Students get to learn on the slopes and in the classroom. Photo by Sam Dean.

Lees-McRae College launches new minor in Ski Industry Business and Instruction

High school seniors who want to incorporate the thrill of adventure into their college studies now have a unique option in the mountains of North Carolina. This semester, one of the top adventure colleges in the Southeast, Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, N.C., launched a new minor in Ski Industry Business and Instruction, the first of its kind in the region. The college has partnered with neighboring Beech Mountain Resort to offer students an outdoor classroom to gain the skills to become ski instructors or work in ski resort management.

“This program provides students with a true hands-on learning experience and environment through a strategic partnership with Beech Mountain Ski Resort,” says Katie Wall, assistant professor and program coordinator of outdoor recreation management, who was pivotal in the creation of the program. “We incorporate an outdoor recreation management foundation with professional business practices and industry certifications.”

After collecting information from their annual assessment in 2018, Lees-McRae faculty realized that a program focusing on the ski industry was a perfect fit for students at the college. “The data revealed that almost 40% of our students in the Outdoor Recreation Management program either had obtained or were obtaining a ski industry certification,” says Wall. “In addition, many of these students were already working at local ski resorts, so naturally our students were treading towards interests and specializations in the ski industry.” 

Lees-McRae senior Chrissy Turk took a skiing and snowboarding course as one of her required PE classes in her first year. She’s now to become one of the first students to graduate with the ski industry minor. “They’ve been able to put us in contact with a lot of knowledgeable people in the industry,” Turk said of her instructors in the program. “Being able to work so closely with their ski and snowboard instructors, their director of marketing, it’s really shown me all the different avenues that exist in the ski industry to turn it more from something that I just enjoyed to something that I can see as a career path.”

The program offers instruction from faculty in outdoor recreation management as well as business. Courses include outdoor risk management, outdoor leadership, contemporary issues in the ski industry, as well as business courses such as accounting, marketing, human resources, and business law. Students in the program are also offered the opportunity to earn their ski/snowboard instruction and wilderness first responder certifications, both of which are standards in the industry. 

In addition to learning about the outdoors in the classroom, students have the chance to take elective courses in mountain biking, skiing/snowboarding, and winter recreation. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, most students in the program spend their entire day at Beech Mountain, and even nights for practice if they are on the Lees-McRae Ski and Snowboard Team,” says Wall.

The program has already seen serious interest from existing students, and looks to grow in the coming years. “Almost 30% of our Outdoor Recreation Management students have declared the new academic program as their minor. Also, a large majority of our Ski and Snowboard team members are students in this program,” Wall said. “We look forward to seeing the response from incoming freshmen as our admission counselors actively recruit students this year.” 

Additional reporting by Ellen Kanzinger.