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Back To School: Ski Area Management Programs Offer Lifetime Ski Bum Opportunities

CMC-Ski-Patrol-Lab Hands-on, on-the-mountain learning brings the business of running a ski area to students. (Colorado Mountain College/Facebook)

Many of us love the mountain lifestyle but doubt we can stay in the high country year-round and make a living beyond ski-bum subsistence. The answer? Go back to college.

A host of U.S. colleges and universities offer programs in resort and ski area management -- from full-on four-year degrees to short-term certificates. Each significantly polishes up a resume and shows a committed desire to get a full-time job on the hill, around the base, or in management offices.

"The ski business is a bunch of highly specialized businesses that are linked together," said Rob Megnin, an instructor at the Killington campus of Castleton State University in Vermont.

Graduates of Castleton, like other university programs, major in business with a resort or ski area management minor. Certificate programs typically cap out at 30 credit-hours and can be taken regardless of major. In either instance, students can pick from an array of specialties. A numbers person focuses on accounting and finance, a former liftee gets into the latest uphill technologies, and a people-person dives into marketing.

And, at each U.S. program, students enhance their "book learning" with required hands-on programs at nearby resorts.

"It's learning by doing," said Megnin. "Students get to see firsthand how each department operates, how it drives revenues, and accrues expenses. Lessons and rentals are high volume and high profit, so you have to know the numbers. Mountain ops generate extensive costs in snowmaking, ski patrol, and running lifts, so you have to know how to manage people."

Now is an optimum time to get into the business, said Megnin: "We see original founders stepping aside, and a new wave of management coming in. And, the industry is going through some big changes -- climate change, consolidation, labor shortages -- and will face profitability challenges in the next 5-10 years. Now, more than ever, we need qualified staff to fill positions being vacated."

Surprisingly, to Megnin, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an upside for is students: "We've had lots of brainstorming on how the pandemic affects operations. By looking at how a lack of bus tours affects the rental side, they get a better idea of how a department works in non-COVID times.

"They see and hear firsthand how we are already very good crisis managers," Megnin said.

Four-year programs can be found at:

Certificates are offered at UMaine-Farmington, Colorado State, and Fort Lewis College

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