Since its humble beginnings as an upstart one-year program on Nelson’s Silver King Campus in 1980, the Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) has become a foundational post-secondary educational training ground.
Found in every corner and crevasse of the outdoor industry, 40 years of SROAM grads make a daily difference throughout the Kootenays, across the country and around the globe. As Selkirk College marks the ruby anniversary of a program with such remarkable depth, it’s the ideal time to trace the turns that got us to 40.
You can purchase 40th anniversary hoodies through the Selkirk College Bookstore. There is a limited supply so order soon. Ten dollars from each purchase goes toward the SROAM Alumni Scholarship Fund.
Bob Dodge is a SROAM alumnus (Class of 1984) and industry veteran who returned to teach in what has evolved into a two-year program that’s now based out of Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. Recently retired after 24 years of inspiring mentorship, Dodge presents an ongoing series that takes a closer look at the SROAMie legacy of success.
This story concludes my year-long project of chronicling the careers of close to 90 SROAMies who have parlayed their Selkirk College education into some amazing livelihoods and lifestyles. It seems fitting to finish off the series with some recent graduates who have made big strides in their first decade after graduation and are destined to be included in Hall of Fame once they put in a few more years. Great SROAMies, like great whiskey, only improve with age.
Lexi Rei-Jones, 2010
Lexi is probably the only SROAMie in this series of stories who was drawn into the industry more by a fascination with the inner workings of a ski resort than by a passion for participation in the sport. She had skied in high school, but was only moderately enthused by it.
Lexi Rei-Jones spent a couple of years at Whistler Blackcomb to bring the tricks of the trade back to Hudson Bay Mountain in Smithers where she is now GM.
She was managing an A&W in Smithers while planning on going to school to study social work when her sister Anna, who ran the rental retail department at Hudson Bay Mountain, asked Lexi to come and help out as a cashier. Lexi immediately became intrigued with the complexity of the whole business and fell in love with the work environment. She decided the SROAM Program in Nelson sounded like a whole lot more fun than the social work program in Terrace.
Lexi always planned to return to Hudson Bay Mountain, but first wanted to experience the big resort lifestyle and thought she could learn a lot about doing things right at Whistler Blackcomb. She landed a job as senior host in the ticket office where she soaked up all she could learn for next few years. The lifestyle, which she describes as including a lot of Lucky Lager and Mr. Noodles, was losing its appeal about the same time her sister became pregnant and urged her to come home to Hudson Bay Mountain.
She started managing guest services and administration, taking on a little more each year until she was indoor operations manager. The GM resigned in 2019 and suggested Lexi take on the job. She was installed as interim GM while they recruited for a permanent replacement. At that point Lexi had the unusual situation of being both on the selection team and an applicant for the job. She says she was committed to finding the best person for the job, whether that was her or someone else. It turned out to be her and she was confirmed as the GM in September 2020.
She loves the job and the challenges it brings, but admits that she still has lots to learn, especially about mountain operations, and is thankful for her foundations from the SROAM Program and the resources it provided which she keeps close at hand.
Taking on the role during the pandemic has not been easy. She is very grateful for the support network of the other northern resorts—Christian at Shames, Hildur at Troll, and Jana at Murray Ridge in particular—who share information freely and are always willing to help. She is also very appreciative of the support from the CWSAA in navigating through the challenges of COVID-19.
Dan Wilson, 2013
Dan grew up in Barrie, Ontario and was considering a career as a professional photographer when he decided that experiencing the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver might be fun. He got a job as lift operator at Cypress Mountain. He really enjoyed the work environment and returned the following year as a lift supervisor. He learned about the SROAM Program from co-worker and SROAM graduate Scott Croft who was completing his millwright apprenticeship.
Dan Wilson went to Vista Ridge in Fort McMurray because of reputation as a great training ground. They trained him all the way into the GM job.
Kevin Grogan, graduate of the Humber College Ski Resort Management program and GM at Vista Ridge in Fort McMurray at the time, was a dedicated member of our Industry Advisory Committee, committed to providing excellent training to students who completed their workterm at Vista. Kevin offered the opportunity for students to work in virtually every department and gain supervisory experience.
Dan worked for Leitner Poma installing a chairlift at Vista Ridge in the summer between first and second year of SROAM, with the thought that if it seemed like a good fit, he would return for his workterm. Kevin and operations manager Richard Roy saw a strong desire in Dan to learn and he saw in them an eagerness to nurture that learning by sharing their years of experience. Dan has been there ever since.
He quickly moved into an operations supervisor role, and managed the installation and operation of their aerial park. He continued to take on more and more responsibility in a variety of areas, but primarily focused on outdoor operations. In 2018, when Kevin decided to move into semi-retirement, he recommend that Dan take on the general manager job. The board of directors agreed, and Dan is now in his fourth winter as GM.
He says there wasn’t really a formal succession plan to prepare him for the role, so in retrospect he would have liked to spend a little more time learning about indoor operations and budgets, but he acknowledges the tremendous support he has around him. Kevin is still involved primarily in an advisory capacity on capital projects and is always available for guidance when Dan feels the need for it. He is also very thankful for a very supportive and highly knowledgeable board of directors.
In recognition of accomplishments at Vista Ridge, Dan was the 2019 recipient of the Lars Fossberg Award. He is the fifth SROAMie to receive the honor since its creation in 2004. Tim Foster was the first recipient followed by Nate Najda in 2009, Ryan Stimming in 2017 and Christian Theberge in 2018. As a SROAM instructor, it is very gratifying to see students receive such honors, especially when it happened in three consecutive years.
In addition to inheriting Kevin Grogan’s job, Dan also inherited his position as a member of the SROAM Industry Advisory Committee. As the youngest member of that committee, he is an inspiration to current students. Dan has also continued Kevin’s history of supporting the program with the donation of a snowcat last year. It is a great addition to Rosco’s boneyard of teaching paraphernalia.
Katherine Seleski, 2014
Kat’s family had a cabin at Westcastle, now Castle Mountain, so skiing was a big part of her childhood. My friend and fellow SROAMie Tom Tataryn was GM at the time and Kat recalls being fascinated as a child that someone could actually earn a living running a ski hill. The seed was planted in Kat’s young mind, took root, flourished and is still growing robustly. Sadly, Tom was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2002.
Katherine Seleski has come a long way in a short time establishing herself as an industry leader at a young age. Her youthful wisdom has earned her a seat on the Board of Directors of the CWSAA.
To say Kat has come a long way in a short time is a bit of an understatement. Since graduating SROAM at the age of 21, she has earned a degree in business from University of Lethbridge and her CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) level 3, become ski area manager at Pass Powder Keg (PPK) in Blairmore, Alberta and serves as director of the CWSAA, all before her 30th birthday. Her accomplishment resulted in being included in SAM Magazine’s 10 under 30 awards recognizing young rising stars throughout the North American ski industry. In her spare time, she also operates two B&B properties at Castle and a small catering company with another SROAMie and life-long friend Ward Armstrong.
Kat worked as the group sales and events coordinator at Castle Mountain for her SROAM workterm and as a snow school supervisor while working on her degree. She started at Pass Powder Keg in 2018 as operations manager and was promoted to ski area manager a year later. Kat wasted no time implementing several innovative programs and improvements at PPK and becoming very involved in the CWSAA.
I contacted CWSAA president and CEO Christopher Nicholson to learn how Kat, as young rookie ski area manager, came to be appointed to the board of directors as most directors are normally a couple of decades older. He said that Kat has made a big impression in a short time, demonstrating a deep understanding of the ski industry but also has a much broader scope as to how the industry fits into quickly changing world. This matches my impressions of Kat as being wise beyond her years.
When discussing what she has been working on at PPK, Kat talked about building the skier market as opposed to competing for a bigger piece of the existing pie, creating cradle to grave skiers, “future-proofing” the business, and “meeting guests where they are” by streamlining processes. This is the kind of thinking that will keep the industry vibrant into the future. I’m proud that the SROAM Program plays a role in bringing such great people into the industry and inspiring them to follow their passion.
Ryan Watters, 2019
Ryan is an Aussie who saw snow for the first time at 17 years old. After being introduced to skiing he had to get more, so put the plans together to spend a winter in Canada. He landed at Nakiska where he made snow for two seasons before moving onto Panorama for four years. There he worked in snowmaking lifts, grooming and lift maintenance.
He was running out of time on his work visa, so started looking for ways to stay in the country. He knew that Panorama managers Ryan Stimming and CJ Matthews-Dickson had taken the SROAM Program and Panorama’s director of employee experience told him it could lead to additional visas. He was sold, but he saw the program more as a means to remain in Canada than to prepare him for a ski industry career. He assumed he would have to leave the industry to have a chance at getting his permanent residency.
Ryan says the SROAM Program ignited his passion for learning and for the ski industry, along with the lifestyle it could offer. Ryan was a keen student always sitting at front of the class, actively contributing to class discussions, and getting top grades. I believe he was the first student ever to get 100% on one of my Risk Management exams. I still owe him a beer for that accomplishment. Ryan also demonstrated his leadership potential by working extremely well with all other students in the class. He wasn’t afraid to disagree with people, but always did so in a thoughtful and respectful way.
When it came time to plan for his workterm for the 2018/19 season, Kimberley was his primary target as his girlfriend was living there. Panorama and Fernie were possible plan-Bs, but would not be ideal, so his eggs were pretty much all in one basket. Long-time Industry Advisory Committee member and GM of Fernie and Kimberley Andy Cohen has always very keen to hire students, especially those that stand out above the rest. Ryan was told there would be job for him at Kimberley, but exactly what that job would be was yet to be determined. I recall having conversations with Ryan about his concern that he may be offered only an entry level position, but they had bigger plans for him. He was thrilled when they offered him the job as assistant operations manager and even more thrilled when he learned he would not be required to cut off his dreadlocks. He was much happier to say goodbye to them at his own discretion a few months later.
Originally, he was hired seasonally but before the winter season ended, he was offered the job on a permanent year-round basis, a substantial boost to his application for permanent residency. He was granted his PR this past November, on the 10th anniversary of his arrival in Canada. Congrats Ryan.
Ryan says the job has provided limitless opportunities for learning and he is loving it. Operations Manager Brian Copping has been at Kimberley for 30 years and is as keen to teach Ryan as he is to learn, facilitating Ryan’s substantial expansion of responsibilities since he began. A pet project for Ryan has been the creation of Kimberley’s first comprehensive avalanche control program. He acknowledges the tremendous support he received from Fernie’s snow safety team.
Like so many of the people I have profiled in this series of stories, Ryan is so thankful to the SROAM Program for setting him on the path to a rewarding ski industry career.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing this series has been deciding who not to include. The program is approaching 1,000 graduates in the 40-year history. While many have left the industry, there are dozens that I know of who could have been included in these stories, but I had to stop somewhere. I feel a need add some honorable mentions who have contributed significantly to the industry. My apologies if I miss some that should be on the list or if I don’t get the job titles right.
Ted Parkinson 1990 – Retired cat mechanic, Winsport Canada Olympic Park
Scott Humby 1992 – Owner, Fanatycko Ski and Bike Shop, Whistler
Rob Bourgeois 1998 – Operations manager, Little Smokey Ski Area
Junichi Matsunaga 1999 – CSGS ski guide, Whistler Heliskiing, Mountain Skills Academy
Charlene Sperling, 1999 – HR Supervisor, Whitewater
Hans Hedberg 2000 – CEO, Premium Experiences Whistler
Mark Corbett 2001 – ACMG ski guide, Last Frontier Heliskiing
Brad McBeath 2001 – Head of guiding operations, Baldface Lodge
Jesse Crawford 2002 – Former maintenance manager, Sasquatch Mountain
Randy Murphy 2003 – Former operations manager, Sasquatch Mountain
Patrick Ney 2004 – Lift Mechanic, Mansfield Ski Club
Gavin Phillipson 2004 – Instructor/coach, Extremely Canadian, Whistler
Colin (Eddy) Edwards 2005 – Rental/retail manager, Whistler
Guillaume Boutet-Lesperance 2007 – Food and Beverage Manager, Fernie Alpine Resort
Tyler Belsito 2007 – Infrastructure maintenance, Mount Washington
Devin Huziak 2008 – Ski Patrol, Red Mountain
Andy Campbell 2009 – District manager rental retail, Whistler Blackcomb
Brian Gauthier 2010 – Assistant operations manager, Snow Valley Edmonton
Erin Suave 2010 – Snow school director, Red Mountain
Evan Atkinson 2010 – Ski area specialist, Little Mac Ski Hill, Mackenzie BC
Ben Suurallik 2011 – Terrain park designer and builder, Sunshine Village
James Frost 2012 – Events and communications coordinator, Beaver Valley Ski Club
Ward Armstrong 2012 – Maintenance coordinator, Castle Mountain
Ryan Lachapelle 2012 – Former events coordinator, Red Mountain
Natasha Stormes 2013 – Office manager, Big Red Cats
Dave Siedel 2014 – On-mountain sales, marketing, groups and events supervisor, Sunshine Village
Paul Brammer 2014 – Electrician, Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Nevada Buchanan 2014 – Grooming Supervisor, Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Ashleigh Gray 2015 – Season pass & partner benefits manager, Blue Mountain
Danielle McGovern 2015 – Supervisor of lift operations and projects, Winsport Canada Olympic Park
Kale Pendlebury 2018 – Guest services supervisor, Whistler Blackcomb, Whitewater
Pavlo Perepelytsia 2018 – Former lift operations manager, Mount Seymour
Spencer McFeetors 2018 – Lift operations supervisor, Sunshine Village
Nick Rinne 2018 – Snow school admin and office supervisor, Skiing Louise
Bradley Morris 2019 – Snow school supervisor, Skiing Louise
Lottie Loveday 2019 – Occupational health and safety coordinator, Panorama
I know nothing about song writing but have heard that the most difficult part can be how to end the song. I am feeling the same way with this series, but will give it a go.
I have always believed in the SROAM Program and known that it has positively transformed many lives and contributed substantially to the talent pool of the ski industry. But hearing first-hand from so many graduates about their fascinating and incredibly diverse career paths has been truly inspiring. Every one of the people I spoke to were so happy with their decision to attend SROAM and pursue their dreams of a ski industry career. I can honestly say I have never once regretted, or even questioned, my decision 39 years ago to leave my past life behind and see where SROAM and the ski industry could take me.
I will never forget the moment it all began. In March of 1983, I was leaving Lake Louise on a beautiful Monday morning after a great weekend of skiing with my brother to return to Edmonton and a job I had no passion for. Somewhere near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, as I saw flatland appearing in front of me, I looked in the rear-view mirror seeing the rising sun on mountains and heard a strong voice inside my head saying, “you are going the wrong way.” I pulled over to contemplate this epiphany and concluded that I should listen to the voice that was suggesting my future was in the mountains. I applied to the SROAM Program as soon as I got home. It was the best decision of my life. It’s hard to imagine how any other path could have been so enjoyable and fulfilling.
So, what makes a ski industry career so special? Let me count the ways.
The people – I can’t think of another industry filled with such fun-loving fabulous people who embrace the “work hard, play hard” mantra. Unpleasant people need not apply. You won’t fit in.
The culture – The ski industry is one of teamwork and cooperation. There are competitive rivals between ski areas, but the “Canada West Way” of mutual collaboration and support is truly unique, prevalent and such a joy to be a part of.
The physical environment – Working and living in the beauty of the mountains every day is a priceless benefit of the job.
Variety – The industry is so diverse that it truly has something for everyone. The seasonal nature of the business and sensitivity to weather makes every day a little different than the last, and the variety from month to month is so refreshing.
Huge paycheques – OK, this one might be a stretch. As I always told prospective students considering the program: “There will always be easier ways to make money than working in the ski business, but very few that are as enjoyable.” I do know a handful or two of people who have become quite wealthy in the ski industry, but those are the exception. However, with the right attitude, some hard work and little patience, one can earn a good living in a rewarding career and spectacular environment. All the SROAMies I have included in this series of stories are proof of that.
I feel so blessed to have had such a fabulous journey in this industry myself and feel honored to have played a part in guiding other SROAMies to similarly rewarding career paths.
Big thanks to all the SROAMies who took the time to speak to me for these stories and to the readers for your interest. See you on the slopes!
Please Consider Donating to the SROAM Alumni Scholarship Fund
A decade ago during the 30th anniversary celebrations, the SROAM Alumni Scholarship fund was created to annually recognize the student who stands out above the rest upon graduation. Going beyond a stellar GPA, this scholarship is selected by faculty and awarded to the learner who also excels on their work term, leads by example and shows strong potential for future success in the industry.
A prestigious scholarship, the current fund balance is the lowest monetary award in the SROAM Program at under $300. As we mark another 10 years, donations large and small are being accepted to boost the award to reflect effort and accomplishment. You can donate by heading here. Choose your amount and then under "Designation" select "other" and type in "SROAM Alumni Scholarship."
