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A poster for Sierra Nevada College’s ski resort management program on the wall at Mountain Creek, N.J., set Kristopher O’Rourke on his path to working in the industry. He worked in the field, developing his snowmaking and grooming skills, while studying full time at Sierra Nevada. Back East, he got a foot in the door at Mountain Creek. In 2019, when Mountain Creek’s owners opened Big SNOW—North America’s first indoor ski slope—they asked Kris to manage the hill. “He’s been a true leader in uncharted waters,” said a nominator.
What leadership traits do you admire?
I always like to do something and learn something before I ask someone else to do it. I’m trying to be there with my team and trying to understand what it takes to get the work done. I don’t want to set unrealistic goals or get frustrated with someone when the job is difficult. That’s where I can really connect with my team and say, “I’ve been here, I’ve done this.”
What was your most memorable working moment on snow this season?
We were shut down from March to September, and I was literally the only guy here. Someone had to keep this place cold. I pretty much stripped 4 inches off the slope, melted it, and remade the entire surface with just one or two other guys. Having the whole resort to yourself was ghostly almost. Having the whole team come back after such a wild and crazy experience, to see everyone’s faces again, that was a great experience.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for growth in the industry?
Grabbing those new customers and find new ways to bring people into the ski industry. We do a part of it here. We take people all year round and bring them into the ski industry. I’m watching a person right now put a helmet on backwards and one of our staff is showing them how to put it on the right way. People are learning and experiencing it. It’s common sense to us, but to these guys they might have never put a helmet on ever in their life. So, having a person there with the stoke high showing them how to do it is pretty awesome.
What’s your favorite job perk?
Being able to snowboard 365 days a year, whenever I want. I try to get on the hill and do quality checks. That’s a big part of our job here. Being indoors, our snow doesn’t melt. So, I actually have to get rid of it. I melt snow twice a week and make snow four days a week to keep up with that top layer, so it doesn’t get stale. There are all these little things you take for granted at an outdoor area, but here I have to account for every piece of snow.
You’re trapped on a desert island. You can bring three objects. What are they, and why?
Definitely a fishing pole because I like fishing and I’d catch some food. Water to survive on. Actually, no, let’s make that beer. And sunscreen. I have red hair. I am going to burn.