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Training the Next Generation

Ski area business management degree now offered online

Submitted by Northern Michigan University

It is now possible to complete a bachelor’s degree in ski area business management online through Northern Michigan University (NMU)’s Global Campus. NMU offers the program in collaboration with Gogebic Community College (GCC) in Ironwood, Mich.

NMU alumnus PJ Britz has been an enthusiastic supporter of the program. He was able to secure a job with TechnoAlpin, a global leader in snowmaking systems for outdoor and indoor applications. Britz is even more impressed now that the degree can be completed online. He was in the midst of his GCC internship at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont when he realized any hope for upward mobility in the industry would hinge on earning a four-year degree.

“My wife and I were both offered jobs at Killington, so we had to heavily weigh the decision of whether to move back to the U.P. [Upper Peninsula] so I could enroll at Northern,” he said. “A college in Vermont offered a program, but it wasn’t as business-focused, which I preferred, and my credits didn’t transfer well. If Northern’s online option had been available at the time, I would have probably taken full advantage of that. It’s awesome for those who do internships far away because they’re typically offered decent jobs afterward. To be able to continue working while furthering your education is pretty unique and cool.”

Britz did move back to the U.P. to complete the degree, and his off-campus job as a snowmaker at Marquette Mountain paid off professionally. As Midwest sales manager for TechnoAlpin, Britz says one of his biggest successes of 2019 was the ski area’s purchase of a new pump station from his company.

“I knew Marquette Mountain struggled with clogged filters on the snow guns because of all the particulate in the Carp River,” Britz said. “They made some adjustments after I left, but the water was still fairly dirty and the system was antiquated. Our solution utilizes a filtration system. It results in cleaner water and significant increases in flow and pressure, so they’ll be able to make more snow faster. It’s also fully automated. With the click of a mouse, they can start moving 1,800 gallons of water per minute at about 400 psi. Aside from the design of the station, I was told my personal connection to the mountain and passion for it were big selling points.”

Students who begin their academic studies in Ironwood receive technical, hands-on training at GCC’s Mt. Zion before embarking on a five-month internship at one of the country’s major ski resorts. After receiving an associate degree, they can transfer 100 percent of their credits to Northern to complete a bachelor’s through campus-based or online business courses. The NMU portion covers such areas as accounting, finance, management, marketing and computer information systems. Individuals who hold ski area management, ski and snowboard business, ski area operations or a similar Associate of Applied Science degree from an accredited institution can apply for transfer admission.

“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,” said Brian Zinser of NMU’s College of Business. “The business skills, in addition to the hands-on experience, really give students a leg up to get those opportunities.”

To finish the program in a timely manner, students can select one of two options. They can attend GCC for two years, complete an associate degree in ski area management, then transfer to NMU or NMU’s Global Campus to complete the bachelor’s degree. Or they can attend NMU for one year, transfer to GCC for two years, then transfer to NMU or NMU’s Global Campus. Those pursuing the online pathway to a bachelor’s are required to complete a one-week course on campus; the rest can be completed remotely.

The hands-on experiential learning activities and great internship opportunities made available through this collaborative program prepare graduates for careers including ski operations manager, business operations manager, service and retail managers and lift operations supervisor.As the U.P. boasts an abundance of both annual snowfall and ski areas, it is appropriate that one of few such specialized programs in the country originates here.