Southern California and youth-oriented resorts led the way this year in the SAMMY Future Leadership Awards. On a beautiful evening, Ski Area Management Magazine decided to take its annual award presentation out to sea and luckily, no one fell overboard.

This year’s SAMMY Awards were presented on a boat cruise around the San Diego Bay. The winners included: Bill Benneyan, Marketing Director at Mountain Creek, New Jersey; Genevieve Gunnarson, Director of Marketing, Bear Mountain Resort, California.; John McColly, Marketing Director, Mountain High Resort, California., and Ron Nova, VP Operations, Harbor Resorts.

After a short cocktail reception and prize raffle, SAM Magazine Publisher Jennifer Rowan presented the awards to the near capacity boat filled with resort staff, friends, and family of the winners.

First she introduced Benneyan, who started his industry career as the executive director of Cross Country Ski Areas Association. He also spent a year as Burton’s team coach. In the last 10 years, Benneyan has made Mountain Creek his home and has concentrated on attracting the urban youth market by offering free weekly concerts featuring label-breaking artists, dynamic parks and pipes, and major events to great success. He’s also responsible for double-digit increases in youth school programs at Mountain Creek.

Next came Gunnarson, who started her ski area career as a part-time ski and snowboard instructor at Bear Mountain in Southern California, and worked her way up to her current position as marketing director of Bear. She, too, has targeted the action sports market with great success by working with the media, manufacturers, professional athletes, and promoters to help create the most progressive all-mountain terrain park in the world.

McColly, also located in southern California, started at Bear Mountain as the special events manager. For the past six years, he has worked with Mountain High’s marketing department and, under his leadership, the area has seen double-digit growth. McColly has been credited for adding to this growth with his youth and girls’ programs, special events, advertising campaigns, and use of the Internet. With a huge crowd cheering his award, it seemed as if the entire staff of Mountain High was attending the event.

Finally, Nova was the last presented. He made his way up the ladder on the operations side of things, starting in the lift department at Stevens Pass, Washington. From there, he assumed many positions at Stevens, including GM, until last year when he was made a VP in the Harbor Resorts group, which oversees Mission Ridge and Schweitzer Mountain in addition to Stevens.

One of Nova’s biggest successes has been a comprehensive employee education and training initiative that resulted in higher NSOS scores, lower turnover, and a reduction in workplace injuries. Nova has also developed programs to attract new customers and, at Stevens Pass, these programs resulted in more than 18,000 first-time lessons.

The SAMMY Awards, in their sixth year, target industry members whose strong, innovative leadership demonstrated at mid-career shows exciting promise for even more accomplishments and leadership in the future.

2003 SAMMY sponsors were Acordia Resort Insurance, Leitner-Poma of America and OVO Helmets.