By Nathan Ham
Through a partnership between Lees-McRae College and Beech Mountain Resort, the college will hold a grand opening of the new Dr. Thomas Brigham Classroom this Saturday, February 29 at 4 p.m. at Beech Mountain.
Lees-McRae is now offering a Ski Industry Business and Instruction minor through its outdoor recreation management program. It is the only minor offered in the ski industry anywhere in the Southeast and is only one of three on the entire East Coast according to the college. Students interested in learning more about the ins and outs of the ski industry now have a way to not only get college credit for it but also take what they learn into a professional career.
Talia Freeman is the director of marketing at Beech Mountain and is also a Lees-McRae College alumnus. She’s happy to see the program getting off the ground and even happier that Beech Mountain is playing a big role in helping build the program.
“We have a classroom on site here where students can have an opportunity for experiential learning. We are trying to support them as much as we can with internships, employment, and educational opportunities,” said Freeman. “I think it is an awesome opportunity for all of us in the Southeast and it has been a great career path for me so I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it is successful.
Freeman also sees the program as not only a great opportunity for Lees-McRae, but also for the ski industry as well to potentially be able to hire college graduates that already have some knowledge about the ski industry.
“I have worked in the ski industry for 11 years and grew up here and didn’t really know that would be a career opportunity. I think it’s important that we introduce this industry to young people and we’re really excited about it,” says Freeman. “With the way that the ski industry is shifting to year-round operations nationwide, I think that’s really going to make this a distinct program. These students are going to graduate with this ski industry minor and the experience that goes with it.”
Katie Wall is an assistant professor and the program coordinator for the outdoor recreation management program at Lees-McRae. She has played an integral from the college’s end on getting the program up and running and has seen a lot of excitement from the students and the community as a whole.
“Both the community and the students have both excited and extremely supportive of the growth of our Outdoor Recreation Management program. As students progress through the program, they’ll become eligible to earn certificates that will give them a unique advantage upon graduation. Students can enroll in the PSIA-AASI Ski/Snowboard Instructor Level 1 Certification, PSIA-AASI Adaptive Level 1 Certification Prep courses, and Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) which prepares students to work on Ski Patrol.
This program can prepare students for jobs in ski resort management and administration, ski/snowboard instructor, ski patrol, resort operations (snowmaking and lift maintenance), marketing and sales, and human resources,” Wall said.
Beech Mountain has graciously donated the classroom space and has been working hard to promote the program.
“Working with Beech Mountain Resort has been extremely smooth. Manager Ryan Costin, went to college for a ski management and area operations degree so from the very beginning he understood what we were trying to achieve,” said Wall. “Marketing Director Talia Freeman has passionately supported and advocated for the development and growth of this program as well – it doesn’t hurt that she is a dedicated Lees-McRae Alumni either.”
As part of the Family and Friends Ski Weekend hosted by Lees-McRae, the college will hold a grand opening of the new Dr. Thomas Brigham Classroom in partnership with Beech Mountain Resort.
The event will take place on Saturday, February 29 at 4 p.m. at Beech Mountain Resort. Guests are invited to join Lees-McRae President Lee King and members of the Brigham family for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and light refreshments.
Housed within the resort’s lodge, the new classroom space will provide an onsite home for the Lees-McRae academic programs in Ski Industry Business and Instruction and Outdoor Recreation Management as well as the training base for the college’s ski and snowboard team.
The classroom is named for the late Dr. Thomas Brigham, in honor of his legacy within the ski industry. Known as “The Father of Southern Skiing,” Brigham played a significant role in the development of Beech Mountain and Sugar Mountain Resorts in North Carolina and Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.
Dr. Brigham grew up in Rutland, Vermont and had a great affection for skiing. After deciding to move his family to Banner Elk in 1966, Brigham went on to open Beech Mountain Resort in the winter of 1967 and then Sugar Mountain Resort in December of 1969. Beech Mountain continues to be the highest elevation of any ski slope east of the Mississippi River at 5,506 feet.
Brigham and his passion for skiing and snowmaking would continue his mission to bring ski resorts to the southeast when he also opened Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia in December of 1974.
What the Students are Saying
Some of the students who have been enrolled in the program shared their thoughts on what they learned and how it will benefit them in the future.
Tommy MacLeod is an Outdoor Recreation Management major and is in his third year as a ski instructor at Beech Mountain. He’s also the captain of the Ski and Snowboard Team at Lees-McRae.
“These classes have helped me understand how resorts on the East Coast specifically keep revenue throughout the year. Before I took some of these classes I thought the industry was much more cut and dry, whereas I now understand that a lot more goes into managing a successful resort than I thought,” says MacLeod. “These classes are designed to set you up for a career in the ski industry and also open up doors in the surrounding areas. This minor introduced you to all the different departments at the resort so you can decide what suits you and know the stepping stones to get there.”
MacLeod added that he feels like this minor is a great way to get your foot in the door in a ski resort management career.
Tyler Kinson is an Outdoor Recreation Management major and sees being able to work at a ski resort as a potential dream job and is happy that Lees-McRae will be able to prepare him for that career.
“I have a love for the outdoors and was looking at other schools that had ski programs. I almost didn’t come to Lees-McRae because at the time they didn’t have the minor set up on their website yet. But as soon as I saw it come up, I knew Lees-McRae would be the place for me. I have a passion for snowboarding and wanted to turn that into a job where I could run a resort someday,” Kinson said. “Each day we come into the class and I know that it is going to be a little bit different than the last class we had. The class had tons of awesome chances to listen to amazing guest speakers. I now have a completely new view on the industry and can’t wait to get to work in it someday.”
Kinson says that the program is preparing him for a lot of hard work down the road to be able to handle the many tasks that take place around a ski resort to keep it operating.
Chrissy Turk is another Outdoor Recreation Management major who decided to pursue the minor after enjoying her previous experiences with her ski and snowboarding classes. She said before she arrived at Lees-McRae, she had no knowledge or experience skiing or snowboarding but between hitting the slopes on her own and the classes being taught at LMC, she’s prepared for a career outdoors.
“These classes have introduced me to a lot of the opportunities that exist for employment in the ski industry. Even though skiing and snowboarding are seasonal sports, I’ve learned that you can still have a lifelong career in the industry,” said Turk. “This program has expanded my potential to find work as an outdoor recreation management professional. Even if I don’t end up working full-time in the ski industry, everything I’ve learned through taking these classes and working at Beech Mountain will transfer easily into whatever area of the industry I decide to work in.”
Finishing Touches on Classroom Facilities
Talia Freeman gave a tour of the classroom facilities earlier in the week that was still in the mist of getting its finishing touches done for this Saturday’s ribbon cutting. The classroom is located off the top floor of The Lodge and also uses space in the tower.