Photography: Derek Smith
“You really should do a story on John Cumming.* I’m yesterday’s news,” Nick Badami tells me when I call to ask if I can interview him for this feature. At 83 years old, with a storied career (several of them, in fact) behind him, there is indeed plenty of news from yesterday about Nick Badami, but he is definitely not yesterday’s news.
An icon in the snowsports industry since he first got involved in 1971, Badami’s role in shaping Park City is immeasurable. His influence is even more remarkable considering the fact that he came to skiing and to Park City relatively late in life.
Badami grew up in New Jersey and his first career was as a New York garment industry tycoon where, as president and chairman of the B.V.D. Company, he built a formidable conglomerate of manufacturing and retailing companies. Contrary to local folklore, he is not the “B” of B.V.D. He laughs when he hears that story. “B.V.D. was established in 1869 by three men named Benson, Voorhee and Dey,” he says. Nevertheless, the company was little more than a bankrupt shell when Badami took it over in the 1940s. He built it into one of the foremost companies in the industry. Badami retired at age 49, he says, because the garment industry, “where we fought like hell for half a percent of the market,” was no longer enjoyable.
Badami came to skiing through his son Craig, who from his first school skiing trip was addicted to the thrill of sliding down a mountain. After visiting a number of eastern resorts to watch Craig race, and then learning to ski himself while on vacation in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Nick decided that skiing was an industry where he could use his business acumen but keep it enjoyable. “Most ski areas were run very loosely in those days and skiing was attractive to me because it was the only business I’d seen that sounded like fun.” He adds with a telling smile, “I was naïve enough to think in the ski business I’d be busy during the winters and have my summers off.”
In 1971, though he had skied only a handful of times, Nick bought controlling interest in Alpine Meadows Ski Area near Lake Tahoe, California. Four years later, by somewhat of a fluke, he and Craig ended up in Park City for a visit. What they saw here was vast unmet potential and a fledgling ski resort for sale. They negotiated a deal with Edgar Stern and his Greater Park City Corporation to buy the ski area along with other businesses and property including what is now the city golf course. Stern kept the land that would become Deer Valley Resort. Neighborly competitors, Badami and Stern remain good friends to this day.
One of the Badamis’ first orders of business was to divest themselves of all the ancillary businesses they acquired with the new company. The reason was twofold. First, to allow the company to do one thing well. “When we got involved, the company was running the construction, real estate, restaurants, retail, interior design, everything. We changed it back to a simple ski company,” he explains. And second, to provide opportunity for small private enterprises. “Instead of competing with those young people who were coming here, we wanted to encourage them.”
The philosophy worked on both fronts. Under Nick’s sound business leadership and Craig’s flamboyant marketing approach, Park City Ski Area blossomed into one of the most successful ski resorts in the country. And with opportunity and encouragement provided by the ski company, young people who came here as ski bums started new businesses and fixed up the dilapidated old buildings on Main Street and the miners’ shacks around town.
Seeing his success at Park City and Alpine Meadows, it didn’t take long for the ski industry as a whole to tap Badami’s business leadership. His career has included stints as chair of both the National Ski Areas Association and the American Ski Federation. He served as trustee and board member of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee and as founder and chair of the National Avalanche Foundation. But the organization benefiting most from Badami’s involvement is the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, where Nick served as a board member for 30 years and as chairman from 1994 to 1998. When Nick retired from the board in 2002, Bill Marolt, USSA president and CEO, referred to him as “the conscience of the U.S. Ski Team” and praised him for his longstanding commitment to U.S. Ski Team athletes and for steering the organization onto financially stable ground.
In business, Badami’s touch has been golden, but his life is not without heartache. In 1989, his son Craig was killed in a helicopter accident near the base of Park City Ski Area. Just 37 years old when he died, Craig was the only child of Nick and Avis Badami. In life and in business, Craig’s shoot-for-the-stars vision and contagious enthusiasm provided the perfect counterbalance to Nick’s grounded approach. Vice-president of marketing for Park City Ski Area and a consummate showman, Craig was called the P.T. Barnum of skiing by Ski Racing magazine. Craig, or “C.B.” as his friends called him, was the driving force behind bringing World Cup ski racing to Park City. The events he orchestrated are credited not only with putting Park City on the international map, but with raising the standard for ski racing events throughout the world.
It is impossible to talk about Nick Badami without paying tribute to Avis Badami, his wife of 56 years. The family atmosphere and loyalty to employees for which Park City Ski Area became known under the Badamis’ ownership is credited in great part to Avis, who is often referred to as Park City’s First Lady. Craig and his son Nicholas inherited their red hair and freckles from Avis. One suspects the fiery temperament and zest for life for which Craig was known — and that is clearly evident in Nicholas, now 17 years old — also came from Avis.
Nick lights up when he talks about his grandson. “Avis and I are very close with Nicholas,” he says. “He’s a great kid and I know he’ll do well no matter what happens.” He pauses, and then with a grin adds, “Of course, at 17, he’s just like Craig was — he already knows everything there is to know.”
Nick has always maintained that skiing is a business for the young. “The best thing that ever happened to me was getting involved in the ski business with all these wonderful young people,” he says. With the loss of Craig, Nick felt that the youthful balance was missing from the company. In 1994, he took a major step to remedy that by orchestrating a deal that relinquished controlling interest of his company to Ian Cumming and his sons John and David. For the first few years after the transition, Nick, who still owns 11 percent of the new company, Powdr Corp., served as CEO while John Cumming served as president. The two shared an office and literally sat across the same desk. “John has been a delight to work with. He’s like a grandson to me,” says Nick. “He’s a fabulous young man, just like his father: intelligent, sincere and honest. And he’s become an excellent business person.” Nick retired as CEO several years ago, but he remains on the board of directors and serves as a close adviser to John. “I should have been out of there by now, but John won’t let me,” he says. A few minutes later, as if to illustrate the point, Nick’s cell phone rings: it’s John Cumming calling to discuss an impending business transaction.
To John Cumming, Badami is the perfect combination of teacher, mentor, friend and grandfather. “The biggest gift I’ve ever received is the opportunity to work with someone with such an incredible wealth of knowledge,” he says. “Nick is the smartest, most experienced and knowledgeable man I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly intuitive in his business sense and his people sense.”
I ask Nick if he’s pleased with the changes he’s seen in Park City since he first came here. He mentions the Olympic success, “the greatest thing that could have ever happened to this town,” then looks around wistfully from the deck at Park Meadows Club House. “Who would have ever dreamed,” he says softly. “I only have one regret: that Craig isn’t here to see this. He would have loved it.”
Mark Menlove is a regular contributor to Park City magazine. He worked for Nick Badami as Park City Ski Area communications director from 1987 to 1994.