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Snow Studies Series: FLC’s Ski Resort Operations Certificate

Snow Studies Series: FLC’s Ski Resort Operations Certificate

But the industry is also grappling with the effects of global climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report published by the University of Grenoble, almost half of the 169 ski resorts have closed in France alone since 1951 because of a lack of snow. After a sharp downturn, the number of visits to U.S. ski resorts ballooned in recent years as people sought COVID-safe activities outdoors, going from 50.1 million visits in the 2019-20 season to 60.6 million in the 2021-22 season. 

As visitor and snowfall patterns continue to fluctuate, ski resorts need trained professionals who can adapt business practices, ensure the safety of visitors, provide exceptional customer service, and keep up with technological advancements in the industry more than ever. 

FLC students are eager to meet that need by pursuing a Ski Resort Operations Certificate. The 12-credit certificate program was created in 2016 by Lorraine Taylor, associate professor of Tourism & Hospitality Management.

Lorraine Taylor spent years meticulously crafting the certificate program with students at its center.

FLC’s Ski Operations Certificate is one of the nation’s only undergraduate online certificates focused on ski operations. It is open to enrolled FLC students and non-degree-seeking students. Last year, the program drew national attention when Outside magazine featured it in its article “These Schools Can Help You Break into the Outdoor Industry,” which listed top collegiate outdoor programs. 

The certificate requires students to take three courses: Introduction to Resort Management, Ski Resort Operations, and Ski Resort Management. These courses focus on leadership and communication skills, decision-making, sustainability, strategic planning, and branding in the context of ski area management. At the end of the course sequence, students participate in a three-credit internship opportunity at a ski resort. These internships are part of a larger effort to create an employment pipeline for students and resorts alike.

"Lorraine taught me so many things about high-level resort work I didn’t know. She showed me how to branch out across departments and do more than just tune skis. It’s opened up other opportunities and made me more qualified for management positions."

— Peter Langenwalter

“Staffing is challenging for resorts in our state,” Taylor said. “The idea was to create an internship pipeline with ski resorts to meet that need. Conversely, our students can become full-time employees and have already worked their way up the ladder by graduation.” 

Taylor updates the courses regularly with information from the National Ski Areas Association on climate change, COVID-19, and safety restrictions to keep the program’s competitive edge. Part of the certificate’s curriculum requires students to learn the ins and outs of off-season resort management, a critical component for ski resorts as the climate changes. 

“Many ski resorts are now trying to figure out how to stay open year-round with climate change,” Taylor said. “They need help to learn how to staff for that and widen the labor pool when it’s not snowing.”

Taylor recently built a partnership with Sun Valley Resort in Idaho, which is constantly expanding its year-round offerings. The pipeline also adds prestige to the program: the company has a reputation as one of the best ski resorts in the nation. It was named the top ski resort in North America for the second year running in SKI Magazine’s2021/22 Annual Ski Resort Awards and Reader’s Poll.

The brightly lit, dreamy entrance to Sun Valley Resort. Image courtesy Sun Valley Resort. 

“There’s a golden opportunity for FLC students to come work here,” said Chloe Robinson, banquet director at Sun Valley Resort. “We’re hoping students from FLC can transition into full-time positions here once they graduate. The certificate program at FLC helps, too, because we get employees who know the industry, what to expect, and have a couple of years of training under their belts.” 

Because of its career-enhancing potential, the certificate program has proved immensely popular, and its introductory classes are usually full, with waitlists of eager students. Many students in the program already have experience in the ski industry but are looking for an extra edge in the job application process after graduation. 

“I have worked at ski resorts all my life,” said Peter Langenwalter, a senior studying Environmental Conservation Management. “As soon as I could stand, my father put me on a pair of skis, and I have been shredding powder ever since. Since then, I’ve worked at multiple resorts tuning skis, but I wanted to do more. This certificate will take me to the next level. It helps me stand out in the application process.” 

Though Langenwalter is a seasoned veteran of the slopes, he said the program introduced him to new facets of the sector.

“Lorraine taught me so many things about high-level resort work I didn’t know,” Langenwalter said. “She showed me how to branch out across departments and do more than just tune skis. It’s opened up other opportunities and made me more qualified for management positions.”

Langenwalter’s experience as a ski professional undoubtedly helped him in his courses, he said. Taylor agreed, saying that FLC students, in particular, are uniquely positioned to maximize their gain from the Ski Resort Operations Certificate program. 

“It seems like everyone here has this knowledge of the ski industry and its culture,” Taylor said. “The students have this common language, which helps us get to a much higher level of understanding. The students in this program are invested in their professional pursuits. So, I grounded the courses in their experiences on the mountain and with data from nationally respected organizations.”

Taylor continued, emphasizing the program’s value to non-degree-seeking students too. 

“I think the value of this certificate is for people who don’t have a college degree, or they have a degree in a different field,” Taylor said. “If they decide they want to start climbing the ladder in the ski industry, it helps them show a commitment to their employers or people who might be looking to promote them because they're knowledgeable about the current events around trends in the industry. It makes them more hireable.” 

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