Katherine Rockwell

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Manager, Ski and Snowboard School
Pico, Vt.

Six-word bio: "15 years later, feet still cold.”

Born into her ski school role at Pico, Rockwell is a fast-rising snow school star with a genuine passion for creating great guest experiences.

Saying that something is in a person’s blood is a terrible cliche, but Katherine Rockwell’s success in the ski industry at such a young age can only be described as such.

The manager of the Pico Mountain ski and snowboard school in Vermont, Rockwell can show you an early 1980s photo of her mother wearing a Pico Mountain ski instructor’s jacket, visibly pregnant with her first child, Katherine.

Fast forward 28 years later, and Rockwell is running the very same ski school she was introduced to before she was even born. In fact, her mother still teaches skiing full time in the winter at another resort and her father is a retired ski instructor. Both made a life’s work of their passion, teaching full-time on and off since 1971, and it’s a path Katherine has successfully followed.

She started working at Pico in 2005, fresh out of school, just like her parents. Since starting as a line instructor in the ski school, she’s basically had a “new job every year since,” she says with a laugh, moving efficiently up the ranks to her current role at the head of the school.

Her role at Pico is wide ranging: hiring, scheduling, payroll, assigning classes, staff training, customer relations, ticket office relations (to ensure ski school packages are set up and sold correctly) and even food-and-beverage coordination for ski school specials. It’s a small resort, so working with others is easy and gratifying, she says, but being a small resort, it also means that everyone has to wear a lot of hats.

A PSIA Level III instructor, she recently made the final cut for the organization’s Eastern Development Team, coming in 9th out of 35 participants—and one of three women in the final round—but was just shy of making the top five for team selection. Not to be deterred, Rockwell says she’ll give it another shot the year after next, when the team is decided again.

Also high on the accomplishment list: turning Pico’s new carving course and NASTAR-style race program into a fundraising vehicle for local non-profits. Creating the course was a huge amount of work, she says—“If I had known at the time how much trouble b-net is I would have asked for a raise right then”—but changing the goal of the program made all the difference, she says.

“It made all the hassle more rewarding and really helped tie Pico back into the local community. It’s also given us the experience to venture down the road of planning our own competitions department [slated for this fall].”

Although she says she sometimes misses her days spent on snow as an instructor, there are aspects of the on-snow work she’s happy to leave behind: “I don’t miss when it’s -20 degrees and you’ve got 10 disinterested beginners for four hours, “ she jokes.

What she does like, is working with people, customers and coworkers alike.

“You know, I really like the people aspect of it,” she says, after pondering her answer to the question of what she likes best about her work. “We’re here to teach people how to ski and ride, not to teach skiing and riding.”

Her favorite memory of the job is one that anyone who has spent any time in the ski and snowboard industry can appreciate. In the first few years of her time at Pico, she was scheduled to teach a vacationing woman for two hours a day, three days in a row. The first day, the woman showed up for her lesson at 10 a.m. and declared that after skiing with her husband for an hour, she “hated” skiing was heading back to her fireplace and a good book. The husband, now faced with paying for a lesson that was not being taken, decided he and a buddy would take the lesson, despite their stated on-mountain prowess and expert skills.

Rockwell took them out and “skied their pants off,” had a great time, but expected not to see them again. But the next morning, there their names were on the list for day two. The third day brought yet another surprise—Mrs. Fireplace and a Good Book was back for another go. It seems that her husband told her that if anyone could teach her how to ski, it would be Rockwell. They had a perfectly wonderful two hours, and at the end, “she gave me a big hug, and got all teary-eyed, and said it ‘was the best two hours of skiing in my whole life. Thank you so much.’

“The whole thing was really rewarding, both in that I convinced the can’t-teach-me-anything guys to really work with me and the wife walked away from her vacation having been able to do it,” she says fondly. “All she really wanted was to be able to ski with her daughter, who was six, and she left Killington having done it. I’d say that stands out as one of my most rewarding memories.”

—Katie Bailey









SEE ALL YOUNG GUNS 2011