New Class of SROAM Hall of Fame Inductees
As 2021 comes to a close, this is my eleventh installment in the Tales of SROAM Success series written in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the program. I intended it to be the last, but it was getting way too long so I’m saving the profiles of some notable rising stars for a final piece in January.
In this story, the SROAM faculty and Industry Advisory Committee are pleased to announce the addition of seven outstanding industry leaders to the Hall of Fame. We went through a process of shortlisting with a point system based on years in the industry and career accomplishments and then selecting eight that stood out as the cream of the crop.
Sean Hetherubgton, 1986
Sean was introduced only briefly in my story about SROAMies at Whitewater because I was unable to pin him down for an interview at that time. Speaking to him this week, I learned Sean is in tight competition with icons such as Guy Paulsen and John Shea for the SROAMie with the most years in the ski industry, all with about 40 years. Maybe by our 50th anniversary we will be able to declare a winner.
His family had a place in Whistler when he was growing up in the 1970s and he started his career in 1982 right after high school, first working as a lift operator. In his second season, at age 19, he started driving cats in the winter and operating excavators in the summer. With construction booming during that time, Sean recalls doing excavation work in virtually every corner of Whistler.
He has been grooming every winter since then except for a couple of years break to live on a yacht. He then spent two seasons at Cypress before making the permanent move to Whitewater.
This is his 25th season at Whitewater with most of that as grooming supervisor. He has been the point person for organizing groomer ride-a-longs for SROAM students every winter. He says he really enjoys when they are excited to learn about grooming and has mentored many over the years.
He loves what he does and slaps on the skis pretty much every day to do quality control on the grooming and get his share of turns in the legendary Whitewater powder.
Stephanie Avery, 1992
Readers may recognize Stephanie’s name from my last story which featured her husband Doug who was inducted into the SROAM Hall of Fame at the time of 30th anniversary. They are the only husband and wife team in the HOF.
Tourism Sun Peaks’ director of finance Stephanie Avery and her husband Doug are the only husband and wife team in SROAM Hall of Fame.
Stephanie grew up in Montreal learning to ski at four-years-old in YMCA programs, and by the age of five was on bus trips to Mont Bromont. As soon as she was old enough, she got certified as a ski instructor and began teaching for the YMCA. She was studying business with the intention of becoming an accountant when she learned about SROAM and took it as an opportunity to expand her horizons by moving to B.C. and studying in English for the first time.
There she met Doug and they have been on somewhat parallel paths ever since. Stephanie joked that she had to tell her parents that B.C. wasn’t quite far enough away and was going to Japan. She and Doug both completed their work terms in Kawaba and then engrained themselves in the Blackcomb world for several years. Stephanie started as a receptionist in administration before moving over to Blackcomb owned hotels in accounting and front office management.
During their time in New Brunswick while starting a family, Stephanie kept her connection to the industry teaching high school tourism classes. When they moved back west to Sun Peaks 13 years ago, Stephanie started as an administrative assistant at Tourism Sun Peaks and has steadily progressed though the organization to her current position as director of finance and administration which includes responsibility for human resource management of their 20 employees.
CWSAA President and CEO Christopher Nicholson, worked with Stephanie for several years at Tourism Sun Peaks and gave her nomination for the SROAM Hall of Fame an enthusiastic two thumbs up. When asked to reflect on it all, Stephanie said that SROAM being a great experience and boosting her career was somewhat expected but getting a great hubby and family out of it was a major bonus.
Jason Patterson, 1996
Jason is currently president and CEO at Marmot Basin. I wrote about Jason’s career path earlier in this series so won’t repeat it here. Scroll down to “The Canada West Way” to learn how Jason got where he is. His name has also popped up several times as someone influential in the careers of other SROAMies.
Jason said he was honored and humbled to be included amongst alumni with impressive industry careers and is thankful to Selkirk College for the path that led him to a job he appreciates every day. He added that he hopes to continue giving back and repaying this honor, saying: “It’s all of our responsibility to enable the next generation to experience the same passion.”
John McNair, 2004
John’s path was also included in my previous story on SROAMies who have had a big impact in Eastern Canada. He is owner of Outdoor Elements in Sussex, New Brunswick and vice chair of the board at Poley Mountain.
He was thankful and honored to receive the news he has been added to the SROAM Hall of Fame. His first question was whether there would be an event of some kind that would give him an excuse to visit B.C. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented any solid plans for an in-person event.
CJ Mathews-Dickson, 2006
CJ is the newest recruit on the SROAM faculty having recently made the move to Nelson after 15 years at Panorama. See the “Fabulous Faculty” story below for more details about CJ’s path.
CJ is flattered to be included in the SROAM HOF and happy to be in a position to nurture the next generation of ski industry leaders.
Ian Purcell, 1998
Ian grew up skiing on Vancouver’s North Shore and started in the industry as a ski instructor at Mount Seymour and then at Blackcomb, before attending SROAM. He completed his workterm in an entry level position in the rental/retail division at the newly merged Whistler Blackcomb, (WB), and rose quickly to management level. In his first few years, he proved to have a knack for everything technical and became the systems support supervisor for the rental/retail division. That led to a key role in development and management of the first on-line rental outlet and was the project manager on the first on-line retail store.
He soon became a business analyst for the rental/division of Intrawest, WB’s parent company, working with their numerous resorts throughout North America. Other “little” projects around that time included working on the divestiture of Panorama from the Intrawest family.
He left the ski industry and Whistler for a couple of years, but soon was working for Longview Systems, who had the IT service contract for Intrawest, owner of WB, so he was back in very familiar territory. Ian has held a wide variety of IT project management positions since then working for Longview, WB under Intrawest ownership, WB under Vail ownership, and Alterra who took control over many of Intrawest’s former properties and is Vail’s primary competitor as a resort conglomerate.
I really can’t do justice to Ian’s accomplishments as IT is not my forte and if I try to explain them in much detail, I’m certain to get some things wrong. One notable project was the implementation of SAP for WB’s retail division which tracks the inventory and finances of all retail goods in 55 retail outlets and the warehouse.
He was also a project manager developing the “direct to lift” software for Alterra’s Ikon Pass. This competes directly with Vail’s Epic Pass. One significant difference is that the Epic pass was only used at Vail-owned resorts, while Ian had to incorporate several non-Alterra owned resorts each using their own systems. The complexity of a project like that is mind boggling to me. Ian admitted that he felt some gratification to be laid off by Vail in one their restructuring phases, and then immediately start working on such a major project for their competition.
During these years, Ian also found the time to raise a family and earn his PMP (Project Management Professional) designation. When I created a shortlist of grads as Hall of Fame nominees, I included a comment that Ian was likely the smartest person on the list. That is saying a lot considering the other talented nominees. That opinion was reinforced in my conversation with Ian.
When reflecting on the 23 years since his SROAM graduation, Ian says he has been driven by the continuous opportunities to take on new and more complex challenges at least every couple of years. He has never stayed in one job long enough to get bored.
Christian Theberge, 2007
Christian grew up in the Ottawa area skiing at Edelweiss and working there as a snowboard instructor while earning a business degree at University of Ottawa. He also spent seasons in New Zealand and Mont St. Sauveur before enrolling in SROAM. He had a lighter class schedule due to transfer credits, so taught at Whitewater and became hooked on riding B.C. pow.
As mentioned in my earlier story on small ski areas, Christian got the ski area manager job at Phoenix Mountain near Grand Forks for his workterm. He had other offers from bigger resorts but was drawn by the strong connection Phoenix had to the local community and the opportunity for a big challenge. Christian is very thankful for help he received from people at Whitewater, Red Mountain, Mount Baldy and Big White as well as his SROAM instructors. During his four years there, skier visits doubled. Another significant accomplishment was the start of headlamp night skiing. I recall discussing it with Christian at the time and was surprised he got the blessing from the insurer to go ahead with it.
In 2008-09 Shames Mountain in Terrace was on the verge of closing when the owners were unable to find a buyer after several years of financial struggles. The community of Terrace responded by forming a co-op to save the mountain from closure. In 2011, Christian was hired as the GM to lead the rebirth as “My Mountain Co-op – Shames Mountain” and he is still there to celebrate their tenth anniversary and tremendous success over the decade.
Christian says the community driven co-op model has resulted in unprecedented support from local volunteers and businesses large and small. They are on solid financial footing and have been able to make several substantial capital improvements. This year alone they have done a substantial parking lot expansion and purchased a conveyor lift and their first brand new snowcat.
Shames Mountain under Christian’s leadership and Christian himself have received several local awards and accolades in recent years, but the most meaningful to Christian was the Lars Fossberg award bestowed on him by the CWSAA in 2018. This annual award named for the founder of Troll Mountain in Quesnel is presented to an up-and-coming ski industry leader who has shown initiative and creativity in meeting challenges. A well-deserved tribute to Christian’s talents.
Amy Frew (Bird), 2006
Amy was on her way to becoming an elementary school teacher when she realized she enjoyed teaching on the mountain way more than in the classroom. After completing her BA at Simon Fraser University, she took a winter off to work as a ski instructor at Whistler Blackcomb when she learned about the SROAM Program from graduate Jen Mioska. Both spent several years working in Employee Experience at WB.
Amy was hired as guest services lead hand at WB for her workterm and within a week of starting had made such an impression that she was promoted to supervisor. She continued to impress and after a couple of years they created an assistant manager position to keep her in the department and nurture her development as a rising leader.
When the 2010 Winter Olympics were approaching, she looked for opportunities to become more directly involved in the games than her WB would provide and was granted a leave of absence to work in the Athletes Village, with SROAM Hall of Famer Todd Allison.
Upon returning to WB, Amy took on a new challenge as Employee Experience Officer. With well over 3,000 employees, this role had quite a diverse job description including leading training and development initiatives which satisfied her love of teaching. She also managed the employee satisfaction survey, coached supervisors and managers on HR practices, conflict resolution, discipline and termination and much more. Over the next decade the role evolved, and her title was revised a few times especially after WB became integrated into the parent company of Vail. In 2020, she became senior analyst, workforce management which was still a multi-faceted position with a focus on building consistency in HR practices between Vail resorts.
Amy played a vital role in the relationship between SROAM and Whistler Blackcomb. She has been a regular presenter on our annual August field trip where she was an avid cheerleader for WB as great place for SROAMies to work and a living example of the potential for a highly successful career. As a designated rising star, she also boosted the credibility of the program within WB. They always rolled out the red carpet for our visits and I thank Amy for her part in that. Amy also served as WB’s representative on the SROAM Industry Advisory Committee for several years.
Side note: This seems like an appropriate place to acknowledge and thank WB’s former employee experience directors, Kirby Brown and Joel Chevalier, and recruiting manager Karen Baukham for their many years of support to our students. I have great admiration and respect for you and miss seeing you each summer.
Amy has several other accomplishments including academic scholarships while in SROAM, SAM (Ski Area Management Magazine) recruit of the year, WB supervisor of the year, ICE (Inspired Continued Excellence) award, and serving on the Board of Directors of Link BC, which was a liaison between the tourism industry and post-secondary tourism education. She has also earned her CPHR (Certified Professional of Human Resources) designation.
With two young children and husband Seamus also having a busy management job at WB, Amy recently decided to take some time off to focus on family life. Looking back on her 15 years working at Whistler Blackcomb, Amy greatly appreciated the work hard, play hard culture where fun was an essential part of the job. She particularly enjoyed being a part of building that culture along with peers who she greatly respected. I have no doubt we will see Amy back in a prominent role in the industry.
It will be an honor to add photos of these ultra-talented people to the Hall of Fame in the SROAM classroom. Check back here in the new year for a conclusion to this series and a look at more recent graduates making big impressions in the industry.
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Hall of Fame SROAMies
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Ski Resort Operations & Management Program in 2011, we created a Hall of Fame which adorns the walls of the first-year classroom. This story will highlight some of those inductees who have not been covered in previous stories. Time and space don’t allow me to include everyone, so I am focusing on some notables who are still active in the industry.
Guy Paulsen, 1983
The SROAM Program provides opportunities for students to make valuable relationships with industry leaders. This proved true for Guy who got to know Jimmie Spencer—president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA)—who encouraged him to work at SilverStar Mountain Resort. Guy is very thankful for Jimmie’s support and guidance in his 35 years at SilverStar. Guy held a variety of positions during his time at the resort, including: snow school director, nordic manager, winter sports manager, destination sales manager and interim general manager during an ownership change.
Guy Paulsen is the only SROAMie in the CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) Hall of Fame.
Most people who know Guy expected him to finish his career at SilverStar, but in 2018 he was enticed to make a move to Panorama. He started as sales manager, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced some restructuring that saw Guy reassigned to his current role as director of resort services overseeing retail, rentals, snow school, the nordic area and more.
Guy’s list of accomplishments is much too long to thoroughly document here. He has been an international leader in the world of both alpine and nordic ski instruction. He is a Level IV and member of the prestigious Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance Hall of Fame, as well as a course conductor, former national board member and Interski team member. He is also a Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors national board member course conductor and currently coach of the Canadian team preparing for Interski 2023 in Levi, Finland.
Guy was always favorite speaker on the annual SROAM field trip to SilverStar due to his passion for and extensive knowledge of the ski industry.
Kris Hawryluik, 1990
At 16, Kris began his ski industry career at Mount McKay in Thunder Bay working in just about every department. He was 19 when he arrived in Nelson for the SROAM Program. On his work term at Panorama, he had the opportunity to develop and manage a ski check facility which was a fabulous learning experience. The following year he moved to the brand-new Shames Mountain in Terrace as lifts manager working under mentor Richard Roy. See below for more info on Richard.
In 1991, Kris started on the Big White ski patrol. He has been there ever since and has been patrol director for a decade. Kris took an early interest in avalanche control work and is now a Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) level 2 forecaster.
About five years ago, Big White started work on development of a bike park. Kris played a key role in that initiative since the beginning and is now bike park manager in the summer.
Reflecting on his time in the ski industry, Kris sees the current state of the labour market offering more opportunities than ever for aspiring ski area professionals. When recently speaking to the SROAM class on a field trip, Kris urged them to carefully consider their employment options to maximize the benefit of the variety of opportunities.
Doug Avery, 1992
Doug began his hospitality career working at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver at the age of 15 and soon after moved to Grouse Mountain. He started his education in the Hotel Restaurant Management Program at BCIT and then added the SROAM Program to shift his focus to the ski industry and to find his wife Stephanie.
Doug Avery and his wife Stephanie met in the SROAM classroom. They see Sun Peaks to be an idyllic location to have raised their two daughters.
Like many of the highly successful SROAMies of that era, Doug completed his work term in Kawaba, Japan. The following winter he moved to Blackcomb starting as janitor. A perk of that job was cleaning the office of the president, Hugh Smythe who became a mentor to Doug. Before long he was the building services supervisor. He started with a staff of six entry level employees, but willingly took on more and more responsibilities. Within a few years, he had a staff of 35 including several trades people.
Doug mentioned the influence of industry icon Danny Cox on his growth during this period. Danny was an engineer who did site inspection for Blackcomb’s insurer. Danny’s suggestions on improving any building systems and processes to reduce risk were an instant green light for Doug to implement the changes, so he got lots of experience making things better.
In 1997, he moved to Delta Whistler Hotel as maintenance manager and when that hotel sold, he was offered a similar position with Delta in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. After six years and adding two daughters to their family, he and Stephanie returned west, landing at the Delta Sun Peaks. During the next several years, Doug was a key player in the development of Delta’s award-winning sustainable tourism programs.
Doug feels blessed to have raised his daughters in the mountain resort environment, both working at Sun Peaks during their teen years and now in university. Seemingly much too young to retire, Doug took that step a couple of months ago and plans to do a ton of skiing this winter.
Steve Bailey, 1995
Like many SROAMies, Steve began his career as a ski instructor in high school. Originally from Montreal, Steve was pursuing an education in industrial automation until he discovered the SROAM Program. Steve completed his SROAM work term at Shames Mountain working with soon-to-be SROAM instructor Scott Siemens and fellow SROAM Hall of Famer Tim Foster, both who he considered valued mentors. Like many SROAMies at small ski areas, Steve did just about everything from lift maintenance to driving the staff shuttle and everything in between. The following year he was asked to return as the first marketing and event coordinator, and the year after that as director of skiing.
“Heliskiing with your kids on take your kid to work day, priceless,” says Steve Bailey, Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
In 1997, he made a move to Big White as guest services supervisor and the following year was promoted to GS manager remaining in that role for nine years.
