It was hard to tell during the Great Recession (those years were, after all, ironically good snow years), but as you read this year’s 10 Under 30 interviews, I think you will agree with me: the days of taking the public’s interest for granted are done.
This new generation of future leaders, forged by some of the toughest years the industry has faced, is astonishingly focused on the guest experience. Optimizing those prime few seconds of interaction when a guest loads the chair. Making Patrol about more than policing. Knowing how the entire operation works, not just one part. Understanding how people communicate and how to create communities. The outlook and mindset of this group represents a significant shift in our industry. Climate change, recession, endless entertainment options, energy efficiency and the obesity crisis have shaped the tone of their early careers. And they don’t take these challenges lightly. For all the hardships recent years have brought, the bright side is a generation of leaders genuinely motivated to re-imagine the mountain resort experience. And that signals a lot of good things to come. And, not that they weren’t talented enough, we also asked each of them what super power they would most like to wield. Read on, and enjoy!
General Manager (former), Highlands of Olympia, Wisc.
Education: Ski Area Management, Gogebic Community College
First job in the industry: lift operator/ park crew/snowmaking,
Blackjack Ski Resort, Mich.
Super power: I would have supersonic speed so I could travel the world as fast as I wanted.
What attracted you to the idea of running a ski area? It’s a pretty risky move for such a young person...
I have wanted to buy into the ski business since I was 13. I loved snowboarding and I thought snowcats looked fun to operate. What attracted me to the business [as an adult] was the opportunity to build something up and say that I helped bring it to a new level. Taking Olympia from a place people didn't enjoy coming to and turning it into a place they were proud to call their home area was risky, but well worth the experience and the knowledge I gained.
Why is being a young entrepreneur an asset in this industry?
Plain and simple: we are the future of the industry. In the Midwest, owners and GMs are getting older and looking to retire. Being young, motivated and passionate about the industry, I hope to own or general manage another area soon.
Bike/Ski/Base Area Manager and Marketing Specialist,
Angel Fire Resort, N.M.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation
Management, University of Idaho
First job in industry: Internship, Tamarack, Ida.
Super power: The ability to warm people up, so they wouldn’t complain about the cold and they could ski all day, but selfishly I would like to have helicopter arms so I could go heli-skiing all the time!
Tell us about your multi-faceted role at Angel Fire: how did you come to hold so many titles?
I grew up in a family-owned business. My parents taught me that to be the boss, you have to be willing to do any job, and set a good example by working harder than everyone else. I’ve always looked at working at a ski resort as one big team rather than departments. The CEO of Angel Fire, John Kitts, has always been willing to let me try my ideas in places that need it. [For example] I shifted a little bit this past winter from the mountain ops side of things to marketing because the department currently does not have a marketing director.
Do you have any advice for future 10 Under 30 hopefuls?
Love what you do and do what you love. The ski industry is the best possible work environment, and we are in it to ski, [so] make sure you get out and get that powder-eating grin on your face so you can share it with beginners! Also, don’t forget you were a beginner once. I’m currently in Costa Rica learning how to surf; I have to be humble and take lessons so that I can enjoy a sport that others make look so easy. And never be a less than complete boss: my dad was always the first to clean the bathroom in his store, the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Brand & Content Marketing Supervisor,
Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler, B.C.
Education: Business Administration Marketing, Fanshawe College, Ontario
First job in industry: Internship (rental; marketing dept.), Whistler Blackcomb, 2006-07
Super power: My super power would be to have the power over peoples’ minds.
What drives you to succeed in your work?
The fact that Whistler Blackcomb offers one of the best skiing, mountain biking and outdoor experiences in the world keeps me motivated to succeed. We also have an incredible team that’s highly engaged with our business; this environment drives success throughout our entire department and company. As well, the close relationship with our industry’s top athletes, photographers and videographers makes our work extremely fun and drives a need to always want to be the best.
What is the biggest win in your career so far?
