A Higher Elevation

Students in the Outdoor Recreation Management program take their learning to a new level

Though the distance from Lees-McRae to the Town of Beech Mountain, North Carolina, is only six miles, you gain a stunning 1,805 feet in elevation on your journey.

To reach “Eastern America’s highest town” from the highest-elevated campus in the eastern U.S., one must travel a road full of switchbacks, and pass countless cliffs that some might find vertigo-inducing. But you are rewarded with an incredible view as you make the climb.

No doubt, making the trip to the top of the mountain is a unique, memorable experience, but for many Lees-McRae Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) students, it’s just another day in the life.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, students grab their jackets, boots, boards, skis, and other essentials and head to Beech Mountain Resort to learn in an environment unlike the rest. While some take courses that lead to certification from the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), others learn and practice skills in preparation for outdoor emergencies in the ski industry.  

Students layer on their gear before hitting the slopes in one of the many classrooms at Beech Mountain Resort.

When the students become the teachers

For students in the instructor course, the mountain’s diverse terrain gives them the chance to not only learn the skills necessary to ski and snowboard but to teach others as well.

Taught by Beech Mountain Ski and Ride School Director Shane Bryant, an adjunct instructor in the program, and ski instructor Witold Kosmala, the course prepares students to apply for their PSIA-AASI Level 1 Alpine or Snowboard certification—the first level for instructors. Throughout the class, students learn how to instruct both children and adults in the forms of clinics and hands-on training simulations.

ORM course

Instructor Shane Bryant meets with students and clients to get them ready for a day of snowboard instruction. 
Students even had the chance recently to give President Lee King as well as Provost Todd Lidh a ski lesson during their visit to the resort. 

Completion of the course and certification prepares students to pursue a career in the skiing and snowboarding industry—something ORM major Chrissy Turk (’19) didn’t know was possible until recently.

Arriving at Lees-McRae from her home state of Florida, she said she wasn’t really sure what her career would look like, “I just knew I wanted to be outdoors.”

She didn’t even know Outdoor Recreation Management was something you could study in college, but she said she was glad she discovered it.

“I love how experiential it is,” Turk explained. “You receive experience by doing things, rather than just learning about them. It makes the information you receive so much more transferrable and applicable and I can really see what I’m getting out of it.”

Students in the instructor course wait before heading out to ride and teach for the day. 

Having already received her PSIA-AASI Level 1 Snowboard certification last winter, Turk now works for Beech Mountain Resort’s Ski and Ride School. After wrapping up her morning classes on the main campus in Banner Elk, Turk spends afternoons on the mountain teaching snowboarding until the resort closes.

It’s certainly a surreal way to spend your days earning your degree, and it’s made all the more unimaginable due to the fact that Turk didn’t even know how to snowboard before arriving at Lees-McRae. 

Upon taking the class, Turk discovered she could turn her newfound passion into a career. Though she’s still in the midst of her college career, she says it’s been an incredible opportunity that she did not expect.

Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Outdoor Recreation Management Katie Wall said stories like Turk’s are common.

“Students come to Lees-McRae and know they love the outdoors. They want to pursue something that keeps them outdoors, but they only have a small understanding of jobs in the outdoor industry,” she said.

ORM class

Tom Clement, a student in the instructor course, glides down Beech Mountain.

Saving lives on the slopes

Not only do students in the program learn about snow sports instruction, but students in the patrol course can meld together their knowledge of skiing and snowboarding with medical skills.

With their eyes set on emergency management careers at the end of the semester, students cover topics including risk management, emergency care, lift evacuation, rope skills, and toboggan handling—the course is intense to say the least.

For Lees-McRae student in the patrol course Paul McCrimmon (’19), being outside and earning a degree pursuing his passion has been more than a chance to work in the field of his choice—“the outdoors has been a healing tool during a time after the military that was really rough for [me].”

Following 21 years of service in the Marine Corps, McCrimmon worked at a nearby federal civilian base as a family readiness officer in Florida before deciding to leave to pursue new opportunities.

In following his passion for the love of the outdoors, McCrimmon applied to Lees-McRae and enrolled as a Wildlife Biology major, and later declared Outdoor Recreation Management as his minor.

He said that the drills, practice, and skills earned in the patrol course bring together his years of expertise in caring for others with his love for being outside.

“Having the skills to help someone that is in a life-threatening situation is a huge level of responsibility,” he said. “I’ve learned so much already. Learning in that environment in your ski boots and all your gear is a level of learning like I’ve never had before.”

ORM class

Paul McCrimmon (right) and students in the patrol course practice proper lifting techniques.

Ski Patrol Training Coordinator at Beech Mountain Resort Doug Gilstrap said both he and the staff of the resort always look forward to working with the Lees-McRae students.

“Students are exposed to and assist in real-world medical and resort management challenges,” he added. “In this environment they can experience guided learning and mentoring in many disciplines, including ski and riding skills, mountain rescue, outdoor emergency care, high angle rescue, lift operations, risk management, and more.”


Creating opportunities for all

The ORM program also provides other opportunities for students to venture outside of the classroom and learn in the field. Students in the Adaptive Adventure Recreation class, led by long-time instructor Dee Thomas, learn how to teach and assist people with disabilities. In the winter months, the students learn how to safely guide and work with clients on the ski slopes, and in other months help them participate in sports like kayaking, rock climbing, and cycling.

As part of the course, and with guidance from Thomas, students volunteer in the annual Disabled Sports USA Adaptive Ski Week at Beech Mountain Resort. Led by Disabled Sports USA, the event brings participants from all over the Southeast region including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. 

ORM class

Instructors work with adaptive participants to get them ready for a day on the mountain.

For the students and faculty, as well as the instructors at Beech Mountain Resort, it’s more than just having fun out on the slopes, it’s about creating a future career in a rapidly-growing industry.

“Currently, 44 percent of students in the program have completed or are working on a certification in the ski or snowboarding industry,” Wall said. “Certifications that most don’t receive until after they graduate due to time or money constraints, giving Lees-McRae students a leg-up in an already highly-competitive market.”

Make the outdoors your classroom with the Outdoor Recreation Management program.

As the nation’s only program of its kind found within a school of business, you can make a career in the outdoors yours. Achieve a career in outdoor program administration, guiding services, or as a member of one of many outdoor education schools like Outward Bound or NOLS.

Learn more about the Outdoor Recreation Management program here

By Nina MastandreaFebruary 18, 2019