In 2007, when Revelstoke Mountain Resort was the new kid on the block, Steve saw opportunity and joined them as director of skier services and base area operations six months before they opened to skiers. He is thankful for the experience of being a part of the team that built the iconic mountain Revelstoke has become. Fourteen years later he is loving living in the small mountain town with big mountain skiing. Steve’s family is pretty “stoked” as well. RMR also operates Selkirk Tangiers Heliskiing, so on “take your kids to work day” he took his for a day heliskiing. I count that as a major win in the game of life.
Steve is very thankful for the foundations he gained in the SROAM Program which has allowed he and his family to enjoy an incredible lifestyle.
Graham Sullivan, 1995
Also from the class of 1995, Graham is one of the few SROAMies who has spent their entire ski industry career at the same resort. In his case, that is Big White. He says he stopped there for a “practice interview” on his way to Sun Peaks where he intended on completing his work term. Big White was smart enough to scoop him up before Sun Peaks even had a chance.
Thirty-seven years ago, Graham Sullivan stopped in at Big White for a ‘practice interview’ on his way to Sun Peaks. He never left.
He has held a variety of management positions during that time, starting in the realm of tickets and guest services. He became the in-house POS specialist leading to several years as the IT manager, overseeing implementation of many new systems for the entire resort.
In 2006, Graham shifted to Big White Central Reservations as owner relations manager. He found it very rewarding to work with hundreds of property owners from all over the world. With Big White entering a new era of construction, Graham has recently taken the opportunity to move into the role of business manager for Big White Utilities. He is loving the challenge of learning a new side of the business working with developers, construction teams and new property owners.
Besides evolving opportunities for personal growth keeping him there, Graham says he has been treated very well by resort owners, the Schumann and Plimmer families. Great snow, terrain and staff have also contributed to his long tenure. As a relatively new but passionate mountain biker, he now loves summer at Big White as much as winters.
Todd Noble, 1996
Todd grew up in Calgary learning to ski at Paskapoo (now Winsport) and taking weekend trips with the family to Lake Louise and Sunshine Village. He was hooked by the freedom he felt while skiing. As a regular attendee at the Calgary Ski Show, he came across the SROAM booth, a moment that forever altered the course of his life. He had not yet worked at a ski area, so got a job as a liftee at Panorama to gain some experience prior to starting the program. He is also an alumnus of the Kawaba, Japan work term option which was such a great international work experience for many SROAMies of the 1990s.
Todd Noble learned about SROAM at the Calgary Ski Show, forever changing the course of his life. He is general manager at the Jasper Tramway.
He built his resume patrolling at Panorama and working in various jobs at Marmot Basin, Jasper Park Lodge, the Radium Golf Course and many years as a volunteer for the Lake Louise World Cup. Todd feels that the SROAM Program opened doors for him early in his career because he was recognized as someone in it for long haul as opposed to many resort employees there for a good time, not a long time. He was offered a supervisory job at the Jasper Tramway along with SROAM classmate Jason Patterson, now President and CEO of their sister company Marmot Basin. While Jason ventured out of the industry for a time, Todd remained and grew with the tramway until taking on the GM role.
With the Tramway being a key attraction, Todd became a leader in promoting tourism in Jasper. He was president of the Jasper Chamber of Commerce for many years and was instrumental in the creation of Tourism Jasper. They have been very successful at stretching out shoulder season with event such as internationally known Dark Sky Festival held each October, giving the tramway about a nine-month operating season.
Heather Moore, 2000
Like Graham Sullivan, Heather has spent her entire career at the Big White. She started on the volunteer ski patrol while still in high school and put in a couple of seasons on pro patrol before attending SROAM. She returned to Big White for her work term, partially motivated by the financial benefit of being able to live with her parents. She started her work term in a rotation between the ticket office and lift operations, but soon had the opportunity to switch her ticket office shifts for work as the patrol dispatcher.
She felt more at home with patrol and progressed into role of patrol center manager, which she held for many years. That position continually grew to include managing the OHS program and all incident investigations, plus a bunch of miscellaneous responsibilities. Recently the patrol centre duties were split off into its own job and now Heather is OHS manager and incident investigator. She has taken numerous courses and seminars to constantly upgrade her risk management skills, working closely with insurers and WorkSafeBC.
I found a pattern in Heather’s career that seems to be common in many of the SROAM success stories. That is, the willingness to take on whatever jobs need doing regardless of whether they are part of the job description. Heather has a long list of these extras including: helping with hiring of lift operators and groomers, training lift operators and updating lift manuals, working with environmental consultants to monitor and test turbidity in creeks, informal IT support for outdoor operations, being certified as a pyrotechnician to oversee a weekly fireworks show, and most recently responsibility for the skating rink.
As OHS manager, Heather works with every department. She credits her SROAM education with giving her the broad overview of vastly different aspects of resort operations and to have confidence to take on new challenges.
Derek Look, 2000
Derek was literally born to be in the ski industry with both his parent and his sisters working at Snow Valley in Edmonton. He started there in the rental shop when in high school where he met recent SROAM grad Jason Patterson—now president and CEO of Marmot Basin—who recommended the program to him. Derek reminded me that he was the youngest in his class. I remembered him as one of the more dedicated and grounded students. Maybe because he wasn’t old enough to go the bar in BC, so didn’t arrive to school late or hungover.
Derek Look, general manager at Rabbit Hill, was literally born to be in the ski industry with both his parent and his sisters working at Snow Valley in Edmonton where he started his career.
Derek completed his work term at Silver Star in the ticket office and before long found himself as ticket sales manager. He mentioned the invaluable mentorship he received from then general manager Michael Sherwood, which helped him expand his responsibilities to include guest services and property management. He loved his time at Silver Star but was very fond of smaller resorts, so he returned to Edmonton as indoor operations manager at Rabbit Hill.
Derek moved into the general manager position about five years ago and is currently working with the owner and industry veteran Jim Sutherland to convert the ski area to a non-profit business model. The motivation is to ensure long-term viability so Rabbit Hill will continue to serve skiers years into the future.
Derek loves the tremendous variety in his job with every day and season bringing new challenges. He has established himself a highly respected member of the Alberta ski industry and is currently co-chair of the Go Ski Alberta marketing committee, a collaborative initiative between the CWSAA and Travel Alberta.
Matt Koenig, 2000
Many of my past students have become my friends, some very good friends, and Matt is right at the top of that list. He is a man with a heart of gold.
Matt started in the ski industry after high school doing the laundry in the evenings at Manning Park so he could snowboard every day. Under the mentorship of industry veteran Mike Barker, Matt moved onto working in ski patrol, lift maintenance and did a little grooming. There he also met his now-wife, Robin.
Matt Koenig, now operations manager at Apex, spent 20 years at Mount Baldy putting in heroic efforts to keep it going through some tough years.
For Matt’s work term he chose Mount Baldy outside Oliver for the opportunity to work for SROAMie Steve Paccagan and Russell Karp, now president at Mueller Lift Services. When Steve moved on, SROAMie Tim Foster became GM. Later, Tim moved on, but Matt stayed, and stayed, and stayed through thick and thin. He started as ski patrol supervisor, but quickly expanded his role. In his early years, there was some great optimism around the resort with a new ownership group taking over from a financially floundering strata of cabin owners, a new masterplan completed in 2004 and the Sugar Lump fixed grip quad installed in 2007.
Then the recession hit and there were a lot of thin times. Receivership, bankruptcy, closure for a year, and reopening under new ownership, Matt was there through it all. His job title through this period was most often mountain manager, but his job description was doing pretty much anything needed to keep the place going at the time, from dishwashing to resort marketing. During some very lean times, Matt worked without a paycheque and even used some of his own money to pay essential bills for the mountain. I marvelled at his dedication to Baldy. Fortunately, he also worked as a paramedic and was able to scale up or down that work according to the demands at Baldy. Matt was always a gracious and welcoming host to the SROAM classes I took on our annual fall field trip.
If you have never skied Mount Baldy, put it on your bucket list. It is a quaint little hill with awesome intermediate glades, lots of snow and few people.
With close to 20 years in at Mount Baldy, in 2019 Matt decided to make a move up the Okanagan Valley to Apex Resort where he is now operations manager which, in addition to the common responsibilities of that role, includes overseeing building maintenance, snow removal, IT and village infrastructure systems, still very much a “do whatever needs doing” kind of guy.
Matt now has three grown kids that enjoy skiing and are going faster than he does. He loves the ski industry and all the experiences and friendships that have come from it.
Nathan Dorward, 2001
Originally from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Nathan is now a committed mountain dweller loving life in Revelstoke. At last count, I knew of about 18 other SROAMies that now call Revelstoke home. Could it be the snow?
Originally from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Nathan Dorward is now a committed mountain dweller loving life in Revelstoke.
Nathan completed his work term at Nakiska Ski Area in snowmaking and before long had worked his way up to be snowmaking and grooming supervisor. He spent four years there before moving up the road to Mount Norquay where he began his millwright apprenticeship. He says he learned so much there doing maintenance on lifts, cats, building systems and pretty much everything else.
There was a lot of excitement about the development in Revelstoke in 2007 and Nathan jumped at the opportunity to get in from the beginning, initially working with Poma installing lifts. He is now mechanical services manager, overseeing maintenance of pretty much everything other than snowcats. He says the job has grown to the point where he doesn’t spend a lot of time with tools in his hands, being kept busy with maintenance planning, record keeping and supporting his team of trades people.
He still enjoys slapping on the skis to get around the resort at work or skiing with his family, but admits that when he has a day to himself to play in the snow, he prefers to be on his sled. He is very thankful for his decision at 19-years-old to enrol in the SROAM Program which gave him the opportunity for such a rewarding career and lifestyle.
Ryan Stimming, 2003
Ryan is another Ontario transplant who never looked back once he hit the Rockies. He learned to snowboard at Dagmar and worked as an instructor at Lakeridge in high school. He started an education in mechanical engineering, but his passion for sliding on snow led him to Fernie where he did some more instructing and worked on trail crew before finding himself in the SROAM Program.
Risk and safety programs manager at Panorama, Ryan Stimming, has been very active with CWSAA and Go2HR committees to improve risk and safety programs for the ski industry as a whole.
He chose Panorama for his work term because he saw potential there for year-round work. That was also a major factor for me choosing Panorama 20 years earlier. Ryan knew he wouldn’t get rich in the ski business, but figured if he could make steady money, he could build a career. He knew his first job as a ticket checker was just a starting point and if he did it well, doors would open. Within a year he had a full-time, year-round job in sales and marketing where he spent the next six years.
In 2010, he was offered the job as risk manager. During his seven years in that role, he took on whatever other responsibilities were offered including managing the nordic area, the bike park and safety services which included supervising the security team. During much of that time, Ryan was chair of the CWSAA Risk Management Committee, a huge job with high exposure to the industry. He handled it incredibly well. He has also been very active in committee work with Go2HR on ski industry safety initiatives.
He became mountain operations manager in 2017, overseeing up to 120 staff in lifts, patrol, and grounds maintenance, but has since returned to an expanded risk management position as risk and safety programs manager. That year, he was recognized by the CWSAA for those contributions as the recipient of the Lars Fossberg Excellence Award.
Ryan is well aware that he has the knowledge and experience to make significantly more money in another industry, but has no interest. He lives comfortably with his family in a fabulous town and goes to work every day in a beautiful location with friends and like-minded people who he enjoys being with. Another happy SROAMie.
Richard Roy, 2010
Richard has the unusual distinction of having had more than 35 years of ski industry experience prior to attending the SROAM Program and of being the oldest person to graduate. Starting as a volunteer ski patroller at Forbidden Plateau on Vancouver Island in 1970, he progressed into work as an avalanche forecaster and heliski guide over the following decade. Between 1982 and 2009 he held positions in outdoor operations management at Shames Mountain, Ski Smithers (now Hudson Bay Mountain), Mount Sima Yukon, and Manning Park and general manager positions at Mount Hays Recreation Area, Ski Smithers, and Mount Sima.
Richard has the unusual distinction of having had over 35 years of ski industry experience prior to attending the SROAM program and of being the oldest person to graduate.
With all that experience he would have been qualified to teach several of the courses in the program. He had worked with several students and graduates over the years, so had come to appreciate the value of a SROAM education. When Manning Park went into receivership, he found himself with free time and took the opportunity to get the diploma. He earned several credits through a process know as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) in which students verify they have met course outcomes with practical experience. It had been rarely used in the SROAM Program up until that time, so school chair Bob Falle learned a lot about it working through the process with Richard. Between PLA and classroom courses, Richard was able to complete the diploma requirements in about a year.
Since that time, Richard has been at Vista Ridge in Fort McMurray and is currently director of maintenance and operations. In that role, he has mentored many SROAM students who choose Vista Ridge for their work term where they get an opportunity to work in virtually every department.
There are many more graduates who are included in the Hall of Fame, several who have been highlighted in previous Tales of SROAM Success. Scroll down to get their stories. They are:
Peter Wood 1981 – 28 years SROAM Instructor
John Shea 1983 – VP with Skiing Louise, President of Resort Operations with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies
Mike Adams 1984 – Owner and GM Whitewater
Bob Dodge 1984 – HR and Risk Manager at Cypress, 24 years SROAM instructor
Dorothy Gould 1984 – Management at Skiing Louise and Sunshine Village, currently associate member representative on CWSAA board
Todd Allison 1985 – leadership positions at Freestyle Canada, VANOC and Own the Podium,
Steve Paccagnan 1988 – VP with Intrawest, several GM positions, President & CEO Panorama, Chair CWSAA
Jason Gill 1990 – Provincial Safety Manager Ropeways and Amusement Rides, BC Safety Authority, currently at Grouse Mountain
Tim Foster 1990 – GM positions at Mount Baldy, Beaver Valley, Mike Wiegele, chief of mountain operations at Sun Peaks
Bart Donnelly 1993 – Destination sales manager Banff Lake Louise Tourism, director of business development Travel Alberta
Marty Thody 1993 – GM Boler Mountain, London (Ontario)
Clive Jackson 1994 – F&B Management Silver Star, owner Jackson’s Hole Restaurant in Nelson
Chris Beckett 1995 – Senior Rental Retail Manager Whistler Blackcomb, GM Marble Mountain, Beaver Valley
Chris Romanuik 1995 – Lift Installer Dopplemayr, Lift Mechanic Whistler Blackcomb
Rob Stevens 1997 – Lift Ops Manager Sun Peaks, Manager and Director Summit Lake
Charles Arnold 1998 – Rental Supervisor Whitewater, Store Manager Gerick Ski and Cycle Nelson
Mark Talbot 2000 – District Avalanche Supervisor Kootenay Pass, BC Ministry of Transport
Bryan Ralph 2001 – Ski photographer, video editor
Cody Lynge 2002 – Head of Sports Marketing, Red Bull Canada
Several other SROAMies wereinducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, but many of those are no longer in the ski industry and the scope of this project did not permit me to track them all down, but their contributions to the ski industry deserve recognition.
Peter Fullerton 1981 – Patrol/operations management at Red Mountain
Don Bradshaw 1983 – Operations/maintenance manager Nakiska and Mount Washington
Don Jones 1984 – Lift maintenance manager, Red Mtn, Kicking Horse, Mt. Seymour. Developer of maintenance management systems
Tom Tischik 1984 – Guest service supervisor Whitewater, Executive director Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, Travel Penticton Society
Roby Cran 1984 – Career groomer, Sun Peaks, Whistler Blackcomb
Muriel Mcleod 1986 – Event manager + other roles Fernie Alpine Resort
Jamie Cox 1987 – Operations and maintenance management at Hemlock, Mount Seymour, and Skiing Louise
Dan Yoja 1987 – Rental manager Hemlock
Mark Gascoine 1990 – Marketing manager Cypress Bowl and Whistler Blackcomb, CEO Trampoline Branding
Tom Tatryn 1990 – GM Castle Mountain
Carole Bissonnette 1992 – Owner White Grizzly Cat Skiing
Glenn Bond 1993 – Nordic athlete, Nordic manager + other senior roles Silver Star
Wade Garrod 1994 – Freestyle coach BC Freestyle
Brent Curtain 1996 – Public relations manager Mount Washington
Shane Dekkers 1997 – Snowmaking manager Sun Peaks
Mike Perks 1997 – Snow making manager Skiing Louise, Snowmaking Consultant
Brian MacFarlane 1997 – Lift maintenance Big White, Lift inspector Technical Safety BC
Liat Tan 1998 – Snowschool director Hidden Valley Ski Area
Ryan Ferris 1999 – Maintenance and operations manager somewhere in Eastern Canada
Jeff Stewart 1999 – Maintenance manager Mount Norquay, Snowcat fleet maintenance manager VANOC 2010
Kris Keenan 2000 – Lift installer Poma
Andrew George 2001 – Terrain park manager Cypress Mountian, Coach SFU Snowboard Team
Stay tuned for my next edition of Tales of SROAM Success in which this year’s inductees into the Hall of Fame will be revealed.
