Five years ago Yue “Max” Liang hated winter. He wasn’t too keen on his chosen profession either. But today he’s in love with snow and preparing for a career connected to China’s fast-growing ski industry. Selkirk College’s Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) is helping him get there.

Liang remembers the lousy winters growing up in Beijing

“It is too cold to stay outside, it is grey, and snow is rare,” says the 26-year-old. “People didn’t do much outside the in winter. I just hated the cold.”

selkirk-college-SROAM-Max-China-500x400

Yue “Max” Liang is a Selkirk College student who is in his first year of the Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) based out of Nelson, B.C.’s Tenth Street Campus. Liang arrived to Canada from Beijing, China with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and is looking to change course to a career that brings new challenges and opportunities.

Then one day a friend showed him a snowboarding video and the two went to a small ski hill near the city to give the sport a try.

“There was very few people on the hill, hardly any snowboarders,” Liang recalls.

It was a nice break from the crowded city. A day on the slopes, the fun and fresh air, sold him on the sport.

“I came home thinking, ‘I want to do more of this’,” he says.

Searching the World for a New Direction

That was five years ago. Liang was at a crossroads in other ways. He had a bachelor’s degree in engineering and master’s degree in business, but the prospect of a future in busy, polluted, crowded Beijing just didn’t inspire him.

“I decided I wanted to come to Canada. There was the clean environment, low population, and good ski resorts,” he says. “I did some research, looking at colleges and universities when I found Selkirk’s Ski Resort Operations & Management Program. I thought, ‘oh, this is what I want to try’.”

“It’s exciting to have students like Max here,” says Bob Falle, the Chair of the School of Hospitality & Tourism.

Falle says the program is attracting more experienced, higher-educated mature students like Liang, looking for a change or a new direction in their careers. About one-third of the program’s 30 students are international, arriving from places as diverse as Brazil, Chile, Ukraine, Australia, and Europe.

“They find us online. They see it’s both a business program—with courses in accounting, leadership, human resources, etc.—and it has ski-industry specific elements like snowmaking, ski lift maintenance, heli- and cat-skiing, ski school, and events management. That really appeals to people looking for a solid grounding in the industry.”

The solid grounding SROAM provides is just what ski resorts and tour operators are looking for, says one industry spokesman.

“This industry suffers from an ongoing labour shortage of skilled workers, especially in good years, like this one,” says David Lynn, the CEO of Canada West Ski Areas Association.

Lynn says the SROAM program has played a “pivotal” role in building relationships with Chinese resorts and Canadian companies looking to develop inroads in that country.

“Selkirk’s program is an important partner in providing a much-needed stream of young people educated for management skills,” he says.

Growing Demand in China for Winter Recreation

The potential for growth in the ski industry in China is staggering. The 2012 China Ski Study (a government and industry-sponsored survey) estimates that in 1996 there were just 10,000 skiers in China. In 2010, the number jumps to more than five million. From a handful of resorts in 1980, the country now has more than 75—many of them massive, multi-billion dollar projects. With China now set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the sport’s popularity is only expected to grow.

That growth, however, has also created significant challenges. As in Canada, there are critical shortages of trained resort managers in areas from retail sales to lift maintenance, from snowmaking to event planning. Most workers remain seasonal hires, with little or no training in hospitality service.