Western resort deep-dive gives Outdoor Recreation Management students a better understanding of the industry

Outdoor Retailer, the continent’s largest tradeshow conference for all things related to the outdoors, has become a keystone experiential learning opportunity for students in the Lees-McRae Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) program over the past few years. This continued into 2023, when a group of ORM students, led by Program Coordinator Katie Wall, traveled to Salt Lake City for the latest conference.

On the weeklong trip in January, the group also toured and explored resorts and other outdoor recreation facilities throughout Utah and Colorado. This included Copper Mountain Resort in Frisco, Colorado; the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah; and the Doppelmayr ski lift factory in Salt Lake City, Utah. Along the way, the students picked up valuable skills and lessons from the behind-the-scenes access they got to the outdoor recreation industry.

“Everyone had a general idea of how the industry works, but talking to people gives you an in-depth, day-to-day look at what goes on,” sophomore ORM major Grant East said. “If you’re interested in pursuing a job in the ski industry, I think it’s really important to go on this trip and check it out because you’ll see a lot more than you would by just going up on Beech and skiing.”

East explained that this experience helped him develop a better understanding of the ins and outs of the resort industry that would have been harder to capture in a traditional classroom setting. Having previously worked as a ski instructor at Beech Mountain Resort, East was familiar with professional paths in outdoor recreation, but this trip exposed him to other career areas he hadn’t considered before.

“It kind of gives you a different idea of the umbrella of outdoor careers,” East said. “You have people from so many different companies there that it shows you can do a lot of different things. It shows you what you could potentially be doing after graduation, and that you have so many different options to do many different things.”

Working with the National Ability Center, which specializes in developing and implementing adaptive sports equipment and methods for people with varying levels of physical and mental ability, and working on ski lift construction at the Doppelmayr factory were two examples East gave of potential career paths that he had not previously considered.

Ally Dieffenbacher, a fellow sophomore ORM student, echoed East’s feelings about gaining a broader understanding of the outdoor recreation industry. Dieffenbacher, who learned how to ski on the trip, said she learned so much more about the professional world of her major. She hopes to bring back the skiing skills she gained while on the trip and hone them on the slopes on Beech Mountain.

Even more than the physical skills, however, was the way Dieffenbacher said the trip helped her grow socially. She said that throughout the week she gained confidence in a group setting and became more patient and understanding from working closely with a group of her peers.

Besides the lessons and skills that were instilled at the resorts and throughout the conference itself, networking was a major overall focus of the trip. By meeting with professionals from different areas of the industry at each of the five different resorts the group visited, the students were able to make connections that could help them establish themselves in the industry down the line.

“While we were talking to the people who do different things at the resort it gave me an idea of what each of these specific roles actually do,” East said. “I had heard about a lot of these positions, like Mountain Ops Director, but I actually got to talk to them and they gave me a more in-depth explanation of what they do so everything made more sense.”

East said that one of the best connections he was able to make throughout the trip was with the Ski School Director at Copper Mountain Resort who led the group’s tour and shared some tips and tricks with East about becoming a better and more well-rounded ski instructor back on Beech Mountain.

Both East and Dieffenbacher said that they would jump at the opportunity to attend the trip again in the future and recommended that their peers in the ORM department also participate. They agreed that the hands-on skills and lessons they gained from being in the middle of the action simply cannot be replicated in a classroom setting, making trips like these incredibly important to becoming a confident and capable outdoor recreation professional.

“It definitely helped to be in the skis, sit on the lifts, look at how they operate, and really be able to visualize it right in front of you rather than just seeing pictures or reading about it,” Dieffenbacher said. “For people who want to go next year, I’d say it’s a very cool experience.”

Read about last year’s Outdoor Retailer conference trip
By Maya JarrellFebruary 03, 2023