I’m proud of and have been fortunate to be involved with new and innovative work at Whistler Blackcomb. Our viral video “Shit Skiers Say” and the various video series we’ve done, like “Elements of Perfection,” “Embedded,” “Wonder Reels” and “Force of Nature” are the projects I’m most proud of.
Snowmaking Shift Supervisor, Sugarbush, Vt.; Head of snowmaking, Black Mountain, N.H.
Education: Champlain College, Vt. (present); Major: Business
First job in industry: Snowmaker, age 8, Black Mountain (family business)
Super power: If I had a super power, I would like to be able to efficiently and tirelessly complete tasks.
Tell me about the art of snowmaking: what do you love about it? What gets you out of bed in the morning (or,night)?
Snowmaking is my art form; it’s how I release my energy. It is my one true passion in life, and I enjoy it more than anything. However, it isn’t just the operation of it. It’s the process, the engineering and the constant pursuit of higher efficiency due to sky-high energy costs. An old friend of mine from a neighboring ski area used to say, “If you don’t run your snowmaking operation at 110 percent all the time, don’t run it at all.” This has been a guideline for me since I was a kid. The expenses involved coupled with the volatility and seasonal factors of the business make this vital.
Do you have any advice for future 10’ers in snowmaking and grooming?
Work hard and be diligent. I’ve seen so many passionate people with good skill sets become frustrated with the seasonal aspect of the industry and give it up. Do what you love: it’s so important.
Manager of Finance, Copper Mtn., Colo.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; University of Colorado at Boulder
First job in industry: Ski instructor,
Super power: My super power would be flight at supersonic speeds. First off, flight just seems like it would be really fun. Second, the speed would allow you to see the world.
You’ve had an unusual career path: can you tell us about your trajectory from instructor to manager of finance at Copper?
My degree and first job out of college were in finance. However, after a year, I decided I wanted to combine work with my passion for the outdoors, so I quit my job and moved to the mountains with the hope it would lead to a career. I started as a ski instructor, part-time cook and AP clerk. These jobs, in combination with my education, eventually lead to my big break as the business manager of Copper’s Ski School and Golf Course. I performed well in this role, and was promoted to analyst for all of Copper Mountain, and most recently to the manager of finance.
What fires you up about coming to work every day?
Whether you like it or not, everything in the industry has a financial component to it. As such, I get to be involved in almost everything at the resort. I love knowing each day will be different, and getting to learn about, and contribute to, decisions on everything from season pass marketing to new lift installations. I like to think that my efforts improve the skiing experience, and I feel lucky to be able to take ski or mountain-bike breaks any time.
Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Education: Bachelor of Science, Health & Sports Studies, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio
First job in industry: Lift operator, Steamboat
Super power: I think I would like to be able to teleport. Just snap my fingers and I could be anywhere in the world!
Your bosses are impressed with your efforts to improve the guest experience through lift operations. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I’ve been privileged to be a part of the Service Excellence Advisors at Steamboat, a task force focused on guest service and internal service to employees. I believe that in order to deliver exceptional guest service, we have to treat every employee with respect and create an environment where excellent service is both deliberate and genuine. [As an example] we start talking about guest service before we even hire a lift operator or ticket checker. During the interview process, we state that it’s our expectation that every person on our staff greets every guest, every time…We continue to talk about guest service during training and throughout the season, then provide rewards and feedback to our crew as well. I believe great guest service actually stems from how employees treat each other and how management treats them.
Do you have any advice for future 10’ers in lift operations?
Get involved. Find ways to take an active role in your company and in your community that allow you to learn and grow. Get to know people, ask questions and have fun!
Communications Manager, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Calif.
Education: BA in Communication, University of Colorado Boulder
First job in industry: Intern, TransWorld Business
Super Power: The ability to fly! Although, if I could control the weather I may choose that. Every day would be a powder day!
Communications manager doesn’t quite mean the same thing it used to. Can you tell us how you worked to reshape this role for today’s complex mediaverse?
