, “he told me I was the only general manager who went on tour with him to observe the safety measures. That was one reason we were nominated for an award we won last year. It’s important to the industry to reduce claims and injuries.”
That Sammy leadership award came from Ski Area Management. Those who nominated Somes praised his compassion, devotion, vision, mentorship and commitment to his employees: “A great leader doesn’t tell you what to do but shows you how it’s done. Kevin absolutely leads by example.”
Somes is especially proud of the connection he created between Snow Valley and the community. He went to a Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce meeting soon after joining the team at the ski resort. “They were amazed,” Somes said, “telling me they had never seen anyone from Snow Valley at a chamber meeting.”
Somes joined the board in 2005 and was elected president in 2008.
“A lot of people didn’t have a good opinion of Snow Valley,” Somes said. “Management wasn’t making donations to local charities. We got involved with that. It’s imperative to get involved with the community.” He feels so strongly about that that he wrote a guest editorial for a ski industry magazine, explaining the relationship between the community and the resort.
Mountain biking arrived at Snow Valley in 2018. “I had wanted the express ski lift for years,” Somes said. He finally convinced Sauey of the need for the lift and promised the owner he would promote its use to take mountain bikers to the top of the hill. “It’s not a huge money maker,” Somes said, “but it keeps people employed.”
So, what are Somes’ plans now?
He had intended to take a break before embarking on his next professional adventure but Mountain High Resort, which is part of the California Mountain Resort Company, came calling. As a vice president, Somes is overseeing regulatory environmental issues, making sure the resorts are in compliance with environmental regulations and laws. In addition to Mountain High, located in Idyllwild, the company includes Dodge Ridge and China Peak and is trying to acquire a fourth peak.
Because he can work remotely, Somes plans to continue his relationship with the Running Springs chamber and the community. He and his family – wife, Christine; children, Brandon, 10; Samuel, 8; Lucy, 5; and William, 3 – come up for the weekend and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
His plans for Running Springs include fixing up the monument site. The paint on the totem pole is chipping and there is damage from the winter storms.
Somes is also committed to the Oak Canyon Nature Center, a 58-acre park in Anaheim. He has been taking care of the animals – snakes, lizards, toads, frogs, insects – for 28 years. He had attended day camp at the nature center and then volunteered there as a teen. Eventually he was hired. For the past 21 years, Somes has hosted a summer program for adults and children.
In a June 7 Facebook post, Somes announced his move to Mountain High. “It was a tough move,” he wrote, “as I began my ski resort career at Snow Valley in February 2003. However, the California Mountain Resort Company is a growing collection of ski resorts and I’ll have the opportunity to work with several other ski areas besides my home base of Mountain High.
“I’ll still have the opportunity to remain in the industry and sport I’m passionate about.”