This award honors an individual corporate member for contributions to the advancement of snowsports, and exemplifies
the highest standards of professionalism in public relations and communications. The individual also understands the working ]relationship between the information specialist and the journalist. The individual may be chosen for a particularly significant action or campaign, or for a career of such deeds. The winner will be selected by online vote of Active and Retired Press members.
By a vote of active-journalist members, the Bob Gillen Memorial Award for 2020 honors John Wagnon.
For 46 years, John was a force for innovation and change in the way ski resorts deal with media relations and how these resorts and regions market themselves to the local and world-wide snowsports communities. In 1970, John started his mountain career at Bear Valley Ski Area in the central Sierra Nevada as an assistant and then director of the ski school. Moving to Kirkwood’s ski school as director, he met and married his wife Debbie and thoughtfully learned the ropes of the nuances of a ski resort. In 1982, he got his big break at Kirkwood, elevating to the heady title of VP- Marketing/Communications/Sales/Guest Services. He started the Kirkwood Media Cup and hosted the press to the mountain for some skiing, fun racing with “bragging rights” and a chance to discover their mountain offerings in a relaxed, “no agenda, no pressure” setting. The Cup morphed into the Winter Wake-Up Call where journalists would come up for 2 days very early in the season, hopefully creating excitement for the coming year and to witness the transformative power of snowmaking. Around this time, John embarked on an ambitious and expensive program to furnish same-day B-Roll video to TV stations in their critical markets of the Bay Area, Reno and LA. They would shoot early light ski action, edit, then dupe copies and drive or fly clear-message, current-ski-conditions videos to their target stations by 5pm, no small feat in the pre-internet, cumbersome equipment era.
In 1991, John moved to Heavenly in the same position he had at Kirkwood, relocated and implemented his Winter Wake-Up Call in South Lake Tahoe and set in motion Operation Sierra Storm, a conference attracting national and regional meteorologists to discuss weather, climate change and to broadcast live via satellite to their news outlets, enhancing the profile of California skiing. He also started a unique local winter TV show, “Another Heavenly Morning”, buying a one-hour 7am time slot to inform viewers of real-time ski conditions, tips and inside info. Looking for a way to increase skiing exposure in major markets, John spearheaded a drive along with the California Ski Industries Assoc. to team-up with a 4-wheel drive car manufacturer, trading promotion and exposure of their vehicles at ski areas with a widespread TV and display ad campaign highlighting the state’s ski areas. The very successful Ski the California’s in a Jeep program became the template for these types of cooperative ad programs. Very early-on, he embraced social media to get the word out and was very successful in attracting foreign visitors to Heavenly, especially from the UK. John not only lived skiing, but he gave back by being involved in local entities to promote it such as being president of the board: Ski Lake Tahoe, a commissioner in CA and Nevada Tourism, board member of Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and others. When Vail Resorts purchased Heavenly in 2011, John became Senior Director of Regional Marketing of their 3 Tahoe resorts and helped shape iconic brands and strategies still in use today. He retired in 2016, lives in Glenbrook NV with Debbie, and enjoys snow and water-skiing, golf and rowing.
Read more about John Wagnon and past winners of the Bob Gillen Memorial Award