I’m not done with chronicling SROAM stories yet. I did take the summer off to rehab my knee replacement, get some projects done around home, play on the river and spend a bunch of quality time with my geriatric dog. This series of stories would not be complete without one about the faculty that have played a huge role in the success of the program and its students.
So here it is…
Back somewhere about 1976, some ski industry leaders collaborated with a Selkirk College Forest Technology Program instructor to create and deliver a few courses on ski area development, mostly around run design and construction. Fred Bosinger was the general manager at Red Mountain. Peter Alder was GM and vice president of a growing Garibaldi Lifts Company (Whistler Mountain). Hugh Smythe was in the process of building Blackcomb Mountain. Once Blackcomb opened in 1980, Hugh and Peter were fierce competitors when it came to selling lift tickets, but good friends and formidable collaborators when it came to establishing Whistler as a world class ski destination, or when supporting the ski industry through the CWSAA (Canada West Ski Areas Association).
Educational pioneers (L-R) Hugh Smythe, Fred Bosinger, Peter Alder and Jimmie Spencer were the industry leaders responsible for the creation of the SROAM Program.
Rod Loftus was an instructor in the forestry program at Selkirk College with a passion for skiing. Together the four men put together the beginnings of a part-time program. In 1979, Jimmie Spencer was hired as the executive director of the CWSAA. Being a “get things done” kind of guy, Jimmie pushed for a full-time one-year Ski Resort Operations & Management Program. One year later, SROAM was born and was enrolling its first class of students.
Rod was the inaugural full-time instructor in the program, but after a year and half decided to pursue a career as a financial advisor. I was thrilled to meet Rod when he attended the SROAM 30th anniversary celebrations. Fred, Peter, Hugh and Jimmie were all also there; it was great honor to recognize them all for their vision and commitment.
All four men have been recipients of both the Jim Marshall Leadership Award and the Jimmie Spencer Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest praise possible from their ski industry colleagues. Sadly, Rod, Fred, Jimmie and Peter have all passed away in recent years leaving Hugh as the lone living founder of the program.
After leaving Red Mountain, Fred Bosinger was VP of operations and GM at Sunshine Village where he continued his strong support of the CWSAA and ski racing. His amazing contributions to racing resulted in Fred being inducted into the Canadian Rockies Ski Racing Hall of Fame. Sunshine Village provides two generous annual scholarships to SROAM students in Fred’s name.
Jimmie Spencer was the SROAM program’s biggest supporter for his entire 32 years leading the CWSAA. He retired at the age of 85. Peter’s influence can be seen and felt all over the community of Whistler, on and off the mountain. Peter spent some time as the general manager of the Whistler Resort Association, chair of the Whistler Planning Commission and president of Whistler Chamber of Commerce.
For almost three decades, Hugh Smythe was the president for Intrawest Corp which operated about a dozen of North America’s premier resorts plus some in Europe. I have often credited Hugh and the Intrawest culture with significantly raising the bar in customer service throughout the resort industry. They set the example that everyone else followed.
Peter Wood took over the teaching job from Rod in January 1982. He had a BA in English and two years teaching high school, just enough, he says, to pay off his student loans so he could go ski bumming. He first worked in food and beverage in Vermont before landing a job in ski patrol at Sugarbush, eventually moving west patrolling at Lake Louise and Panorama. With the encouragement of his mentor, mountain manager Guy Messerli, he enrolled in the first SROAM class receiving the Most Outstanding Student Award. He returned to Panorama working in mountain operations and maintenance with intention working his way up the ladder. Less than six months after graduating, Rod Loftus contacted Peter suggesting he should apply for the SROAM instructor position. Peter landed the job and retired from Selkirk College after 28 years in the SROAM Program.
For his first nine years, Peter was the lone full-time instructor in the program. I give Peter 100 per cent credit for the success of the program during these years. The strength and reputation he built created the opportunity to expand SROAM to a two-year diploma program, greatly enhancing its credibility as a serious college program on par with other two-year business programs.
In 1990, Bob Falle joined Peter as the second full-time instructor. Bob is a graduate of Humber College’s Recreation Leaderships Program and Ski Resort Management Program, the first program of its kind in Canada. He gained a huge a variety of experience in indoor and outdoor operations, administration and marketing at both Chicopee Ski Club and Glen Eden Ski Area. He had also taught part-time in the Humber program for a few years. His knowledge of the Ontario industry and his many contacts there also proved be a valuable addition at Selkirk College.
For the next six years, Peter and Bob continued to build the program until there was a two-year wait list to enroll. The academic year of 1996-1997 was a transition period for the program. Bob was promoted to the position of Chair of the School of Hospitality & Tourism and Peter began work on writing two textbooks, Ski Lift Functions Maintenance and Regulations, and Ski Area Risk Management. They have been a tremendous asset to for both the program and the ski industry. Combined, the textbooks have sold well over 2,000 copies. Industry veteran and long-term SROAM Advisory member Bob Bell recently completed an update on the lift text. Bob and Peter’s new roles opened the door for Scott Siemens and myself to be hired as new instructors in 1996. A second class was added resulting in the hiring of John Waterer in 1997. We had more than 55 SROAMies start the program that year.
Scott Siemens was also a graduate of the Humber College Ski Area Management Program while Bob Falle was a part-time instructor there. They became close lifelong friends. Scott had a strong background in ski racing before shifting his focus to managing ski areas, first at Poley Mountain in New Brunswick, then as a young general manager at the Edmonton Ski Club. In 1990, Scott was hired to build and manage Shames Mountain in Terrace, where he established himself as a respected industry leader resulting in a term on the CWSAA board of directors. There he also met the love of his life Tanis.
Scott brought a wealth of experience to his job at Selkirk College which allowed him to teach a wide variety of courses from Grooming to Snow School Management. He had a natural gift for communicating with and relating to the SROAM students. After eight years, the double class proved not to be sustainable and when the college decided to return to a single class, Scott chose to return to the Okanagan with Tanis. There he developed a successful career in recreational real estate. Sadly, Scott passed away in 2014 after battling cancer. He will always be fondly remembered by his students and many ski industry friends and colleagues.
I started my ski industry career on my SROAM work-term working at the front desk at Panorama, moving to group sales and then was conference coordinator. I was initially planning on focusing my career on marketing, but soon became more interested in human resources. I needed more education, so I enrolled in the HR Management Program at BCIT with the goal of becoming a ski area HR manager. Panorama will always hold a special place in my heart as it was my introduction to the ski industry, some of the most memorable (and some of the foggiest) days of my life. There, I also met Mary Lou, my life partner of 36 years.
While at BCIT I worked part-time at Cypress Bowl (now Cypress Mountain) in snow school sales and ski patrol. During those summers, I worked as a whitewater raft guide which sparked my love for playing on rivers and gave me very practical lessons in risk management which would prove very useful throughout my career. Upon graduating, I was given the opportunity to create a one-person HR department at Cypress. About four years in, I started taking on risk management responsibilities and in my last few years I was both HR manager and safety/security manager.
There are two things I am most proud of during my time at Cypress. The first is the creation of the Youth WEST (Work Experience and Skills Training) program. Working in partnership with high schools, it was designed to introduce 50 students each year to ski industry employment while giving them a structured and guided experience in the development of basic service industry skills. It was really gratifying to see some of these students still working at Cypress several years later. And even more gratifying when a few showed up in the SROAM Program. The Youth WEST program continued to run for about 15 years after I left.
The second is the creation of the CWSAA HR Committee, along with a few other HR managers. There weren’t many of us in 1988. Recognizing that I needed some help translating my education into practical ski area HR practices, I started calling other ski area HR people to pick brains and share ideas. This led to the creation of small wage survey of six west coast ski areas and HR issues being put on the agenda at a CWSAA meeting. Before long, we had a small but functioning HR committee focussed on sharing the best HR practices of the time amongst our group and the CWSAA membership. The greatly expanded wage survey is still an annual ritual, now conducted by CWSAA staff. I worked closely with and became friends with some fabulous people on that committee and am very proud of the work we accomplished over the 25-ish years I was active. Gord Ahrens (Whistler), Lee Ann Johnson (Sunshine), Karen Baukham (WB), Kate Dodd (Mt. Washington), Kirby Brown (WB), Nicole Morgan (Panorama), Alison Crick (Silver Star) and many more all contributed immensely to the committee. It continues to do great work under current committee chair, Helen Davies from Sun Peaks. I have tremendous fondness and respect for these people.
Mary Lou and I spent 10 great years at Cypress. We were both ready for a change and looking for opportunities when Cyndi McLeod, Dean at Selkirk College, called me suggesting I apply for the SROAM instructor position. I never expected to spend 24 years there, but it was too good of a gig to give up. One of my pet projects while at Selkirk College was the development and delivery of the Ski Resort Risk Management on-line course designed for people working in the industry. The diversity of working online and with mid-career learners was very rewarding. I feel extremely fortunate to have had a job I loved, working with stellar colleagues and aspiring ski industry professionals. Writing these stories about many graduates from before and during my time at the college reinforces how the SROAM Program has had such positive impacts on so many lives and on the ski industry.
John Waterer joined the faculty a year after Scott and me. John earned a Master of Engineering degree, but was always drawn back to the ski industry. Early in his career, he taught skiing at Silver Star and worked on the installation of a chair lift at Tillicum Valley Ski Area near Vernon. He taught a ski area management at Wenatchee Valley College in Washington State until, as John describes it, “he was invited to leave the country.” John spent 10 years at New Zealand ski areas culminating in the job as GM at Mount Hutt. John then returned to Canada as financial controller at Wintergreen Ski Area near Bragg Creek, Alberta. Both Tillicum Valley and Wintergreen have since closed. Students will remember John’s many stories from his time as general manager at Ski Smithers, now Hudson Bay Mountain.
As an engineer, John has an extremely methodical mind. He was brilliant with anything mechanical or related to numbers and had a gift for simplifying such concepts for students. He took exceptional pride in his work and was one of the most committed people I have ever worked with.
The 2010-2011 academic year was another transition period for the SROAM Program with Peter and John retiring within a year of each other. This opened the door for Robyn Mitz and Ross White.
Robyn Mitz started teaching with us part-time while she was indoor operations manager at Whitewater gradually increasing her workload as it became available, eventually becoming full-time teaching in all programs in the School of Hospitality & Tourism. During that period, she also spent a year as GM of Granite Pointe Golf Course in Nelson. Robyn brought a strong academic record to the program with her Bachelor of Science and Masters in Leadership & Training. She has contributed greatly to the modernization of curriculum especially in terms of marketing, technology and Indigenous issues.
Ross White, aka Rosco, was the well-known outdoor operations manager at Whitewater for many years. He is a die-hard powder hound. For decades he has been a recognizable figure ripping up the Blast with an audience on the Summit Chair. While not as fast as he once was, and his skis stay closer to the snow, he does pretty good for an old guy. He thinks he is still good enough to regularly remind the students that he is best skier in the class. He brings his photos from Powder Magazine and shows his appearance in the classic ski movie, Sinners as proof.
A close second to Ross’s passion for skiing is his passion for teaching. He does both with great enthusiasm. Prior to joining the SROAM faculty, Ross enjoyed training apprentice millwrights at Whitewater and then teaching the Millwright/Machinist Program at Selkirk College. He loved that job, but saw teaching in the SROAM Program as an upgrade as he would have several days each winter that he would actually get paid to ski. He has a straight talking, down-to-earth and humorous approach to teaching that makes him a favorite instructor with many students.
In addition to classroom teaching, in collaboration with CWSAA and Technical Safety BC, Ross has been instrumental in the ongoing delivery of four lift maintenance and operations courses taken by hundreds of lift supervisors and mechanics. These courses were originally developed by Peter Wood and have recently been updated by Bob Bell into a fully on-line delivery format.
The year 2018 marked the end of an era with the retirement of Bob Falle. In six years of teaching and 22 as school chair, his accomplishments and contributions are too numerous to detail here. He worked with the Selkirk Foundation to secure numerous scholarships for SROAM students, now totalling more than $7,000 per year. He was the key link between the college, the CWSAA, Technical Safety BC, and the Alberta Elevating Devices and Amusement Rides Safety Authority in the development of the lift courses mentioned above, a legacy that will benefit the ski industry for years to come. In 2016, Bob was honored as the recipient of the Colin Chedore Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Ski Counsel. Asking Bob to reflect on his career he says, “My time at Selkirk College allowed me the honor of working with very inspiring industry professionals and educators in support of student who have gone onto succeed in many aspects of the ski and snowboard industry.”
Martin Keyserlingk had big shoes to fill replacing Bob as the new school chair, but has been stellar in that role. Martin taught part-time in the SROAM Program and was the learning skills coordinator at our campus prior to stepping up into this job. His vast experience in the ski industry has been a huge asset to the program. He started ski instructing at the age of 15 and moved to Whistler right after high school. He did a few years of patrolling and coaching at Silver Star and then was a tour operator with the Stumboeck Club in their hay-day. Martin and a partner created and operated Valhalla Powder Cats in the Slocan Valley. He was lead guide for eight years and stayed on as operations manager for another three after selling the business to Snowwater Heliskiing. He continues to heliski guide part-time and still teaches the AST (Avalanche Skills Training) to the SROAM class. The entire faculty in the School of Hospitality & Tourism are very pleased to have Martin in this position.
CJ Matthews-Dickson is the new kid on the block. As I write this, she has been a SROAM instructor for about nine weeks. CJ is a SROAM grad from the class of 2006 and brings a wealth of experience from before and after that time. She will forever be the first SROAM instructor who is a committed snowboarder. It remains to be seen if she can beat Rosco down the Blast, but my money would be on her. She taught snowboarding in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. before attending SROAM and has been at Panorama for 15 years since. She started in accounting and after a few years moved into the mountain operations supervisor role. In recent years she has been both risk manager and mountain operations manager.
I will always care deeply about the success of the SROAM Program and am thrilled that CJ has been chosen to replace me. Women have long been underrepresented in the program and in the industry. I have no doubt that CJ will be an inspiration to female students and future leaders. I always found that being a SROAM graduate gave me an empathetic perspective on the students. I’m sure she will bring that to the job as well. She has been working part-time on earning a Bachelor of Tourism Management at Thompson Rivers University which gives her recent experience as a student and familiarity with a variety of on-line teaching tools and styles. And working alongside talented people such as Steve Paccagnan, Patrick Fournier, Brian Kroker, Blair Mumford and Ryan Stimming has to make a person’s brain a little bigger. Speaking to CJ this week I learned she is I really enjoying the job despite having a very heavy teaching load right off the bat. She is excited about her future with the SROAM Program. It is hard to imagine a better person in this position. I wish her much success and hope she enjoys it as much as I did.
There is also a long list of long-term part-time instructors in the program that influenced past students. The most notable include: Ian McAdams, Tim Pollock, Wayne Schweitzer, Bernie McMullin, Steve Bareham, Sabrina van Hellemond, Jim Greene, Blair Debnam and Rebeckah Hornung. I am so proud and honored to have worked with all these people and feel very comfortable that the program is in great hands.
Stay tuned for three more stories between now and the end of the year. I’m running out of themes, but not people to talk about. My next story will highlight the careers of SROAMies who were inducted into our Hall of Fame at our 30th Anniversary. Then I will reveal this year’s additions to the Hall of Fame and finish off with more recent graduates who have done exceptionally well in a short time and are destined for even greater things.
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The White Place for a Post-Secondary Ski Program
Whitewater Ski Resort and the SROAM program have had a symbiotic and synergistic relationship for the whole 40-year history of the program. We make each other better. In this story we will look at some of the SROAMies who have contributed to the success of Whitewater. But first I would like to acknowledge what Whitewater does and has done to enhnce and support the program.
Regardless of who has been at the helm of Whitewater, they have always been active members of the Program Advisory Committee which is crucial to keeping the curriculum current and maintaining a strong relationship with the ski industry. Whitewater has literally provided SROAM with an on-mountain classroom. They have always been so generous in making their facilities and staff available. Students visit the mountain and/or have Whitewater management or staff speak to them for virtually all the operational courses, including: Ski Area Planning, Lifts, Grooming, Facilities Maintenance, Snow Safety and Ski Patrol, Rental Retail, Snow School and Guest Services, Events, and Ski Area Construction. This direct exposure to ski area facilities adds so much value to the educational experience for students.
Whitewater provides scholarships each year to second-year students with the highest academic standing. Whitewater general manager Kirk Jensen is seen here presenting the scholarship to Tristan Johnson (Class of 2020) who is the lift operation supervisor at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
For many students a highlight of this exposure is the opportunity to spend several hours in a snowcat with the Whitewater grooming crew. Lead groomer, and SROAM grad from 1986 Sean Hetherington, facilitates a groomer ride-along shift for every student every year. Students who are keen to get into grooming are often invited to do extra shifts. This has helped several of them secure grooming positions at other resorts for their workterms. Sean is the longest term SROAMie at Whitewater.
