Snow jobs

The nation’s only four-year ski business program is in our backyard

Tim Cohee, teaching a ski program class at Sierra Nevada College.

Tim Cohee, teaching a ski program class at Sierra Nevada College.

Stephen Costas had recently worked as an instructor at Snow Summit in Southern California when he was trying to decide which college to attend.

“I fell in love with the sport of snowboarding and wanted to find a way to make money doing it,” he says.

He started looking up ski business degrees online. Turns out the only college in the United States offering a four-year degree in ski business and resort management was Sierra Nevada College, in Incline Village.

“I chose here because of the ski business program,” says Costas, 20, now a junior. He currently works in management at Northstar’s ski school. He snowboards at least five days a week.

Though the ski program at SNC has existed for several years, it’s undergone a dramatic change since 2008, when an infusion of funding allowed for a new curriculum and internship program, created in large part by program chair Tim Cohee. It’s identical to a business degree, with the exception of the final 18 units, which fall under the Ski Business and Resort Management program.

Cohee has been in the ski industry for more than 30 years, including 13 years as president of Kirkwood Mountain. He’s the new owner and operator of China Peak, formerly called Summit Sierra. He’s watched the program grow from about 15 students in 2008 to 100 in 2010, which is about 20 percent of the college.

“I think in five years, we’ll double that number,” says Cohee.

Cohee attributes the program’s appeal to a couple of key things: Access to internships at some of the nation’s top ski resorts, and a 45-person roster of guest speakers who hold some of the biggest jobs in the business—from the CEO of Squaw Valley to Sierra-at-Tahoe general manager John Rice. Those speakers show up in classes like Mountain Operations, Resort Master Planning, and Real Estate Development, where students learn everything from lift operations and snow making to marketing, lodging, budgeting and personnel management. They even create their own virtual ski resorts in a capstone course.

When Branden Heap graduated from the program last December, Cohee recruited him to become terrain park supervisor at China Peak.

Though he doesn’t get to play in the snow all day, as some people may think, Heap finds his work—“a lot of planning and logistical things”—rewarding. “We put out a product people really like,” says Heap, 28.

Heap says that what he most appreciates about his time with SNC’s ski business program is the fact that he got to learn from professionals in the field who have real-world experience.

“It’s not just you get to snowboard and have fun all day,” he says. “It’s truly an intense degree. If you put the effort into the major, you can learn more than anybody can ever ask for.”