By Karen D. Lorentz
Not everyone has the good luck to find their direction in life at age 11, but for Devon McCluskey, an introduction to snowboarding by a cousin proved a fortuitous event that set him on a ski-industry path that he is passionate about.
“My Christmas present that year was a ticket to Seven Springs, and my present would be the same every year after. It was when my obsession began. Even going home, where we didn’t have any snow, all I did was watch snowboard edits [videos] and try to convince my parents to take me back to the mountain,” McCluskey recalled.
Born in Pittsburgh, McCluskey grew up in Wake Forest, North Carolina. After graduating from high school in 2015, he pursued a major in construction management and a minor in business at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
While working at nearby Appalachian Ski Mountain during college, McCluskey said “fell in love with the industry.” He explained: “After graduation everyone typically moves away, but I stayed to continue chasing my dreams and gained experience and knowledge, which is what led me to Okemo. I wanted a new challenge and the opportunity to show what I am capable of at a large resort.”
Q&A with Devon McCluskey
Mountain Times: When did you join Okemo?
Devon McCluskey: I joined Okemo September 2021. I moved here because I was excited to work at a larger resort with parks and a halfpipe, one of the few in New England.
MT: What are your duties as assistant terrain park manager?
DM: I am all over the place during the winter, from helping our day crew to building and maintaining our parks in a snow cat. It keeps me very busy all winter. I just want to provide the best possible product for the people here and will work however many hours and do whatever is necessary to achieve the product I am happy with.
MT: How often do you get to snowboard?
DM: I never get to snowboard as much as I would like, but I typically ride on my day off and when working get a lap through the parks daily to check on everything.
MT: What was the route to your bike park builder job?
DM: I spent five years at App Ski Mountain constantly learning and trying to progress in my career. I have years of experience building mountain bike trails all over North Carolina, and I recently completed Okemo’s Toyota Skills Park, which is a new area with 12 different wooden features ranging from beginner to advanced.
MT: Any similarities with your winter job?
DM: The biggest thing that translates is understanding transition and how different features will be ridden. Other than that, building with snow and dirt is very different. We also do pre-season work for the terrain parks. We do a lot of fabrication as we focus on getting our features back into condition. Summers typically are spent cutting and welding steel as well as painting, grinding and repairing our existing features.
MT: What do you like about your job? Rewards? Challenges?
DM: The best part is simply being able to work in the terrain park industry. I am so passionate about this work that I still can’t believe this is what I get to do every day. The most rewarding part is seeing the excitement and people enjoying what we have built. There are plenty of challenges, but the biggest one is the weather. We are constantly dealing with melt, freeze, rain, etc. Everyone always enjoys the warm slushy days, but they are the most challenging for us as we try to keep up with the maintenance as everything melts out from around our features.
MT: Any mentors?
DM: My greatest mentor is Kris Jones, the parks operator at App Mountain. He is the reason I am where I am today and have the knowledge that I do. He took me in and showed me how to do all pre-season maintenance, weld, operate a cat, and showed me how to run and operate a successful terrain park. And Ric and Drew from App showed me everything they could, and Mike taught me how to build bike trails. Also have to shout out my mom and dad for pushing me to do what I love. I have been extremely lucky to have the people I have had in my life and wouldn’t be where I am without them.
MT: Any favorite activities when not working?
DM: I just love being outdoors. We are constantly trying to hike with the dogs, go camping, kayaking, skateboarding, mountain biking, playing a round of disc golf or do just about anything to enjoy the outdoors. I keep busy in my down time.
MT: What would you tell anyone thinking about getting a job at a ski area or moving to Vermont?
DM: I would encourage anyone who likes skiing or snowboarding to at least try working at a ski resort for a winter. The people in this industry are why I keep coming back, and you gain a whole new appreciation for how much goes into operating a resort. Vermont has been amazing and I can’t believe more people aren’t moving here. It is constantly looked over when compared to Utah or Colorado, but we have such an amazing spread of outdoor activities in both the summer and winter. I hope we will see it continue to grow and call on more young adults to move here.
MT: Anything else that made a difference in your life that you care to share?
DM: I am just thankful for my parents stressing how important hard work is. I took a little bit of a different route, but I have worked really hard to have the chance to keep chasing my dreams.