Students and faculty are so grateful for the opportunity to enhance classroom learning with a hands-on experience. SROAM instructors Ross White and Robyn Mitz were Whitewater’s outdoor and indoor operations managers respectively prior to coming to Selkirk College, so they have intimate knowledge of how to best utilize Whitewater for the benefit of the students. Whitewater also provides scholarships each year to second-year students with the highest academic standing.
Whitewater has employed so many SROAM students and graduates I can’t begin to cover them all. I estimate that during my time with the program an average of two to three students per year complete their workterm at Whitewater, some staying long term, some moving on after a season or two. The math suggests that would be a about 100 in total in 40 years.
There is no question the SROAMie who has had the biggest impact on Whitewater is my friend and classmate from the Class of 1984, Mike Adams. Mike managed to land the general manager job at Whitewater shortly after graduating from SROAM. The ski area was run by a not-for-profit society that Mike says took the not-for-profit part too literally. The society was deep in debt, so his mandate was to get it on solid financial footing.
As a recent graduate, Mike thought he didn’t have much of a chance of getting the job. But he had Bachelor of Commerce degree, so was comfortable reading and discussing the financial statements. Mike also credits his workterm at Mount Washington with preparing him for the job. The GM there was a strong supporter of the SROAM program and designed a workterm that saw Mike working in virtually every department on the mountain. Knowing Mike as a guy who is very comfortable laughing at himself, I like to suggest he got the job because he was only person they could afford.
In 1986, Mike and 11 other local businesspeople purchased Whitewater from the society, one step in the process to long-term viability. In 1996, Mike and his wife Shelley bought out the other shareholders. Shelly is solely responsible for Whitewater’s reputation of having the best food of any ski area in Canada. Her talents have led to the publishing of the award-winning Whitewater Cooks series of cookbooks.
Under Mike and Shelley’s leadership, Whitewater developed an international reputation as one of North America’s best little resorts which went hand-in-hand with Nelson’s growing reputation as an idyllic ski town. Mike was a committed supporter of the SROAM program and mentored numerous students over the years. In 2011, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the SROAM program, Mike was honored with the Selkirk College Distinguished Alumnus award for his outstanding accomplishments in the ski industry and support of the program.
When it came time to consider retirement, Mike and Shelley started looking for potential buyers who would carry their vision for the resort forward. In 2008, they were fortunate to find current owners Knee Deep Development who were committed to maintaining and improving upon the incredible Whitewater culture. Mike and Shelley’s timing could not have been better with the economic crash of 2008 coming about a month after the sale.
For the sake of brevity, I will fast forward past the numerous SROAMies who have contributed to the success of Whitewater over the years and highlight those that there now.
This winter, 17 SROAM grads were employed with Whitewater. That number has been fairly consistent since a mass influx from the Class of 2016. Eight students from that class have worked at Whitewater and five are still there.
All five of the women from that class have spent time at Whitewater. Nicola Mitchell spent three seasons in a variety of guest service roles and is now completing her degree at Thompson Rivers University. Paisley Randall coached the Whitewater Ski Team for three seasons. She also has the distinction of being the first (and only) second generation SROAM grad. Her father Craig Randall graduated in 2005. He has been a long-term volunteer with the Whitewater Ski Team.
All five of the women from the Class of 2016 have contributed to the Whitewater team, (L-R) Paisley Randall, Devon Brooke, Nicola Mitchell, Hanna Ferris and Katrina Brinovec.
Devon Brook and Kat Brinovec are enduring stalwarts of the trail crew. Both seem quite entrenched at Whitewater, so I suspect we will see their smiling faces there for years to come. Devon hails from Field, BC and worked at Lake Louise for a few years but has converted to a die-hard West Kootenay girl. Kat is also a convert, unlikely to return to her roots on the slopes of Lakeridge Resort in Caledon, Ontario.
Hanna Ferris is the retail supervisor. She is another one born to be a SROAMie with both her parents being graduates of the Humber College Ski Resort Management program in the 1980s. She grew up at Hidden Valley Resort in Hunstville, Ontario where her father was operations manager, so she knew what sheave assemblies and grouser bars were before arriving at SROAM. Hanna has been picking away at completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but is in no hurry to move onto another career as she is quite fond of her nine-month-a-year gig at Whitewater.
Graham Gardner is another 2016 alumnus who could become a Whitewater lifer. He has had a few roles from retail to loader operator, but has primarily worked trail crew with a passion for the terrain park and is now the park groomer.
Rounding out representation from the Class of 2016 is Kyle Urvold. Kyle completed his workterm at Sunshine Village in the group services and events department. He worked as a bike mechanic for a few years, before landing the much-coveted job in lift maintenance at Whitewater in 2018. He is currently working his way through the Millwright Apprenticeship program.
Matt Dinunzio (Class of 2006) is a 15-year veteran at Whitewater and is also a millwright apprentice. In his first year as a lift operator Matt won the Employee of the Year award, which helped earn him a job as one of Whitewater’s first terrain park builders. He has also spent several years in the shop doing snowcat maintenance.
The rental shop has been a highly popular department at Whitewater for SROAMies. Lee Richmond (Class of 2010) has been there since graduating with the exception of a two-year hiatus to earn a Bachelor of Tourism & Recreation at Vancouver Island University. He has been the shop supervisor for several years and has a very compatible summer job as coordinator of the Nelson Paddle Rental Center at Lakeside Park. He loves the variety the two jobs provide and enjoys a little time off each spring and fall between jobs. Anthony Wanless (Class of 2012) from Williams Lake has been Lee’s right-hand man for close to a decade, and James Wilfong-Pritchard (Class of 2017) has added much to the team with the experience he gained on his workterm in the rental department at Whistler Blackcomb.
Jeff Kennedy (Class of 2017) is the most recent SROAMie to take on a supervisory role, leading the indoor guest services crew. Jeff completed his workterm and the following year in an administrative role at Snowwater Heli-Skiing/Valhalla Powder Cats before joining the Whitewater team. He is currently working on getting his real estate licence, so he may be the guy to see when Whitewater starts developing their real estate plans.
Bradley Moore (Class of 2013) hails from Nova Scotia and is now in his eighth year at Whitewater. In the winter he has possibly the best job on the mountain leading the trail crew. He has stayed on most summers and been involved in virtually all the facility improvements during that time. He is very adept at swinging a hammer, a paint brush or brush saw.
Laurence (Lo) Bachand (Class of 2011) has ten seasons in at Whitewater. To say that Lo is a colorful character is an understatement. She well known for her skiing talents; few people can keep up with her. She is also an accomplished hockey player and mountain biker. Whatever she does, she does with gusto. I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Lo the summer before she enrolled in SROAM due to our shared passion for whitewater paddling. We had some good adventures together on and off the river, but I will refrain from further elaboration here. Lo is a senior patroller and has her CAA Avalanche Operations Level 2 certification and loves teaching AST (Avalanche Skills Training) courses. In the summer, Lo leads a crew for BC Wildfire Service.
The lone SROAM representative in snow school is British born George Madeley (Class of 2019). George put in a season teaching at Whistler Blackcomb before attending SROAM and last year passed his level 3 CASI (Canadian Association of Snowboard Instructors) certification.
Completing the roster of Whitewater SROAMies are three from this year’s graduating class. Josie Michaud worked with Hanna in the retail shop and was the in-house chalkboard artist, and Iain Mckay was in guest services with Jeff. Josie and Iain are a delightful young couple who met while working at Big White after migrating from the flatlands of Alberta and Saskatchewan respectively. Kirstie Leighton—from Thornhill, Scotland—spent the previous two winters in the Whitewater’s snowschool and moved into dispatch for her workterm. She was the recipient of last year’s Fred Bosinger Sunshine Village scholarship for top academic standing in first year. She can also be found a couple of nights a week serving up beer at Backroads Brewing.
Indoor guest services supervisor Jeff Kennedy (Class of 2017) and Iain Mckay (Class of 2021), a couple of flatlanders loving life in the Kootenays.
Twenty-four years in my job with the SROAM program has given me a very unique perspective into the cultures in Western Canada’s ski areas. Visiting resorts on field trips and students on workterms, in-class discussions about their experiences, keeping in touch with graduates all throughout the industry, and years of work with the CWSAA HR Committee qualify me to make at least reasonably educated assessments of ski areas employment culture. I can honestly say that Whitewater stands out as special resort in terms of its employee satisfaction and pride. The incredible snow and terrain certainly contribute to that, but so many students and graduates praise the close-knit family-like culture amongst staff as the reason they stay. Whitewater is blessed with above average retention and a reputation that produces enough applicants to be very selective in their hiring. Jerks never make in the door and if they do, they don’t last. They are one of the few resorts of any size that does not need to actively recruit foreign workers. Until about five years ago they also benefited from Nelson having a lower cost of housing than most resort communities, but that advantage has diminished somewhat.
I credit both the past and present owners and managers with building and maintaining this culture. General manager Kirk Jensen, indoor operations manager Rebeckah Hornung and outdoor operations manager Colby Lehman lead by example and the result is highly cohesive and dedicated team of managers, supervisors and staff.
I asked Kirk to share his perspective on what SROAMies bring to the Whitewater team. He responded with these words of praise: “These SROAM graduates bring a wealth of knowledge, insight and understanding to their roles and carry over their passion for the industry they developed in the SROAM program. These valuable team members help elevate our products and services, again thanks to what they have learned in the SROAM program. These staff continue to offer great leadership and strive to ensure a positive guest experience while keeping the same great Whitewater vibe alive that the resort is known for.”
On behalf of the SROAM faculty and students, past, present and future, I would like to express how thankful we are to Whitewater and how much we value the mutually beneficial relationship.
Fringes of the Ski Industry
My intention for this story was to highlight graduates whose careers have naturally evolved from the ski industry to jobs outside, but closely related to it. Then I discovered that some of the people I spoke to still consider themselves very much a part of the industry. So rather than trying to make a black-and-white, somewhat irrelevant distinction, out of gray, I have chosen to categorize all as on the fringes. This way I can keep with my pattern of having a somewhat coherent theme for each story.
Scott and Josie Macdonald (Class of 2004) have the distinction of having met in the SROAM Program, married and produced SROAMie babies. Rio and Casey are not the only kids out there with two SROAMie parents, but they may be the only two whose parents met in the SROAM classroom.
Scott and Josie both completed their workterms at Sunshine Village, Josie in retail and Scott on ski patrol. They went their separate ways for a few years with Josie working for CMH Heliskiing and Scott continuing to patrol at Sunshine and in New Zealand. In different years, they also both earned a Bachelor of Entrepreneurial Management at Royal Roads University. Many SROAMies have taken advantage of this program that allows graduates of two-year business diploma programs to complete their degree in one intensive year at Royal Roads.
They reconnected and started a business buying rundown heritage houses and buildings, renovating them, and selling them. This was based primarily in Vancouver, but eventually evolved into a property management company in Whistler where they have been loving the mountain lifestyle since 2012. Josie says their business can be a lot of work and stressful at times, but gives them the flexibility to frequently play on the skis/bikes and travel.
I didn’t want to pry too much into the details of their business, but they have managed to accumulate enough real estate holdings to house 50 people. They have a beautiful home which is part of their business that they rent for several weeks each year to finance their travel habit. In the last several years they have been to Italy, Japan, Vietnam, Turkey, Dominican Republic, Central America and much of southern Asia. A perusal of their photos shows they are really living the dream.
Over the last several years, Scott has been working towards his ski guide certification. He has been apprenticing at Bella Coola Heliskiing and Altus Mountain Guides, and completed a practicum on a week-long ski tour from Chamonix France to Zermatt Switzerland. In early-April, he received notice that he has successfully completed the requirement for his ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) Ski Guide Certification. Congrats Scott!
Bryan Ralph (Class of 2001) is known to almost everyone as Ralphie. He is one of the few SROAM graduates to have also completed Selkirk College’s Golf Club Management & Operations Program and for a few years after graduation alternated between winter work at Whitewater and summers at Granite Pointe Golf Course in Nelson. He is another one of our success stories who completed his workterm in Kawaba, Katashina Japan where he met Chris Romanuik, featured in my last story. He worked with Romer installing chairlifts for Doppelmayr for several years.
In addition to his sharp wit and fabulous sense of humor, Ralphie is best known for his accomplishments as a world class ski photographer. He started photography while in SROAM on a camera borrowed from his mother. He admits that part of his motivation was to get his classmates, who were better skiers than him, to let him tag along with them on the ski hill. He quickly got some great shots, so the hockey player from Peterborough was soon hanging out with the cool kids on the ski hill. Fast forward a few years and some of the world’s top skiers are amongst his good friends and the subjects of his photo talents.
Ralphie’s photos have been published in virtually every major ski magazine and he works with many companies, including Red Bull, who have sent him all over the world. While he loves being published, Ralphie says his least favorite photo activity is competing in ski photo competitions but for some reason he does it anyway. Most of the competitions are live shoot scenarios head-to-head against the best in the industry. His crowning achievement thus far was competing in the Olympus Pro Photographer Showdown which is part of the Whistler Ski & Snowboard Festival. Only a few photographers are picked to show their life work each year and he was honored to be selected.
Making a living as a ski photographer is tough, so in 2011 Ralphie started taking on some part-time contracts with Freeride Entertainment, an industry leader and innovator in video productions famous for their productions of the Red Bull Rampage, the world’s premiere mountain biking event. In 2014, that turned into a full-time job as assistant editor and he is now the post-production supervisor responsible for final completion and delivery of project to their clients.
If you want a see samples of his photography, check out his webpage www.ralphie.ca and for a closer look at his humor click on a couple of his videos on Ralphie TV. How to be Sled Sick Xmas Glow.
Cody Lynge (Class of 2002) is another character whose ski industry work evolved into a fascinating career. Cody grew up on Vancouver’s North Shore, but his parents had a place at Whistler so he did most of skiing there, joining the Blackcomb freestyle team in high school. He worked as an instructor there for two seasons before enroling in the SROAM Program.
Cody completed his workterm at Mount Seymour working as a dispatcher, which he enjoyed. But his passion was to be on the hill more than in the office. Even though it was 19 years ago, I recall his workerm project quite well. I have used it as an example many times of how students can use the project as a stepping-stone to better opportunities. The project requirements call for a solid 20-25 pages information. Cody wrote a 75-page proposal for the design and operation of the terrain park, including the events it would host. A++ work by a longshot. That impressed Seymour management enough to give him the job of running the park and its events the following season.
Under his leadership, the Mount Seymour park enhanced its reputation as the best on the North Shore and attracted many top and rising athletes, sponsors and events. During this time, he also completed his Tourism Management Degree at Capilano University.
While at Seymour, he became friends with Canadian pro-skier JP Auclair who was sponsored by Orage clothing. This relationship led to Cody accepting the job as team manager of Orage and management of global events. This job was based in Montreal. Cody missed the west coast, and his ticket back was the job of leading western Canada sales and marketing for Orage. Sadly, JP was killed in an avalanche in Chile in 2014.
In 2012, Cody took a job with Red Bull as field marketing manager for BC and in 2014 was promoted to his current job as head of sports marketing for Red Bull Canada based in Toronto. With a staff of 20, he is responsible for all Canadian events, athletes and strategic partnerships and a new division, video gaming. Like most SROAMies I have featured in theses stories, Cody credits the program with setting him on this fabulous path and connecting him with valuable contacts.
Mark Talbot (Class of 2000) is possibly the only SROAMie I know that no longer works directly in the ski industry, but still does much of his work on skis. He works for the British Columbia Ministry of Transport (MOT) as the district avalanche supervisor for Kootenay Pass. This is a highly coveted job that few people leave once they get it. It is secure year-round work in Nelson with government wage, benefits and pension. And he gets to go ski touring and throw bombs from helicopters. How cool is that?
The job has its complexities, but the objectives are quite simple: maintaining a safe and reliable highway. They keep the public safe by ensuring no avalanches hit the highway while it is open and manage avalanche control and snow removal, so any necessary closure times are as short as possible. The majority of avalanche control is done using remote controlled Gasex exploders which means so much of the off-season is spent on maintenance of this equipment in the alpine.
How does a SROAMie get a great job like this? Mark’s path was through the Whitewater ski patrol. He completed his workterm as a ski instructor at Whitewater and then moved into ski patrol. Whitewater has a strong avalanche control program, so it is great training ground for those wanting to pursue this line of work. Mark soaked up all the mentorship available from those ahead of him and in less than 10 years he progressed from rookie to the #2 position on ski patrol, picking up all the necessary certifications along the way. He started working part-time for the MOT and his timing was perfect, landing a full-time job in 2010 and moving up to the supervisor position in 2014. He now holds a CAA (Canadian Avalanche Association) Avalanche Operations Level 3 certification, the highest level.
