And yes, that’s how Flynn got his start. “My first job at a ski area was at Wilmont, Wisconsin, which was just acquired by Vail. I was 14 and a bus boy in food service. Loved to ski and wanted to work at the mountain, or hill really, and from there went to the rental shops and other duties. While going to college I worked as a snowmaker at a few other ski areas in southern Wisconsin, all the while, growing and loving this business more and more.” Flynn told me that by the time he was 25 he knew he was going to make a career in the resort business, he just enjoyed being at a ski resort so much, and personally I remember feeling the same way.
The National Ski Areas Association asked resorts to identify the factors that will have the biggest impact on business in the next five years. “By far the weather (typically consistent/predictable/cold weather, as well as climate change) and the economy” were the two most frequently cited factors. “Other challenges identified include demographics and the ability to attract Millennial participants, Boomers exiting snowsports, finding adequate staffing, access to capital to fund infrastructure improvements, increased costs, and competing activities/limited time for skiers.
Positive opportunities were cited in “technology with associated efficiencies and marketing opportunities, improved air and ground access, growing local populations, embracing more demographically diverse customers, attracting and converting newcomers to snowsports, pass partnerships, increased lodging options and other capital investments, and increased summer activities.”
Ski industry organizations together estimate that tens of thousands of jobs are generated through snowsports and the 463 resorts that ran lifts in the U.S. last year. And whether you are busing tables, parking cars, pouring resin, instructing, patrolling, climbing towers, or working in admin in some capacity, there are no unimportant jobs.
You probably know that more than a third of all goods in the industry are sold between Black Friday and December 31. Some of the top brands in the industry are potentially up for sale. Holiday bookings are as arbitrary as the Farmer’s Almanac and whether or not snow flies in November, or last Christmas. And the way resorts have learned to adapt and make money with less predictable snow is the subject of another article entirely.
But sometimes it’s shocking just how much goes into a season on snow. Snow Park Technologies co-owner and vice president Genevieve Gunnarson and husband/founder Chris “Gunny” Gunnarson have been providing competitive on-snow freestyle event course design and construction services for the last 20 years, and their vision led to a business relationship with ESPN for the Winter X Games.
Over the years other long-term relationships have developed, leading to SPT’s involvement in hundreds of special projects and world-class competitive events. To complement its on-snow design/build services, the company developed and implemented a program for the winter sports resort industry, encompassing terrain park design/build services, risk management and marketing. More recently, additional services in the areas of action sport event management and media production/content services were added to the company’s portfolio.
“From the beginning of our careers, Gunny and I were both determined to work in the snow industry. Gunny has been involved in the snowsports world since the early 1990s when aspirations of a professional snowboard career led to him working as a snowboard patroller at Snow Summit, which made him the de facto park guy,” Genevieve told me. “From there he went on the become the Director of Snowboarding at Snow Summit, and at the same time, the X Games approached him about designing and building the first Winter X Games courses in 1997.”
In addition to SPT, from 2002 to 2011 Gunny was also the Vice President of Youth Market Development at Booth Creek Ski Holdings – the holding company that, at the time, owned and operated among seven total resorts, Northstar, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Bear Mountain. In 2009 Gunny became the snowboard sport organizer for Winter X Games and today SPT plays an expanded role with all X Games events with respect to athlete services, hospitality and assists with general development of aspects of both winter and summer events. In addition to the projects and services that SPT is known for, Gunny also serves in various capacities around the industry in the overall development of snowsports and action sports on a regional and global level.
Said Genevieve: “I started in ski school and eventually worked my way into various sales and marketing positions for Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, Sierra at Tahoe and Northstar. I started in customer service, marketing departments such as guest services, but eventually was able to focus on specific marketing disciplines like public relations, advertising, events, branding, content creation, direct marketing, social marketing, etc. Where my career has stemmed from an academic approach and background, Gunny’s has come through his passion and enthusiasm for bringing the experience to life.”
“We believe that everyone in our industry must continue to evolve and work together to find new and creative ways to connect to participants,” she told me. “As barriers to entry increase, it’s all of our responsibilities to introduce new participants and continue to motivate past and current participants to engage in winter sports. We got into this business because we love snowsports. And our aim is to work with our industry colleagues to collectively and continuously revitalize the experience as far and wide as possible.”