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Braving the Elements

Inkjet Rules at Okemo

By Melissa Donovan

Outdoor graphics are designed to hold up against the elements—rain, wind, UV rays, and snow; but sometimes these elements can be extreme, say at an elevation of 3,344 feet. That’s the type of weather that trail maps; routed and digitally printed wayfinding signage; and specialized wraps for pipes, rails, and other obstacles found in terrain parks endure at Okemo Mountain Resort, located in Ludlow, VT.


Signage for a ski resort needs to be bold and clear, directing guests to the right trail. Ink that withstands extreme weather can’t fade or chip away. To fill this requirement at Okemo, the management turns to its in-house sign and graphics shop.


Trail Blazers

When Tim and Diane Mueller purchased the resort in 1982, they noticed the need for signage. Starting at the base, and working upwards, hand carved and vinyl lettered signs were created to notify visitors of trail difficulties and direct them to resort buildings. This led to small print runs for other departments on the mountain. As the business grew to include Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH, Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Crested Butte, CO, a real estate office, country club, and golf course; the sign shop’s services extended.


“Tim and I have always supported having an in-house sign and graphics service. It enables us to quickly fulfill the needs of our 45 other departments. The staff does an excellent job of helping maintain the brand look at all three of our mountains,” says Diane Mueller, co-owner, Okemo.


The shop is located in the resort’s service support building with three full-time employees spread out over 1,200 square feet. Tim Morton, sign shop manager, Okemo, explains that in addition to working for the mountain and its collective entities, they service the Ludlow, VT area, Southern VT, and occasionally NH and CO.


Morton agrees with Mueller that the biggest advantage of an in-house sign shop is control of the brand. He says that it is invaluable to have the ability “24 hours a day, seven days a week, to address a situation that requires a printed solution to provide a guest with a better or safer experience.”


For example, before Christmas 2010, the sign shop provided last minute tweaks to signage for the ski resort’s newest attraction, the Timber Ripper—a mountain coaster. Some of the inaugural guests assisted Morton and his team to determine proper signage verbiage and colors to ensure instructions regarding loading and unloading from the ride were clear.


Summit Pow(d)er

To keep pace with demand—turnaround- and weather-wise—the sign shop uses a Roland DGA Corporation wide format printer. Purchased in 2007 on the advice of Grant Graphics, a distributor based out of Saratoga Springs, NY, the SOLJET PRO III XE-540 54-inch eco-solvent printer creates everything from outdoor mountain signs to tiny helmet stickers. Morton estimates they print 15,000 feet of vinyl through the machine in a year, and a few thousand feet of banner stock.


Running non-stop for almost four years, the shop cleans the printer once a week and throughout the year service technicians make sure everything runs properly. The eco-solvent ink eliminates the need for a ventilated room, creating an eco-friendly workspace, while simultaneously allowing for unmanned printing with the printer placed in the middle of the shop.


“From a quality and durability standpoint it is a bulletproof product. Our signs are not only at the summit of Okemo—which is a true proof—but also at the summit of Crested Butte, and we have not had a failure yet,” admits Morton.


Durability for the inks, Roland ECO-SOL MAX, is rated up to three years outdoors without lamination. The ink’s resilience speaks to the shop’s output diversity. Eight- by 12-foot trail maps are printed on adhesive vinyl and mounted onto multiple sheets, placed at the summit, and last for several ski seasons.


These graphics are protected by a 7-mil pressure-sensitive, solvent-based laminate; which is applied by Quality Media & Laminating Solutions’ Quality 64TLX top-heated roller laminator. The finishing device laminates up to 62 inches wide. All of the signs on the mountain are laminated.


Aprés Ski

Thanks to a durable printer and ink set, the Okemo sign shop provides the resort with a unified, long-lasting branding message. The ability to quickly turnaround signage in a pinch, especially to ensure safety to its ski customers with clear and concise directional signage is essential to the family atmosphere the mountain emulates. As Morton confesses, “After four years, I don’t see how a ski mountain could operate without an in-house sign shop."


Mar2011, Digital Output

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