Today we communicate with guests on so many levels and through so many mediums. Although there are many types of media, it’s my job to deliver a clear and concise message across each of them. With such a broad audience, the copy and talking points may change style, tone or format, but the core message remains the same. From traditional press releases to social media, it’s my job at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort to let everyone know what’s going on.
What was your biggest career win or moment?
The Tanner Hall Invitational was a pretty big “win,” but being a part of the Burton Star Wars Experience has been my biggest career achievement. The Experience gives three- to six-year-olds the opportunity to learn how to snowboard in an interactive environment that is out of this world—cheesy, I know, but true! Working with such iconic brands such as Star Wars and Burton was an honor and one I will not forget any time soon.
Park Manager, Nordic Mountain/Blackjack Resort/Little Switzerland, Wisc.
Credentials: Two sessions of SAM’s Cutter’s Camp
First industry job: Snowboard instructor
Super power: Laser vision so I could cut all of my features straight just by looking at them.
Tell us about your approach to terrain park management: how do you work to create a safe and fun environment for guests and employees alike?
Managing parks at three ski hills throughout Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, it’s very important for me to engage with the local park riders at each of the areas in order to find out what kind of features we should be involving in the parks. The level of riding ability at each of our ski hills differs drastically, so I really need to cater to the needs of each individual hill. We have small, medium, and large parks at each of our resorts, so finding the right combination of fun features in each one generally keeps riders entertained to their ability level without feeling the need to jump into a larger park that they may not be ready to handle.
Do you have any advice for future 10 hopefuls specializing in terrain park management?
Keep it fun, and take a notebook to Cutter’s Camp!
Asst. Patrol Manager, Mount Snow, Vt.
Education: Paramedic School at UCLA 2006; Sheriffs Academy 2006; Bachelor of Science, Occupational Safety (present)
First job in patrol: Volunteer, 2003 Rookie of the Year
Super power: Besides being able to heal wounds with a “magic” touch, I feel like I could accomplish more if I could fly!
You contributed to the development of an iPad app to monitor different aspects of resort operations. What was the inspiration for the tool?
I’m not one to settle for less than excellent. Working on the front lines of the ski industry, I gained insight into mountain operations and identified an area where we could improve. In turn, I decided to use my technological skills to contribute to the solution. Soon after, I learned it wasn’t just our resort that could benefit from this solution, it was the whole industry. [The app uses iPad technology for inputting guest incidents, tracking terrain groomed and other resort functions.]
What was your biggest career win/most memorable moment? Besides secretly dreaming to be named in the SAM “10 under 30?”
I feel privileged to have recently presented on technology at the ASDA (Association of Ski Defense Attorneys) conference in Deer Valley, Utah. Additionally, throughout my resort industry career, my primary goal in ski patrol and risk management has been guest safety. Therefore, every day I was able to help a guest in need was a memorable moment, which I consider a “career win.”
Snowsports Director,Mt. Ashland, Ore.
Education: B.S.B.A., Ski Business and Resort Management, Sierra Nevada College
First job in industry: Instructor, Hidden Valley, Pa., 2000
Super Power: Weather control.
You clearly feel very strongly about progression and guest retention. Can you tell us about your approach?
We try to set our parks up so our guests can learn and progress in a safe and fun way. We work hard to mimic the features we have in our larger terrain parks in our progression parks. Our park staff does more than just set up features and rake; they spend their day educating guests on park etiquette, teaching people skills and guiding people to the best features to learn on. Our guests deserve the Ritz-Carlton experience. I believe that staff needs to be professional, educated about our product and personable in order to convince families that spending a few hundred dollars a day is a sound investment. Everything we do needs to have a level of professionalism: fences should be straight and taut, the mountain should always look photo-ready, and employees need to be personable and look presentable.
What was your biggest career win?
My first season at Mt. Ashland, we implemented the My Turn Program for first-timers. More than 45 percent of the guests who completed the program bought a season pass for the next season. It was great watching new families get so involved in the sport that they decided it was their new winter activity.