While Mark is well known in the world of professional avalanche technicians, he is even more famous around Nelson for his prowess on the hockey rink.
Like Eric Kossakowski who was featured in my last blog, Bart Donnelly (Class of 1993) grew up skiing on Mount Blackstrap in Saskatoon and by the time he was year out of high school, he had worked in almost every department there. Bart completed his workterm at Lake Louise Ski Area doing a variety of jobs from snowmaking to ski school. He soon found himself in the interesting job of “promotions” in the sales and marketing department. This was a multifaceted job that including spending evenings bouncing around the bars of Banff, MCing events, giving away SWAG, schmoozing bartenders and servers, all in an effort to drive day ticket sales at Lake Louise. He also hosted fam tours and worked both fall consumer ski shows, as well as spring ski shows for tour operators and ski clubs throughout the US.
Bart developed a talent and a passion for working with tour operators and pursued that path as sales manager for Jasper Park Lodge focussing on the UK and Germany, destination sales manager for Whistler Blackcomb with an emphasis on the Japan market, then returned to Banff in similar roles for Ski Big 3 and Banff Lake Louise Tourism.
This all led to Bart to working for Travel Alberta as the director of business development for the US and Europe. With skiing still his primary passion and skiers being a significant portion of international tourism for Alberta, Bart definitely sees himself as still being in the ski industry. When asked how SROAM influenced his path, like others he emphasized the contacts and relationships formed in the industry as well as employers recognizing the SROAM diploma as a commitment to a career in the industry.
If I were to write stories about graduates with significant career achievements outside the ski industry, I would have no idea where I would stop. That list is very long and I need to stop somewhere. When prospective students ask me about the whether they can actually make a living in the ski industry, my standard response is: “There will always be easier ways to make money, but few that are as enjoyable.”
Many of our graduates spend anywhere from a couple of years to a decade or more in the industry before taking another career path. Sometimes that is closely related to the industry or in ski towns, sometimes it is a totally new direction. All are still part of the SROAM family and Selkirk College is proud to have part of their journey.
I’m not done yet! My next story will focus on the SROAMies of Whitewater and the fabulous partnership between the program and the ski area.
Beyond the Boundaries: Non-Resort Ski Industry Careers
What usually comes to mind when most people think of ski industry careers is working in and for a ski resort. But there is a world of opportunity in other aspects of the industry, and several of our grads have taken these paths.
I first met my good friend Chris Romanuik (Class of 1995), known to most people as Romer, when I was HR manager at Cypress Mountain and he was a SROAM student applying for his workterm job. It was one of those interviews that within about five minutes I knew I wanted to hire him, and I spent the rest of time selling him on coming to Cypress. I hired him to supervise our youth work experience program, a job he held along with a few others for four seasons. He then spent three winters in Kawaba, Japan in the program developed in partnership with Selkirk College. Those were winter jobs, so he found himself working on lift construction crews in the summers.
Chris spent the better part of 18 years building lifts for Doppelmayr all over North America and earned his millwright ticket along the way. He says he has lost count, but estimates he has had a hand in building about 50 different lifts at almost that number of different ski areas. For a young single guy, this was a pretty sweet gig.
He would normally start work in April, building one or two lifts in western Canada and then finish off the building season helping with the completion of jobs in the United States. The work weeks were long, which meant some healthy paycheques allowing him to take winters off to ski bum. Within a few years, he had made friends in numerous resorts, so couches to crash on and comp lift tickets were easy to come by. With Vancouver as home base, he skied a lot at Cypress and Whistler, but every year was able to do a trip or two following the snow and visiting friends. The highlight of these ski-bumming seasons was a 26-day ski trip through Europe, something very few people working in the ski industry can ever do.
He reminisces fondly about those years and his friends will attest to his ability fill hours of conversation with some great stories. He says his crew was often treated a little like rock stars in some towns, but eventually the novelty of living in hotels and eating pub food every night wears off. Once he found his wife-to-be, Teryle, he decided to stick closer to home and has now been a lift mechanic at Whistler Blackcomb for seven years. He still gets in his hard-core ski days, but is just as happy ripping up the slopes with Teryle and six-year-old daughter Isabelle.
Jason Gill (Class of 1990), started working for his uncle at Mount Seymour at the age of 12. By the time he graduated high school, Jason knew a ski industry career was for him and he enrolled directly in the SROAM Program. Over the next several years he spent time working at Seymour, Grouse Mountain, Hemlock Resort and completed his millwright ticket at Cypress Mountain, before a five-year stint as a lift mechanic at Whistler Blackcomb.
In 1999, he went to work for the Province of BC as a lift inspector. In 2004, responsibility for lift inspections was shifted to the newly formed BC Safety Authority, now Technical Safety BC. Soon after, as a senior lift inspector, Jason took on the two-year job of lead safety officer for the construction of the Whistler Peak to Peak Gondola, the most sophisticated aerial ropeway in North America.
In 2009, Jason was promoted to provincial safety manager of ropeways and amusement rides. It is in this role that he flourished as highly respected leader in the ski industry. He was a member and vice chair of the Z98 Technical Committee which sets the standards for design, operations, maintenance and inspections of passenger ropeways in Canada. He was also a key player in the development of lift mechanic courses, S151, S152 and S153 for surface lifts, fixed grip lifts and detachable lifts respectively, which are administered and delivered by Selkirk College. Jason was recognized on the international stage when he gave a presentation at the International Conference of Technical Supervisory Authorities (ITTAB) in Lucerne, Switzerland. This is a worldwide organization of regulatory bodies dedicated to sharing information about safety of passenger ropeways.
In 2014, Jason’s role at BC Safety Authority was greatly expanded to include elevating devices. I have no idea how many elevators and escalators there are in BC, but know it dwarfs the number of ski lifts, so this was huge portfolio of responsibility.
Sadly, in October of 2016, Jason’s career was sidetracked by a tragic accident. As a pedestrian, he was hit by car and suffered numerous life-altering injuries including a brain injury. His rehabilitation has been a long battle, but speaking to him this week he is feeling very thankful about the progress he has made. Jason is thrilled to be back in the ski industry working as maintenance planner for Grouse Mountain and as an associate on the Z-98 Technical Committee.
Another SROAMie who has had his hands on a whole bunch of chairlifts is Ross Muirhead (Class of 2010). His roots in the ski industry run deep with his parents Don and Debbie Muirhead being ski industry lifers. Don graduated in 1980 from the long defunct Humber College Ski Resort Management Program. He and Debbie started Inter-Mtn Testing and Inter-Mtn Enterprises which have been highly regarded suppliers to the ski industry for decades. Anyone who has attended a CWSAA conference golf tournament in Kelowna is very familiar with the famous Inter-Mtn shooter cart.
Don and Debbie are approaching retirement and their succession plan has been to have Ross and his sister Leah take over the two businesses. Don and Deb are currently presidents of the respective companies. Leah is CEO of Inter-Mtn Enterprises and Ross is general manager of Inter-Mtn Testing. To continue the family business tradition, both of their spouses work with them.
Inter-Mtn testing does non-destructive testing on a variety of transportation-related equipment. They got their start with ski lifts, but have branched out into a variety of industries from construction cranes to mining. The ski industry now represents about one-third of their business, but Ross says that it will always remain a core foundation and where his heart is.
In high school, Ross worked at Big White as a lift operator when he wasn’t ski racing. In the years between high school and attending SROAM, he gained experience in snowmaking and grooming at Panorama and Lake Louise while learning the ropes of NDT testing at Inter-Mtn in the summers.
Ross completed his SROAM workterm operating the transporter snow cat at Grouse Mountain during the Vancouver Winter Olympics. It was a horrible snow year, but Grouse was open 24-hours-a-day during the Olympics and hosted much of the media, so it was exciting to be a part of the action.
To diversify his experience and education, Ross spent a few years in oilfield work and taking more business courses at Okanagan College before returning full time to Inter-Mtn. As general manager, he now oversees a full-time staff of eight with a few more in the summer. He enjoys the balance of managing the business and regularly getting out to job sites. He is a shoe-in to be a future SROAM Hall of Famer.
Enough about people working with chairlifts, there is so many more career paths that SROAM grads take. Eric Kossakowski (Class of 2003) is one of many who have found great careers in the wholesale hard and soft goods side if the industry. Eric grew up skiing the mighty slopes of Mount Blackstrap, just outside Saskatoon. It was trip as a teenager to Fernie that sold him on a life involving skiing.
Eric had a couple of years Commerce at university and a season as a lifty at Whistler under his belt before attending the SROAM Program. He returned to Whistler for his workterm, spending more than two years at the Salomon Store before being recruited as a tech rep for Salomon based in Calgary. In 2007, he moved up to the position of territory manager. He still holds that position, but the account base and product offerings have increased substantially during that time. Working on commission, he is free to represent other non-competing brands so has added Therm-ic heated products and Sidas insoles to his line-up.
Eric’s vast territory includes more than 80 retail and ski area accounts stretching from the East Kootenay of BC to Thunder Bay, Ontario, so he spends some time on the road. Working for such a major international brand has also resulted in some fabulous trips to Europe. Success in his job is largely dependent on building relationships and Eric is grateful for many he established through the SROAM Program.
There are several other graduates in this line of work, but time and space don’t allow me to cover them all in detail.
- Dan Anderson (Class of 2002) operates Kingpin Agencies representing Airblaster outerwear and Union bindings amongst other brands.
- Phil George (Class of 2003) represents Wired Snowboards and Ogio Backpacks.
- Eric Gelling (Class of 2010) is a rep for Ride Snowboards.
- Matt Skaien (Class of 2014) is a rep for Smith Optics.
And now for something completely different. I first met Todd Allison (Class of 1985) when he was on his SROAM workterm at Panorama. He was a competitive freestyle skier who I remember being diligent about his training, while I was more diligent about partying. He competed for four years on the Canadian National Freestyle Team before transitioning into coaching for the team and being certified as a Chartered Professional Coach (ChCP).
The world of high-level competitive sports is a quite foreign to me, so I find Todd’s career path quite fascinating. It is the most unique ski industry career of any SROAMie I know. He was the team leader for Freestyle Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, then worked for 2010 Legacies Now which developed sport programs to develop athletes and leave lasting legacies in the communities in which it worked.
In 2005, he started work with VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) in a few roles including the Athlete Village operations manager, where he says much of his SROAM schooling became very useful. He was then recruited by the US Olympic Committee for a four-year stint working towards the Sochi Olympics among other international events, before returning to Canada to join the Own The Podium team as high-performance advisor. His current job is senior high-performance director at Freestyle Canada. In his spare time, he also was a founding member and advisory to the First Nations Snowboard Team and is a CSGA (Canadian Ski Guide Association) guide.
As the 2020-21 ski season wraps up for most resorts, I must say how impressed I am with the management teams of all the resorts who navigated through the challenges of addressing the threat of the coronavirus to remain open. Much credit must also be given to Christopher and his team at CWSAA for providing the direction and collaboration that lead to successful season for the industry. Let’s hope for simpler times next season.
Check back for my next edition of Tales of SROAM Success in which I will feature graduates whose careers paths have taken them to fringes of the ski industry.
The West May the Best, but the East Competes
No matter where SROAM students originate, most get hooked on the quality of skiing in BC and Alberta, so don’t give much thought to taking their talents elsewhere. But there are a handful who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves closer to home working in eastern Canada. Yes, as a westerner I consider Ontario to be the east, even though those there may consider themselves in the heart of Canada.
This week, we look at the careers of two alumni firmly planted in Ontario, two in the Maritimes and one who has spent time in both.
Chris Beckett from the Class of 1995, learned to ski at the now defunct Logy Bay Lump just outside St. John’s Newfoundland. Finding himself somewhat uncommitted to his first semester at university, he decided to take the winter off to be a ski instructor at Ski Martock in Nova Scotia. While in the SROAM Program, Chris says his mind was expanded to the multitude of opportunities within the ski industry. He spent a couple of years in rental/retail at Red Mountain Resort before moving to Grouse Mountain. He held a variety of positions there over six years, but most of that was as rental shop manager in the winter and overseeing tram operations in the summer.
In 2000, he took what some people may consider a bold move, going from a manager at Grouse to a supervisor at Whistler Blackcomb. He was confident in his abilities however, and over a couple of years worked his way up to become the operations manager of the multiple outlets and 300-plus employees in the rental retail division.
After the excitement of working through the 2010 Winter Olympics, he was open to new opportunities and found himself moving from coast to coast and close to home as general manager at Marble Mountain in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. Marble Mountain is known for huge, but sometimes inconsistent, snowfalls due to a base elevation of less that 50 feet above sea level. He enjoyed the challenges of improving the financially troubled area, including replacing a chairlift that was destroyed by lightning in 2014.
Since 2016, Chris has been general manager at Georgian Peaks Ski Club in Thornbury, Ontario. Chris describes the challenges of running a private club as very different than his previous jobs. The members are well-heeled, passionate people with high expectations. He also reports to a board of directors of extremely accomplished A-type personalities. Unlike many ski areas, Chris has big budgets to hire top talent in all aspects of the operation. Georgian also has a strong emphasis on ski racing, with several of its members reaching the Canadian national team.
Everyone loves Newfoundland stories, so here’s another one. Richard Wells (Class of 2010) grew up in Cornerbrook and started skiing at Marble Mountain at the age of two and working there at 16. Before coming to SROAM, Richard earned a diploma in Adventure Tourism from College of the North Atlantic. He completed his SROAM workterm at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort as administrator of snow school and ticket sales.
After graduating from Selkirk College, he returned to Newfoundland and worked as an adventure guide and ski patroller before taking on the role of sales, marketing and events manager at Marble. He is currently inside operations manager.
Richard says climate change is taking its toll on Marble with the January opening dates becoming the norm. This year, their first day open was a rather scary March 4! Obviously, Richard is concerned about the long-term future of Marble if that trend continues.
Next, we head a little further west to Sussex, New Brunswick and find John McNair (Class of 2004). In his first few years after graduation John worked as rental shop manager at Crabbe Mountain and then as marketing manager for Poley Mountain. During that time, he started a side job of doing bike repairs, not realizing that it would evolve into the opening of a very successful retail store, Outdoor Elements. His first store was only 300 square feet, but soon upgraded to a 1,200 square foot space. Unfortunately, that store burnt down in 2012 leaving John with the question of whether to rebuild of move onto something new.
He spent the next year back at Poley Mountain before deciding to reopen a bigger and better Outdoor Elements store. It is now a full-service outfitter of all things skiing, biking and hiking, including rentals and clothing. John has also opened summer seasonal outlets offering bike rentals, boat rentals and tours in Fundy National Park. Outdoor Elements is extremely community minded, supporting many local events and activities. John has also served on the Poley Mountain board of directors for six years and is currently vice chair.
When I asked John about how the SROAM Program has helped him in his career, he had an answer I have never heard before, stating he: “greatly valued the experience of the education.” He feels his experience at Selkirk College trained him to do the best he can in whatever task is before him and to pay attention to the details.
Continuing west, Ryan Arthur (Class of 2001) got his start in the business at 13-years-old at Georgian Peaks in Thornbury. Growing up on an apple farm, he learned early how to operate equipment and was working as a groomer operator before he was old enough to drive. He laughed that his dad had to drive him to work for that job.
Ryan had a couple of years of university in civil engineering before attending SROAM. The combination led him to work on several a ski area construction projects at various Ontario resorts from snowmaking system and infrastructure installations to building ski lifts for Leitner Poma.
He runs his family apple and tree farms, which gives him plenty of opportunity to continue his love of working with snow cats all winter. He has now been grooming at Beaver Valley Ski Club for 13 seasons and is considered a master in terrain park building, but now prefers operating the winch cat. In his spare time, he enjoys racing snowmobiles.
To meet Marty Thody (Class of 1993), we need to head south to Boler Mountain in London, Ontario, the southernmost ski area in Canada. As a kid, Marty was more interested in hockey than skiing, but in Grade 9 he got hooked on skiing and started working at what was the London Ski Club. He started in lifts, moving onto snowmaking and then grooming and some 34 years later is director of operations.
London Ski Club started as a not-for-profit in 1946 and in Marty’s early years there, it struggled with aging infrastructure and limited revenues and therefore had a very questionable future. Marty says he ended up back there after SROAM because they needed his help. They changed the name from London Ski Club to Boler Mountain and over the next decade started to recruit some very committed and talented people to both the operation and the board of directors.
