By Karen D. Lorentz
When your mom encourages you to take a year off to be a “ski bum” and recommends that you apply for a job at a western resort even though you live in New England, you’re either one of the luckiest college grads or a gene runs in the family – in the case of Kyle Murphy, it may have been a bit of both.
Murphy learned to ski when he was 2 years old at Brodie Mountain in Massachusetts.
“My mom and her siblings were all instructors at Brodie and my grandfather worked a variety of jobs at the resort on the weekends. We split time between Brodie and Bousquet. After moving to Westborough, we spent weekends at Ward Hill, night skiing at Wachusett as part of the after school program, and made a yearly trip to Waterville Valley or Sunday River with family and family friends,” Murphy said of the early influence of skiing on his life.
He also started snowboarding at around age 12 or 13, noting it was a time when “snowboarding was bursting onto the national scene with Kelly Clark winning the snowboarding gold medal at the Park City Olympics in 2002. I remember it being a time where everyone was excited to try something new and it felt like the sport had been reinvigorated,” he said, noting Shaun White won gold at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics in the halfpipe.
After graduating from Westborough High School in 2006, Murphy majored in history at the University of New Hampshire, graduating in 2010. He spent the summer working in New Hampshire “looking for what to do next.” Heeding his mother’s advice, he applied to western resorts. Vail offered him a position as a lift attendant, but he accepted a snowboard instructor job at Keystone.
In Aug. 2019 Murphy and his new wife moved to Vermont for his job at Okemo. Originally from New Jersey, she had grown up taking ski trips to Okemo and later lived in Colorado for 12 years. Wanting to start a family, “it seemed like the right time to make the move back East,” Murphy said.
Q&A with Kyle Murphy
Mountain Times (MT): How did you get to your current job?
Kyle Murphy (KM): After a few years as a snowboard instructor at Keystone, I was hired onto the management team as a supervisor. Five years later I moved to Breckenridge and was a manager in the Children’s School for three years. I moved into the position of Children’s Ski & Ride School general manager and was responsible for all the children’s ski school programming. I spent a little more than a year in that position when my current job as director of skier services became available at Okemo.
MT: What are your job duties and responsibilities?
KM: Unlike my prior roles, which were almost exclusively focused on the Ski & Ride School, I oversee four departments that encompass most of our guest facing employees. This includes Ski & Ride School, our competition services program, product sales & services (tickets, scanning, guest services and season pass teams) and our childcare program. I also oversee our summer activities, which include our Adventure Zone at Jackson Gore, Camp Gokemo, scenic chairlift rides, and our mountain bike park.
While I have oversight over a lot of teams, each team is led by a department manager, and it’s their hard work and leadership that results in the amazing experience our guests have when they visit Okemo. My role is to ensure that every thing we do as a team is driving toward the goal of providing an experience of a lifetime for our employees and our guests. Each team has a different set of priorities and challenges; my job is to make sure we’re all going in the same direction, driving toward a shared end goal.
MT: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected services?
KM: The past year has been quite the experience. Starting with summer, we had to re-imagine everything we did and due to Covid safety protocols, we were only able to open our Mountain Coaster and scenic chairlift rides. Like many businesses, we started an employee health-screening program.
The winter has brought even more change. We introduced the reservation system to mitigate the number of skiers, which overall has been a success once our guests got used to the new system. In our Ski & Ride School and our competition program, we introduced health screenings for our guests, limited group sizes, and changed our product offerings and start/end times.
This was all done through the lens of spreading people out and avoiding crowding to ensure the safety of our guests and employees. Unfortunately, we were unable to open our childcare to guests; however, we’re hoping to offer that service next season.
This winter our focus has been ensuring that once we opened, we stayed open. Our employees have been amazing. They’ve overcome every hurdle this pandemic has thrown at them and have been able to provide an incredible ski/ride experience for our guests.
MT: What do you like about your job? Best part? Rewards? Challenges?
KM: Any job where you can ski or snowboard every day, even just one run, is pretty amazing. Connecting with your team at the top of Okemo’s Sunburst lift isn’t a bad way to start a meeting.
The most rewarding part of working in the ski industry is the ability to introduce and share something you’re passionate about. I met my wife on a chairlift, and I proposed to her at the top of that lift six years later.
While maybe setting the bar a bit high, I want to provide the same meaningful life experience to anyone who comes to Okemo or decides to give skiing/riding a go.
MT: What challenges or issues do you see for winter sports?
KM: I think the entire winter industry is looking toward the future and wondering how global warming may impact our operations. Luckily for us at Okemo, the Mueller family had a lot of foresight and invested in a lot of snowmaking infrastructure. We don’t need it to snow, we just need it to be cold.
At the same time, as our winters start to get warmer there is a real fear that our seasons will start to be shorter with less natural snowfall. Okemo and Vail Resorts have made a lot of investments in our focus on sustainability. It’s been great to see the industry as a whole really start to get involved and commit to the fight against climate change.
MT: How do you spend your time outside of work?
KM: My wife and I have an 8-month old son, Max, our first. So with the pandemic and all the travel restrictions, it’s been great to spend so much time with him. During the winter, anytime I’m not working you can find my wife and me trying to squeeze in as many runs as possible at Okemo. We also love making the quick trip over to Mt. Sunapee. During the summer I love being, and doing anything, outside, especially going to the beach. We didn’t have too many of those in Colorado, so it’s great to be a few hours from the ocean.
MT: How would you define the mountain or ski town lifestyle?
KM: Living a ski town lifestyle is challenging. In most cases, it means you work long hours in difficult conditions, with your busiest times being when everyone else is on vacation with their family. I haven’t been with my family for Christmas or Thanksgiving for over 10 years and that can be challenging.
At the same time, that’s what makes the culture and lifestyle so incredible to be a part of. I think it’s rare to work somewhere and live somewhere where everyone you work with has made a choice to be there. It’s something that connects us all and creates a really unique, inclusive, and supporting experience that I believe is hard to replicate.
I also love the seasonality of it; being able to transition from winter to summer and back has a way of keeping things fresh and reinvigorates you for the next season.
MT: What advice would you give someone who wanted to work at a ski resort?
KM: Do it! Doesn’t matter whether you just want to do it for a year or make a career out of it, I’d highly recommend it.
Our team is made up of people from all backgrounds and professional careers, at all stages of their lives. We have a lot of employees coming right out of college or high school, especially this year with Covid. We have staff who start their “second career” with us here after a lifetime in a different industry and staff who just join us on the weekends. Everyone plays a critical role at the resort.