Students travel west for a behind-the-scenes look at the outdoor recreation industry

At Lees-McRae, experiential education is one of our priorities in the classroom. Our professors strive to provide students with the best and most beneficial real-world experiences they can, which is why Dr. Katie Wall, assistant professor and program coordinator of Outdoor Recreation Management, took her students on a week-long trip out west.

Wall and 11 Ski Industry Business and Instruction and Outdoor Recreation Management students flew to Denver, Colorado, in late January to attend an outdoor retailer conference and get the inside scoop on popular ski resorts in Colorado and New Mexico.

“The first part of this trip is the outdoor retailer show. You have sales managers for companies, you have product designers, you have design folks, but essentially you’ve got the hard goods and the soft goods,” Wall said. “You’ve got the manufacturers that make the skis and the snowboards, the goggles, the helmets, the boots, and then you also have the folks that make the ski apparel.”

The conference is not geared toward students, but rather toward real-world buyers, and being one of the largest outdoor retail shows in the world, the students were able to witness firsthand the application of their in-class lessons.

“The coolest thing is that it isn't a conference for students, it's real life,” junior Maria Doering said. “It gives you a perfect insight into the outdoor industry because you would actually have to be a part of that if you did this for your career. It gave me a great introduction.”

Doering is a Business Administration major with a minor in Ski Industry Business and Instruction, and attending this conference gave her new insight into what she can do with her degree after graduating. The conference also served as a way for the students to interact with professionals who are already in the industry.

“Some of the smaller companies had their CEOs there, and they told us as students that networking is the most important part of getting started,” Doering said. “They emphasized that it doesn't really matter where you start, and if you have work experience or not, as long as you're willing to put yourself out there.”

During the second part of the trip, the students received a prime networking opportunity when they toured and explored three popular ski resorts—Arapahoe Basin and Telluride in Colorado, and Taos in New Mexico.

At the resorts the students were able to get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a skiing and snowboarding business, all the while applying the theory they learned in the classroom  and connecting with industry professionals. At Arapahoe Basin, students met with the director of the ski school, the director of marketing, and the director of snow making.

Wall said she strives to help the students benefit professionally from this experience and encourages them to take advantage of each opportunity. The scenic mountains and natural beauty of the landscape did not go unnoticed, however, and the group made time to hit the slopes along the way.

“We got the best tour in Taos. We were in the snowmaking systems for an hour seeing all the automation, and everyone was super interested in that,” Doering said. “Every student was really amazed by New Mexico, the landscape, and the people. We didn't really think New Mexico would have good skiing, but that was my favorite resort we visited.”

This is the second time Lees-McRae students have taken this trip, but with extremely high demand from students and excellent opportunities for experiential learning, Wall hopes to make it an experience that students can enjoy for years to come.

“It’s just a really unique opportunity for students to have a conference experience with educational workshops, and then also see business happening in real time and meeting with people who could potentially open some doors for them,” Wall said. “The students come back, and they just have their eyes wide open and are even more excited than they already were about what the opportunities are for them in the ski and snow sports industry.”

By Maya JarrellFebruary 15, 2022