According to Marty, they have replaced virtually everything from lodge to lifts piece by piece over many years and he is proud now that entire facility is in first-class condition. They enjoy annual revenues of about $6.5 million, offer the community a wide variety of summer and winter programming, and very affordable skiing with adult tickets as low as $37 midweek.
It is heartwarming to know that SROAM graduates have been so instrumental in the development of such success stories. Marty is currently the chair of the Ontario Snow Resorts Association. He has also been one of the program’s top recruiters, sending us numerous students over the years which will ensure his legacy in the industry will live on for decades. This year, we have Boler Mountain alumni Sean Nash and Jordan Kussman completing their workterms at Vista Ridge and Revelstoke Mountain Resort, respectively.
With the closure of Georgian College’s Ski Resort Operations Program a few years ago, SROAM at Selkirk College is Canada’s only such program. The ski industry in the east is thriving with many opportunities for ski industry professionals. I suspect this will result in many more SROAMies finding themselves heading that direction in the coming years.
Check back in next time when I will be highlighting some interesting ski industry careers, outside of resorts.
Working in Heli/Cat Heaven
If the pinnacle of the ski experience is heli and cat skiing, does that make working in that sector the ultimate ski industry job? This week I talked to SROAMies who are stoked on making their living this way. The mechanized and backcountry side of the ski industry has seen tremendous growth in the past two decades, especially in smaller operations. This growth has created some awesome opportunities for SROAM Program grads.
For most people working in the heli/cat side of the business, it is a winter-only gig. The same goes for many of those working in snow school, ski patrol, grooming etc. or those at resorts without summer operations. There are thousands of these people throughout the industry who have carved out some amazing lifestyles living in mountain towns alternating between summer and winter occupations.
Greg Barnes from the class of 2002, who grew up in Kitchener Ontario, is one such example. He had some experience and talents in food & beverage that he put to work at Grouse Mountain and then Whistler for a few years after leaving Selkirk College. Like many people, he enjoyed Whistler while he was there, but it wasn’t where he wanted to be long term.
Knowing Greg as a low-key, down-to-earth guy, Island Lake Lodge in Fernie seems like a perfect fit. He has been there over 15 years, having worked as a waiter, bartender, cat driver and now a tail guide for the past 10. He gets about 65 days each winter of paid powder skiing. He feels very fortunate to be one of the minority of ski guides with a short enough commute that he can be home every night, especially now that he has a one-year-old son. The rest of the year he makes his living as a self-employed carpenter and loves the variety of his two-occupation lifestyle. A scroll though his Facebook pictures shows that he takes full advantage of virtually all the outdoor recreational activities the Kootenays have to offer.
In contrast, Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing represents the other end of the mechanized skiing spectrum with more than 1.5 million acres of terrain.
Jordan Stiefvater (Class of 2007) and Jason Martin (2008) both started at Mike Wiegele Heli Skiing on their SROAM work-terms in a guide apprentice program. That season gave them the opportunity to prove themselves and their potential. They passed with flying colors and have fast-tracked up the hierarchy to become two of the youngest senior lead guides. They are both level 3 CSGA, Canadian Ski Guide Association, certified and Jason now teaches level 1 and 2 courses. They credit the incredible training and safety culture at Mike Wiegele and the opportunity to be mentored by several leading industry veterans, including Mike himself.
The early years were challenging with so much to learn, including catering to guests who are incredibly wealthy with high expectations for every aspect of their experience, but they joked that now they are pretty much given the keys to the helicopter and a lot of autonomy on where to ski. It’s pretty cool to look out the window of the helicopter and say, “let’s go ski there,” says Jason. Jordan stated that “you need to be in it for the long haul to make it worthwhile.” When first working as a tail guide with little seniority, the work was a little sparse. But as lead guides, they get 16-18 weeks of lucrative work each winter. They both described their work as being incredibly rewarding with every day being different and so many variables to consider in giving the guests the ultimate experience without any compromise on safety.
In the off-season Jordan runs his own business as a certified glazier in his hometown of Courtney/Comox. Jason returns to his home of Vernon and supervises the bike trail crew at Silver Star Mountain.
Sorry to interject a little personal side story here, but I find it amusing. Did I ever tell you about the time Kiefer Sutherland stole my seat on the helicopter? I was visiting Jason while on his work-term. As a guest at MW, I was put on a stand-by list for skiing, if a seat was available. Having a few beers with Jordan in the bar the previous night, I noticed Kiefer Sutherland was there with his crew from the show 24. They were partying which I thought may bode well for an empty seat for me the next day.
It is like a movie scene when all of the helicopters arrive in-formation in the morning to pick up the skiers. As I was chatting with Jordan, each helicopter filled up and took off until there was one left. The skiers started to load and counting them, it seemed they were a couple of people short of being full. I asked Jordan to check if there may be a seat for me. He came back and said, “no, more people are on their way.” I then saw Kiefer and his buddy dragging themselves and their skis towards the helicopter. No skiing for me that day, but a story that I have squeezed a lot of mileage out of.
Baldface Lodge, host venue of multiple Red Bull events, is just outside Nelson and has been such a popular place for our graduates to work that I can’t possibly highlight them all individually in the scope of this story. There are currently five who have been there for many years and several more who have worked a couple of seasons.
I contacted Baldface owner Jeff Pensiero for some insight on the value the SROAMies have brought the business and he was quick to praise their contributions. He emphasized their understanding of how all aspects of a resort work together to create a first-class and safe experience for guests.
One of the world’s best known catski operations, Baldface Lodge just outside of Nelson has added many SROAM Program grads to its roster of outstanding employees. Long term SROAMies currently at Baldface currently include: lead guide Brad McBeath (2001), tail guide Devon Smith (2009), cat driver Joel Comely (2010), cat driver Layton O’Dwyer (2011) and bartender Nicholas Christian (2014). You can spot all of them (except Layton) in this staff photo at the lodge.
Baldface has created an incredible family-like culture that has resulted in very low staff turnover. This means that students wanting to get in, often need to start at the entry level job of “Inside Homey,” which involves many hours in the dish pit. I have often been impressed with student’s willingness to accept this job, trusting that hard work and the right attitude will pay off. Jeff says the SROAMies “are fun to work with because they love what they do, and they love where they do it, and it shows!” He also appreciates their inquisitive nature and desire to learn.
The long term SROAMies currently at Baldface include: lead guide Brad McBeath (2001), tail guide Devon Smith (2009), cat driver Joel Comely (2010), cat driver Layton O’Dwyer (2011) and bartender Nicholas Christian (2014).
With the team culture, it seems job descriptions are only guidelines; everyone pitches in to get things done. A student working the inside homey job a couple of years ago said it was not uncommon for Joel and other more senior staff to jump in and help cleaning up the kitchen, often brining him a beer as well.
One way to get year-round work in this side of the industry is to own your own business. Phil and Kay Pinfold from the class of 2005 did just that, buying Retallack along with some partners in 2007. Phil says he came to the SROAM Program hoping to find a big opportunity. Retallack, a snowcat operation with incredible snow and terrain located about an hour north of Nelson, was struggling financially at the time and looking for a manager that could potentially buy in.
Phil and Kay committed to one season, but quickly saw amazing potential in the business and put the pieces together to facilitate the purchase. In their first decade, they grew from hosting only 342 skier days to 2,700 and about half that number of mountain bike guests in summer.
Working with very limited budgets in the early years, innovative marketing strategies were needed. They brought in high-profile pro skiers Tanner Hall and Seth Morrison, and industry heavyweights as minor share holders, which resulted in almost immediate international recognition. This led to them hosting Red Bull Cold Rush events, filming of top ski movies, and receiving a 2009 ranking as the “Best Cat or Heliskiing Operation in the World” by Freeskier Magazine.
They have also built the world’s largest backcountry mountain bike operation, using both helicopters and all-terrain military vehicles for uphill transportation. Now some of the world’s best skiers and riders are amongst Retallack’s regular guests. These are truly amazing accomplishments in a few years. Phil and his other managing partner Chris have had a strong vision of what they are building and a great deal of confidence and persistence to make it a reality. Phil also gives a lot of credit to his dedicated team at Retallack and many strong relationships with external partners.
Another Ontario transplant, Ben Whitton (2018) is also living the Kootenay powder dream just a few years after graduation. He earned a BA in Kinesiology, but by the time he graduated realized he didn’t have the passion for it. He did, however, have a passion for snowboarding and figured there had to be a way to devote that passion towards a career.
It was during a SROAM field trip to Selkirk Snowcat Skiing that he had his “a-ha” moment and realized that was the kind of place for him. The following year, Ben completed his SROAM work term at Snowwater Heliskiing and its sister operation Valhalla Powder Cats. He was the front office guy who checked in the guests, got the waivers signed, sold logo wear, worked dispatch, and cleaned the washrooms. He wasn’t sure how much potential there was to grow from that position, but was keen to learn and take on as much responsibility as they were willing to give him. His development and mentorship under owners Patric and Maria started almost immediately.
Snowwater had been working on a crown land tenure application to build a rally track at their alpine lodge in the Bonnington Range of the Selkirk Mountains. Ben had some spare time in his normal day, so started working on that application. Before long, it became his project. The application was approved and he worked himself into a summer job of coordinating its construction as well as other summer construction projects. He admits he had little experience in these areas, but had a clear understanding of what he knew, what he didn’t and wasn’t shy about asking for direction when needed. “The whole process was an amazing learning experience,” says Ben.
When Patric and Maria decided they may want to sell the Valhalla portion of the business to focus 100 per cent on Snowwater, Ben was given the task of negotiating the sale to Baldface Lodge. Another huge learning opportunity which he was happy to take on.
Ben proved to be extremely skilled with guest relations, teamwork, problem solving and logistics which are all so essential in this business. When I asked him to describe his progress through various jobs, he admitted that his job titles rarely described accurately what he did. He just kept taking on more and more responsibilities. Now in his fourth year, he oversees most of the operation other than guiding.
Ben is simply ecstatic with his life. He has a job he loves that challenges him daily. He was able to buy a house close to work with his Kootenay-born girlfriend Katie. He keeps his sled in the back of his truck and uses it to commute up to the Snowwater lodge. On days off he is skiing Whitewater, sled-touring or mountain biking. His transition to Kootenay life was completed when he adopted his dog Everest.
I wasn’t able to reach 1992 grad Carole Karafil for this story, but felt it would be incomplete without at least a mention. She and her husband Brad are owners of White Grizzly Cat Skiing in Meadow Creek. Two of my best days skiing days ever were at White Grizzly and Retallack. The skiing, the terrain, the whole experience at these places is truly world class.
In our next story of SROAM successes we will feature graduates who have taken their skills back to Eastern Canada.
SROAMies From Around the Globe
If there is such thing as a “typical” SROAM Program student, I would describe them as a 19 to 22-year-old Canadian, most likely from Ontario, with a few years of ski industry experience. But, in the past 15 years there have been a growing number of international students. In recent years, as much of one-third of the class is comprised of students from beyond Canadian borders. On average they are a little older and have a little more education, but often less direct ski industry experience. Their stories before and after the SROAM Program are incredibly diverse. We have had a 17-year-old from the Ukraine and a 40-year-old Brazilian with a law degree and an MBA.
I have had the pleasure of teaching students from countries you may expect, such as the United States, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, but they have also arrived from less likely origins of South Africa, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Russia, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and China. Many come with hopes of staying in Canada, others have planned to return home. Upon graduation international students are normally eligible for a three-year work permit. This is often enough time for them to earn enough points for permanent residency.
I wasn’t aware that there are actually ski areas in South Africa, but growing up in Johannesburg SROAMie Mara Trichardt (Class of 2015) had never been to one or even seen snow before her desire to see the world led her to Vail, Colorado working as a lift operator. She admits she didn’t love snowboarding when she first tried it, but soon found she could link turns with some speed and confidence. She became hooked. Mara spent another season working in retail at Copper Mountain and after returning home realized how much she loved the snow and the ski industry. Mara found the SROAM Program and saw it as a ticket to extend her adventure.
A bit of a city girl, she opted to spend her workterm at Cypress Mountain on Vancouver’s North Shore as a guest Services & Ticket Office Supervisor where she was described to me as a “superstar” by a friend in senior management there. The following season, she moved to the F&B Department and worked her way into the food and beverage manager role. She now oversees up to 150 employees in four outlets with annual revenues of more than $4 million. Staffing schedules span about 16 hours each day.
Having spent 10 years working at Cypress, I am very familiar with the challenges of managing huge swings in business volumes. It is not unusual for Cypress to be closed for a day or two mid-season when monsoon weather hits and then see near record crowds a few days later with the return of incredible snow and weather. Mara takes this all in stride with a smile and thrives on the adrenaline of such challenges.
Tim Stent (2009) hails from Huntingdon, UK. His adventurous career as a groomer operator has included work in seven countries on four continents, working many nights by the light of both the northern and southern aurora borealis.
Tim spent a couple of seasons in F&B in Lake Louise and Treble Cone, New Zealand before attending SROAM. He didn’t have a clear career path in mind when he arrived in Nelson, just that he wanted to move from F&B to outdoor operations. He had a few offers for jobs on his workterm, but chose Sun Peaks because his boss there, also a SROAMie, was the only one willing to give him a week off mid-season to attend his brother’s wedding. He started in snow making, moving quickly into grooming. Tim says he could have quite happily spent many years at Sun Peaks, but when his work visas expired, he was invited to leave the country. He was disappointed at the time, but now says it was the best thing as that set him on his amazing journey.
The next several years saw him moving twice a year between hemispheres working at Mount Hotham (Australia), many seasons at Whakapapa (New Zealand), Caingorm Mountain (Scotland), Sirdal (Norway), Salen (Sweden) and Bjorkliden (Sweden), which is above the artic circle. Tim’s talents in a snowcat got him a pretty cool gig working at the Antartica operating snowcats, bulldozers and cranes. Having had more than his share of jet-lag he has now settled down as a permanent resident in the idyllic ski town of Funasdalen, Sweden.
Taro (2004) originates from Japan but has called Whistler home for 15 years. It is often said that people need a couple of jobs to make ends meet in Whistler, Taro seems to have five or six going at any given time. While working for Whistler Heli-skiing, he created his own tour company which started by bringing Japanese skiers and tourists to BC. It has evolved in many directions from there, including hosting Japanese media as the Sea to Sky representative for Tourism BC Japan. He has done extensive photography and journalism, including much work for Delta Airlines. His diversity of jobs range from doing medical interpretation for injured Japanese skiers to designing websites. He also works with ACMG, (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides), hosting Canadian skiers in Japan which he describes a growing market.
Taro is an accomplished backcountry skier with some impressive multi-day trips under his belt, the pinnacle being a nine-day, 111 kilometre trip from the Bugaboos to Rodgers Pass. Taro’s favorite job is teaching AST (Avalanche Skills Training) courses to Japanese skiers visiting Whistler.
Just to keep things spicy and trying something new, Taro is currently on a contract with Skyline Ziplines to build the world’s second longest zipline at Hanazono Resort in Niseko, Japan. It is a little $4 million project for which Taro describes himself as the “fixer.”
It will be interesting to revisit Taro’s resume on the 50th SROAM anniversary.
Just four years ago, in his early -30s, Cicero Gouvea (2021) was sitting in his downtown Rio de Janeiro office of IBM dreaming of snowboarding. His job leading a team of business analysts was challenging and rewarding, but he was thousands of miles away from the nearest ski area which left him wanting more. Could he somehow convert his skills into an equally rewarding career in the ski industry? Or was that dream a little too wild? How would someone living in a country with no skiing make that transition?
It seems Cicero found the recipe needed to make the dream come true. Start with the courage to leave everything behind and move half-way around the world, add in the SROAM Program and a lot of hard work with a little luck and presto! His office at Fernie Alpine Resort is now a one-minute walk from the ski lifts. No need to dream, plan trip logistics, book vacation time and flights, he can now just pick his board and go shred the legendary Fernie powder with about as much effort as getting a cup of coffee at his old job.
Cicero landed the job of accounting manager at Fernie and he hasn’t even graduated yet. It is rare that students secure that level of job for their workterm, but it sure is special when it works out that way. Being a new manager, he puts in a lot of hours but has the flexibility to get on his board for a couple hours in the morning and make up his time after the ski area closes. He says he rarely misses out on a powder day and feels like he has won the lottery. His hard work actually did have a financial pay-off when he received one of the two Fred Bosinger Sunshine Village Scholarships for top academic standing in the class.
These are just a few of the great stories from our international graduates. There was a couple more I was hoping to include, but wasn’t able to pin down interviews in time. I will be highlighting more in the coming weeks.
Big Heroes in Small Areas
When most people think of the ski industry, large destination resorts like Whistler Blackcomb and Sunshine Village often come to mind, or possibly more regional areas like Fernie or Mount Washington. But what about the little guys? Those small community-based hills where so many of us first learned to ski. Those one T-bar areas run by non-profit societies and volunteer boards of directors. The ones that many of us have never heard of, but are so precious to the skiers in the small communities they serve.
