UPPER PENINSULA – Surrounded by an abundance of ski trails and more snow than any other Midwest region, it’s only natural that the Upper Peninsula is training the future leaders of ski area management. Kids in the U.P. grow up on ski hills and cross-country trails – they own the snow and for some, their love for snow and resilience transforms into a career.
For more than 50 years, Gogebic Community College (GCC) has been training ski hill operators and managers in their two-year degree Ski Area Management program. Recently, GCC recognized the opportunity to expand this program with a partnership with Northern Michigan University (NMU).
Students begin their schooling at GCC where they get to experience hands-on learning at Mt. Zion, the Gogebic-owned ski hill. With the opportunity to work and operate all aspects of the ski hill, students get a major advantage when they eventually embark on an eight-week internship at top-tier ski resorts across the country. While some students receive job offers to work at their internship location, others continue their education through NMU. Until recently, students had to choose one or the other. Now, they can pursue their career while continuing their education through NMU’s online program.
In the ski industry, students from the Upper Peninsula have a reputation for being hard workers, honest employees, and pros on everything snow. In addition to these soft skills, graduating students are getting into management jobs sooner. Dr. Brian Zinser, Assistant Department Head of Management and Marketing at NMU, explains, “By getting a bachelor’s degree in this program, students have a larger opportunity to move up in management at a resort or a vendor company that supplies products to the industry.” Zinser further explains, “The business skills in addition to the hands-on experience really gives students a leg up to get those opportunities.”
One student, PJ Britz, completed the program and found his dream job at TechnoAlpin, a system producer for outdoor and indoor applications. After graduating and connecting with a colleague, PJ discovered that TechnoAlpin was hiring a regional sales rep in the Midwest. He said, “I didn’t think I was ready for that, but I was encouraged to apply and they made me an offer. They wanted someone that didn’t come with a ton of experience, but also had enough industry experience. I landed my dream job way sooner than I expected.” Although PJ is based out of Grand Rapids, he enjoys the opportunity to return to the Upper Peninsula as he frequently does business with Mt. Zion and Marquette Mountain, two of several ski areas in the Upper Peninsula.
The success of this program is due to the unique nature and landscape of the Upper Peninsula, the reasonable cost, and Mt. Zion, Gogebic’s ski area. Jim VanderSpoel, Director of Ski Area Management at GCC explains, “The success of this program comes from the fact that we have our own ski area. We have our own top tier equipment, and the students are involved in the hill operations daily. From rentals, to ski school, to snow making, to lift operating, the students are the primary employees at the hill. The students gain hands-on, real life experience.”
With 14 ski areas across the U.P. and more than 200 inches of annual snowfall, it only makes sense that this area is known for “grooming” the next generation of snow groomers.
InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.
About Gogebic Community College
Gogebic Community College is a learning community that contributes to academic, cultural, economic, and social success for their students and the region.
About Northern Michigan University
Northern Michigan University, located in Marquette, Michigan, is a dynamic four-year, public, comprehensive university that has grown its reputation based on its award-winning leadership programs, cutting-edge technology initiatives and nationally recognized academic programs.