Courtesy of GMC
Students at Killington School of Resort Management (KSRM) share a laugh while studying in the dorm.
By Karen D. Lorentz
It’s the time of year when high school juniors and seniors start thinking about college and careers. Many have no idea what they want to do for their life’s work, which used to be okay, as college was a time of discovery. However, today’s job market and the high cost of a college education have changed the situation, and the subject of career choice is now part of a national conversation, especially with the student loans many graduate with.
Those with a passion for snow and the mountains might consider ski-area management programs, say ski-industry leaders.
“There’s a generational shift in progress, and ski area managers are retiring, creating career opportunities for those with management knowledge and expertise specific to the ski industry. The next decade will provide almost unlimited opportunity for young people wanting a career in the mountain resort industry,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “We are seeing more and more women in every level of ski area management,” he added. In addition, he said, “Starting salaries for entry level managers range from 20k to 30k/year. For the next move to middle managers, the salaries range from 35k to 75k, and for senior management there are many positions in the low six-figure range.”
Frank Pauze, director of the Killington School of Resort Management (KSRM) program, the nation’s only such program to award a bachelor’s degree in three years, agrees with Berry. “We’re graduating more females (40 percent female enrollments), and they’re in operations as well as traditional departments like HR and marketing.”
However, he noted that KSRM grads usually earn “in the high 20s and low 30s” for first jobs, explaining that working at Killington tends to place them on the higher end of the scale, and “they move up to middle management quicker as well.”
In addition to a 99 percent job placement rate, Pauze said the benefits of the KSRM program include gaining an excellent work ethic, paid winter internships, three years of college costs instead of four, and entering the workforce a year earlier.
GMC Communications Director Kevin Coburn said 70 percent of KSRM students graduate in three years and due to the rigor of the program make “great connections in the ski industry as a result of working very hard,” which contributes to the program’s 99 percent placement rate.
The KSRM program
Green Mountain College partnered with Killington to educate students in resort management in 2001. Allen Wilson, who received his ski industry education at Killington (before moving up to become president of the resort, 1996-2007) thought the area would be “a great laboratory for students wanting to pursue a career in the resort industry.”
Wilson worked with (then) Green Mountain College president Tom Benson to set up a resort management program, wherein students could earn a bachelor’s degree in just three years. The school’s trimester schedule (late August to June) makes that possible. Over 165 students have graduated from the program, which has its own Killington campus.
The fall and spring terms offer traditional course schedules, which include liberal arts courses (English, math, history, science, psychology, etcetera) as well as resort hospitality studies (resort operations, accounting, marketing human resources, budgeting, and other traditional business disciplines). The winter trimester is 12 weeks devoted to management development through co-ops and internships, with hands-on work at Killington and Pico.
“Our goal is to educate students to think critically about any situation and make a cost-benefit analysis as part of their decision-making process,” Pauze stated.
Classes are small and students who enter the program at the same time move through their studies together and live at The Lodge on Killington Road where they take meals and have classrooms.
Students come from Vermont, out of state, and other countries, which have included Vietnam, Hong Kong, South Africa, Costa Rica, Honduras, Argentina, and Canada.
“I have been in this business for a very long time, and the GMC management program is one of the most unique programs out there—the work-study component really sets it apart,” stated Rob Megnin, director of sales and marketing at Killington Resort.
“They have actually adjusted the calendar year to make accommodations for students to work at the resort. It’s unique to the industry and benefits both the resort and students. We get to cultivate them into the organization and see them perform while they gain real world exposure outside of the classroom. It’s a very strong relationship and Killington is glad to have GMC as a partner,” added current resort president Mike Solimano.
Program costs and jobs
The all-inclusive cost for room, board, tuition, etc., without any financial aid for the bachelor’s degree program comes to $156,000. By comparison, the cost of a GMC four-year program comes out to $188,000. Additionally, students typically earn $15,000 to $17,000 during their three winter internships at Killington, reducing the “sticker price” to around $140,000. Like all college students, some also choose to work for the resort or at places on the Killington Access Road throughout their schooling. Financial aid can also offset the final cost of a degree, Pauze noted. (GMC also matches the tuition charged at UVM for all Vermont residents accepted to UVM, which offers another reduction for some.)
Instead of going to school for a fourth year, graduates find jobs all over the country, Killington included, and all over the world—Thailand, Costa Rica, the U.K., and Moscow among them, he said, adding, “This is fundamentally a business degree that focuses on resort hospitality. While many go to work in the resort and hospitality industry, some grads go into sales, real estate, or start their own businesses.”
Over 20 KSRM graduates work at the resort in a variety of positions. A common thread in their stories, not surprisingly, is a love for snow, the mountain lifestyle, and their jobs. They tend to emphasize that they worked hard but that learning in the classroom was “directly relevant to the industry we are working in,” and that the winter term positioned them well for their jobs.
The Mountain Times will look at some of their stories in the weeks to come and see how their training gave them a step up to the jobs they enjoy. Their passion and willingness to work hard has provided many paths to fulfilling and enjoyable careers.