In this week’s story we will look at a few of those areas that SROAM graduates have been instrumental in keeping alive through growing challenges from rising operations, labor and insurance costs, increasingly demanding regulations, deteriorating infrastructure, and volunteer burn-out.
The Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) has long recognized the value of these areas to the larger industry. They are essential to creating a steady stream of new skiers. The CWSAA has been concerned by a trend of more and more of them shutting down in the past few decades. In the last story, we heard about the “Canada West Way.” In keeping with that mantra, they have created the Small Ski Area Fund that subsidizes attendance at industry educational conferences. The large areas also regularly support the community hills by donating used uniforms or rental equipment, giving them a screaming deal on a used snow cat, or lending expertise in maintenance.
One of the primary challenges for these small areas is to hire people with sufficient ski industry experience and/or to train their existing staff and directors. The SROAM Program has produced several graduates who have brought much-needed knowledge and an amazing level of commitment to some of these small areas.
Rob Stevens (Class of 1997), affectionately known by many people as Turtle, has been entwined with Summit Lake Ski and Snowboard Area near Nakusp for almost 60 years. His father was president/VP for about eight years and his mother ran the concession for more than 20. They also owned a sports/rental shop that got Rob working in the business at a young age and he was a ski instructor throughout high school.
Since then, his career has been somewhat of a fluid blend in forestry work and the ski industry. He has always kept Nakusp as home base, even though his work was often elsewhere. After graduating from SROAM, he spent more than a decade at Sun Peaks Resort. Much of that time was as lift operations manager, but he did numerous other jobs including working for Doppelmayr installing a new chair lift. Rob also worked for Summit lifts for several years doing lift installations and maintenance.
It is an understatement to say that all his experience has been incredibly valuable to Summit Lake. Whenever Rob has been home in Nakusp, he has been committed to helping the area survive and thrive. He has had a couple of stints as general manager, but has spent much more time as a volunteer board member doing whatever needs to be done from turning wrenches on the T-bar and snow cat to grooming the slopes.
Rob expressed concerns about the future of Summit Lake and the many other small areas like it. They are all highly dependant on grants, subsidies and/or corporate sponsorship and lots of volunteerism to make ends meet. Summit will need a new haul rope for their T-bar and cannot generate enough revenue from normal operations to pay for such expenses. Insurance has become unaffordable and is now covered by a small surcharge on property taxes in the area.
All these small ski areas exist to keep skiing available and affordable for everyone in their communities. The average price of an adult lift ticket at these little gems is about $40. With major resorts now averaging over $120/day, skiing would be financially out of reach for many people if not for the small community hills.
Similar to Rob, Dan Goff (2003) has been incredibly committed to his hometown hill of Murray Ridge Ski Area in Fort St. James, starting as a ski instructor while in Grade 10 and the managing the ski shop after graduating. After attending Selkirk College, Dan spent three years at Panorama Resort, primarily as guest services and ticket office supervisor. Love took him back to Fort St. James and he was asked to take on the GM role at Murray Ridge. Dan credits the SROAM Program with providing him with knowledge, confidence, credibility and strong industry contacts. His summer job with BC Wildfire turned into year-round work, so his role at the ski area went from paid GM to volunteer president, a role he has held for almost nine years.
Murray Ridge seems to be little more financially stable than most of the other small areas, But, being humble, Dan didn’t take any credit for that. He cited very strong corporate sponsorship from local businesses and some large grants for keeping their infrastructure and equipment reasonably current. They boast the longest T-bar in North America, a large comfortable daylodge and surprisingly diverse terrain for a small area. Dan is clearly proud that they can offer a quality ski experience at an affordable price to the surrounding community.
Another fabulous little Kootenay gem is Phoenix Mountain near Grand Forks. They label themselves as “the best little mountain in BC,” but I suspect Rob and Dan might dispute that. It has always been a favorite stop for me on field trips so students can experience the full spectrum of the industry from the little guys to Whistler Blackcomb. Like Summit Lake, it struggles financially but has provided a fabulous training ground for a couple of our star SROAMies.
I recall getting a phone call from the volunteer president in 2006 looking for a student or graduate to fill the job of ski area manager. They could only offer a five-month contract at a modest wage, so finding someone with the desired experience willing to relocate was proving difficult. Second-year student Christian Theberge (2007) was looking for an opportunity to put his experience and schooling to work and jumped at the opportunity doing an amazing job for four years. Christian has moved on to bigger things in the industry and will be featured in a future story, so I won’t elaborate on his time at Phoenix at this time.
Christian Theberge (second from right) took a job at Phoenix Mountain straight out of Selkirk College. Though he has moved on, he had four strong years at the small resort that dubs itself "the best little mountain in BC."
When it was time for him to move on, we got another call from Phoenix wondering if we had another Christian. We didn’t have a Christian, but we had a Chris which is pretty close. Chris Nason (2011) was a young and very bright student with mechanical aptitude and some good operations and maintenance experience at Canyon Ski Area in his hometown of Red Deer. He had no management experience and knew it was going to be a challenge, but with his fresh education he thought he was ready. They gave him a chance and it proved to be highly successful for both parties as Chris stayed in the manager role for six years and continues to offer significant help when he can. He was so committed to Phoenix, he even married one of the directors’ daughters.
Chris is now a lift mechanic at Apex Mountain having just completed his millwright apprenticeship. This ticket, his management experience at Phoenix and a SROAM diploma have set this young man up with fabulous potential for rewarding career in ski area management.
Speaking of young men, 22-year-old Etienne Shaffert (2018) is quite possibly the youngest ski area general manager in the country. At 14, he started working as a rental technician at his home hill of Misery Mountain in Peace River, Alberta. Arriving in the SROAM Program at only 17, he was as committed and motivated as anyone and had his eyes on the prize of managing a ski resort.
He returned to Misery for his workterm as assistant manager and progressed to the GM role the following year overseeing a staff of 45. Etienne says he uses something from his SROAM education every day, whether it be human resources, risk management, lifts, snowmaking, marketing or financial management.
Misery Mountain is unique from the other small ski areas in a few distinct ways. It was originally built and operated by a non-profit society with only a T-bar, but when they wanted to add a chair, the town of Peace River agreed to build and maintain the chair in exchange for ownership of the assets. The society is now responsible for covering all costs other than lift maintenance from their revenue. In 2005, Peace River hosted the Alberta Winter Games which resulted in Misery getting a new 9,000 square foot daylodge. Etienne says he sees opportunity for business growth hosting weddings and meetings, and is currently working on plan to add lift serviced mountain biking.
I think these stories really show the symbiotic relationship between SROAM students and small ski areas. Young graduates benefit greatly from the opportunity to take on broad responsibilities that they would never get early in their careers at larger resorts. The ski areas get the benefit of highly committed people who have training and experience that would otherwise be unavailable them. That is a big win-win that I feel grateful to have played a small part in.
Next up… some fascinating stories about our international students.
The Canada West Way: A Culture of Cooperation and Collaboration
In this story, we highlight the careers of some of our most prestigious graduates who have become icons in the ski industry. There are so many to choose from, so I have narrowed the field by selecting from those who have held positions on the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA) Board of Directors. The CSWAA membership includes virtually every ski area in Western Canada, plus some in the east and around the world. There are also more than 150 associate members who are suppliers to the industry.
SROAM alumni and builders featured include (clockwise from top left): Dorothy Gould, Jason Paterson, Jimmie Spencer, Tim Foster, Steve Paccagnan and John Shea.
The SROAM Program has always had a close relationship with the CWSAA, largely due to Jimmie Spencer OBC who was president of the association for 32 years. He was instrumental in the creation of the program and was our biggest cheerleader. Under his direction, CSWAA created an endowment that provide four scholarships annually of approximately $800 to top academic students in perpetuity.
I can’t begin to paint a full picture of Jimmie’s influence on the program. In recognition of Jimmie’s vital support, he was the recipient of an honorary SROAM diploma, the first ever awarded by Selkirk College. Jimmie retired from the Association at the tender age of 85. Sadly, he passed away in 2018 but his support for the ski industry lives on in both the CWSAA and the SROAM program.
One of Jimmie’s legacies is often referred to as “the Canada West Way,” which is an incredible culture of cooperation and collaboration amongst the members and associate members. The SROAM Program is proud of the graduates who have been recognized as leaders in building that culture by holding seats on the Board of Directors. All graduates in this story cited this culture as a primary motivator for staying in the industry.
I’m going to start with the career of my dear friend Dorothy Gould who was my classmate in the SROAM class of 1984. When the associate member seat on the Board of Directors came open last year, Dorothy was the obvious choice and she feels very honored to be selected by her peers.
Dorothy’s diverse 35-plus year career has included working at Whistler Mountain, Sunshine Village twice, Mount St. Louis Moonstone, Lake Louise, Leitner-Poma, Inter-Mountain Enterprises, and now at Rigging Specialties/Rocky Mountain Lift Services in Canmore. These jobs provided Dorothy the opportunity to use and develop her strong administrative skills and exceptional knowledge of ski area operations and maintenance. Her current role is largely sales and administration, but she claims her favorite task is driving the forklift. She loves living in the Bow Valley and ripping it up on the ski hill regularly.
Jason Paterson (Class of 1996) took a unique career path to reach his current position of President and CEO of Marmot Basin in Jasper. Upon graduating high school in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Jason worked in lift operations and maintenance at Night Hawk Recreation Area. While in the SROAM Program, he was introduced to the CWSAA and was keen to be a part of it. He spent a few years working at Snow Valley Edmonton in the winter and the Jasper Tramway in the summer before returning to Night Hawk as the general manager.
An ambitious man, Jason earned his MBA and then got distracted from the ski industry for about 10 years working for the Government of Canada. But skiing and the ski industry was always in his heart and he started to look for a path back in. That opportunity came when Marmot Basin was recruiting for a Vice President of Operations. Jason applied without high hopes of being selected, but got the job and a few years later he was promoted to President and CEO. Jason has been on the CWSAA board since 2015 and is currently the Chair of the Alberta/Saskatchewan/Manitoba Division.
Of all the SROAM grads in this story, John Shea (1983) took by far the straightest path to the top. He started his career as a staff bus driver at Lake Louise Ski Area and stayed there for decades, climbing the ladder one or two rungs at a time until reaching the position of General Manager. From Lake Louise, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (RCR) was formed and started acquiring ski areas including Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, and Mount Ste. Anne and Stoneham in Quebec, with Kicking Horse Mountain Resort being added in 2011.
John found himself moving to the RCR head office in Calgary as Vice President of Sales & Marketing, while keeping his weekend job of GM at Lake Louise. In 2008, Lake Louise left the RCR group but John stayed and took on the role President and Chief Resorts Officer overseeing all six ski areas and other tourism properties. John served on the CWSAA Board from 2002 to 2006. If there were a competition for King of the SROAMie Castle, I think John would take the prize.
I have often advised SROAM students of the value in being willing to relocate to take advantage of advancement opportunities. Tim Foster (1990) is a classic example of that. Growing up in Calgary, he began his career a ski instructor at Wintergreen. For his SROAM work term he was hired to help open the brand-new ski area of Shames Mountain in Terrace. He was able to get his hands into every aspect of the operation, solve problems and make a difference. He loves taking on projects and credits his ability to build relationships as a key to his success.
After six years at Shames, he held department management positions at Grouse Mountain and Hidden Valley Alberta, before taking on the General Manager role at Mount Baldy which lead to his appointment to the CWSAA board. Then, after several years running Beaver Valley, a private ski club in Ontario, he jumped at the opportunity to return to BC as GM at Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, considered by many to be one of the world’s best ski resorts. Tim is now loving his job as Chief of Mountain Operations at Sun Peaks Resort and doesn’t have any desire to move again. Tim has also been a long-term member of the SROAM Program Advisory Committee which meets annually to keep the curriculum current and relevant to industry needs.
If the SROAM program had a poster child, it would be Steve Paccagnan (1988). Steve and I first met and became friends while both working at Panorama Resort 1985. He started as a houseman, which included cleaning the president’s office. Thirty-six years later, he is the President and CEO of Panorama. His career path has been rather dynamic. His early years at Grouse Mountain, Kawaba Japan and Apex Mountain prepared him to take on his first GM role at Mount Baldy, which was on the verge of collapse at the time. He was then recruited by Intrawest to run, transform and sell Mount Ste. Marie in Quebec before he could speak any French.
Currently the President and CEO of Panorama Resort in the East Kootenay, Steve Paccagnan's contribution to the industry was recognized in 2017 when he was honoured with the Selkirk College Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual Convocation at the Castlegar Campus. Steve posed for a photo with his family after the cermony.
Still working for Intrawest, he was moved back to Panorama as Director of Lodging before they shuffled him again to be VP and GM at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Somewhere in there, he also found the time to gain an MBA. Steve took the opportunity to move back to Canada as GM of Kicking Horse. There he completed a master plan that resulted in the sale of the resort to Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. It was then time for him to return “home” to Panorama for the fourth time, now as President and CEO.
Steve recently completed an unprecedented 12 years on the CWSAA board, including four years as Chair of the Board. Steve has also been a huge supporter of the SROAM Program serving many years on the Program Advisory Committee, and has hired and mentored many students. In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments, Steve received the Selkirk College Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2017. Only in his mid-fifties and as feisty as ever, we have to wonder what else he will achieve before he winds down his career.
While the SROAM Program cannot claim full responsibility for the success of these and other superstars, it did provide each of them with a solid foundation to build upon and the confidence to believe they could establish such amazing careers in this fabulous industry.
SROAMies Building the Nelson Ski Town Vibe
This edition of Tales of SROAM Success features iconic grads who have become local legends in the program’s home base of Nelson. There’s a tendency for SROAMies who come from afar to fall in love with Kootenay life and stay for good.
Today, we focus on those who have stayed in, or close to, the ski industry and are well known faces in downtown Nelson. These are just a few of the 60-plus SROAM graduates that call Nelson home. Some will be featured in future stories.
Starting with the exception to the rule, Heather (Sproul) Renwick (Class of 2007) is one of the rare SROAMies who is a born-and-raised Nelsonite. She had already been working at Village Ski Hut prior to SROAM. After completing her work term at the shop, she quickly realized her passion for retail and made a plan to become a partner in the business with Ian McAdams. Ian has been Heather's mentor from the start. As a pillar in the industry since the early-80s, Ian was hired on to teach the Rental/Retail Course for the first eight years of the program.
Ben Greenland (2011) joined the Village Ski Hut team after a few years in the rental shop at Whitewater. Ben was destined for this career as he started working early in his father’s ski rental business in his hometown of McCall, Idaho and working at both Brundadge Mountain and Tamarack Resort before coming to Selkirk College. Ben is one of many international students who has been able to use the SROAM Program as a pathway to permanent Canadian residency… stay tuned for future happy ending stories about other international students.
If you venture a few blocks further down Baker Street to Gerick Cycle & Ski, you will find another couple of grads who love to set people up with the best gear. Charles Arnold (1998) and Mark Weigeldt (2003) both originally hail from Ontario, but caught the Kootenay bug and are now permanent fixtures in Nelson.
Upon graduation, Charles ran the rental shop at Whitewater for a few seasons then made the move to Gerick’s and soon became store manager. Before coming to Selkirk College, Mark had a background in ski racing and teaching. He spent a couple of years as rental/retail manager at Mount Baldy Ski Resort before deciding to make Nelson home and landing the job of service manager at Gerick. Got a technical question about ski or bike gear, Mark is your man.
Of course, if you are wandering around Baker Street, you may work up a thirst and want to stop in for a beer at Backroads Brewing and meet Brent Malysh (2007). Many people know Brent from his years as snow school director at Whitewater, but his ski industry is extensive having worked in Europe, Australia, Colorado and was snow school director at both Apex Mountain and Revelstoke.
While working at Whitewater, Brent earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Entrepreneurial Management at Royal Roads University where he developed the business plan for Backroads. As a favorite watering hole for skiers and boarders, on any given day you will likely meet a few local SROAMies there.
After quenching your thirst, you might want to grab a fabulous meal at Jackson’s Hole & Grill and have a chat with Clive Jackson who graduated way back in 1994. SROAM has had several students from Nova Scotia, but Clive is one of the few from Cape Breton Island. If you listen carefully, you can hear it in his voice. He grew up skiing the slopes of Ski Ben Eion.
Clive was amongst the first group of students to complete their work term at Kawaba Ski Resort in Japan and then spent a couple of years at Silver Star Resort before returning to Kootenay powder where he opened Jackson’s Hole & Grill in 2006.
When you find yourself in downtown Nelson, be sure to stop in to see these iconic SROAMies and support their awesome businesses!