Ben Haugan

Chief of Operations
Showdown, Mont.

Six-word bio: "Skiing, fishing, dancing, family and friends!”

An economics major who chose tie-dyed shirts and 5 a.m. snow reports over big-city living and a 9-to-5 job, Haugan is out to get Montanans moving in the winter.

When Showdown Montana owner and general manager George Willett wrote SAM about his star chief of operations, Ben Haugan, he told us that one of Ben’s most outstanding qualities is his enthusiasm, which is so abundant, it spills over to everyone else at the resort.

And after interviewing the 28-year-old for this article, we must say: we agree.

Haugan is probably one of the most forthright and enthusiastic snowsport industry advocates you’ll come across. With an economics major and a philosophy minor in his pocket, Haugan is not only out to help keep Showdown ahead of the curve in risk management and family-friendly operations, he’d like to help do the same for all of Montana’s ski areas through his work with the regional ski association.

Haugan grew up skiing at Showdown and developed a passion for the mountains that he couldn’t shake, even after going to school and getting the kind of degree that leads to three-piece suits and big salaries.

So when Willett asked him to come on board with Showdown, he realized that he could apply all the things he learned in school just as easily to a ski resort operation as he could to any business, and thus his new career was born.

“It’s really interesting—more often than not, with economics, you’d feel that you’d have to have a masters or PhD to really grasp economic theory and see those relationships. But that background has my mind molded in a way that I can see that kind of thing happening here. Economics is a very good degree for this type of management. But then the philosophy side of things, that’s the creativity and the logic.”

Now, he oversees all operations with Willett, ensuring everything from snow reports and coffee making in the morning to building a risk management strategy dovetails with his ambitious vision for the resort’s marketing and customer service plan.

“My job more or less is that we say that there’s this brand, Showdown Montana, and this is what you’re going to get when you get here. I do all the hiring and make sure that all my supervisors in their departments mesh, and that this brand that we’re offering is actually what people get when they arrive,” he explains.

He goes on to explain that he’s currently rebuilding the departmental structure at Showdown to enhance cross-departmental communication, something he sees as key to modern risk management.

“If we get all these people working together, then our documentation and communication flows a lot better and we’re able to offer a safe recreational opportunity to everyone,” he says. “Then we can narrow down and streamline our costs and overall plan for what we want this area to be.”

But Haugan’s vision for the ski industry extends beyond Showdown’s borders. He is currently working with other areas—through his participation in the Montana Ski Areas Association—to build a regional schedule of events in an effort to ensure that marketing dollars aren’t wasted when events conflict. He’d also like to reshape how ski areas see one another, and work collectively toward making skiing and snowboarding a more prominent part of winter in Montana.

“I don’t look at other ski areas being competitors, I look at other ski areas as providing a foundation to build enthusiasm for skiing and snowboarding, which will then trickle down and hopefully that will change where our society is going.

“In Montana, winter is a long time,” he continues. “Getting people out, being healthy and enjoying winter is key.”

—Katie Bailey