Selkirk College Distinguished Alumnus Rises to Peak of the Ski Industry

Selkirk College will award ski industry veteran Steve Paccagnan at the upcoming Graduation 2017 ceremony at the Castlegar Campus with the Distinguished Alumnus honour to recognize his excellence in advancing outdoor recreation in Canada.

One of Canada’s ski industry leaders will be honoured as a Distinguished Alumnus at the upcoming Selkirk College Graduation 2017 ceremony.

Steve Paccagnan graduated top of the class from Selkirk College’s Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) in 1988 and for the last three decades has made a significant impact in outdoor recreation across North America. To recognize his contribution to the industry and continued strong connection to Selkirk College, Paccagnan will receive the highest award bestowed on an alumni at the April 28 ceremony on the Castlegar Campus.

“I feel honoured and I am humbled, I’m proud to be a part of Selkirk College,” says Paccagnan, the current President and CEO at Panorama Mountain Village in the East Kootenay. “I’m grateful there was a SROAM Program back when I started because I am not sure what I would have done without the start it provided me.”

A Deep Love of the Mountains

Paccagnan grew up in Coquitlam where he learned to ski at Mount Seymour, Grouse Mountain and Cypress Mountain Resort. From a young age, his parents would load up their winter camper for special weekend trips to Whistler where a further love of the sport was developed.

“From a young age I have always had a spiritual connection with the mountains and have always felt drawn to the mountains,” says Paccagnan.

After high school, Paccagnan went to college and studied criminology in hopes of potentially pursuing law. A Christmas break trip to see friends at Panorama after his first semester sent him in an entirely different direction when he landed a job as a bellman at the resort making $4.25 an hour.

“I immediately fell in love with the resort and fell in love with the idea of being able to work and live in the mountain environment,” he says. “It wasn’t about the money, it was about the pure passion of being in the mountains and being at the resort. That’s where it started.”

While helping the resort set up for a Canada West Ski Areas Association spring conference, Paccagnan struck up a conversation with ski industry legend Jimmie Spencer who was the CEO of the association at the time. Spencer told the enthusiastic young Paccagnan about the Selkirk College program and introduced him to SROAM instructor Peter Wood.

“I signed up right there,” recalls Paccagnan. “I just couldn’t believe there was actually a program that was dedicated to the ski industry and the mountain resort industry. It was unbelievable to be a part of that program.”

The first of its kind in Canada and still one of only two programs after almost 40 years, Paccagnan dove into the Nelson-based SROAM Program with a zest for learning everything he could about the industry.

“Peter Wood was a huge influence on me and an important mentor,” Paccagnan says of the former instructor who was instrumental in the early success of the SROAM Program. “He was a very passionate, driven guy who was extremely focused on the ski industry and providing an exceptional learning experience for the students. His passion and the program made me fall even more love with the industry.”

A Diverse and Successful Career

Once he graduated from Selkirk College, Paccagnan’s knowledge and work ethic were quickly recognized. His first major post came at a young age when he took on the role of tramway supervisor at Grouse Mountain. While working at the resort he grew up skiing, Paccagnan received a call from Selkirk College to let him know about an opportunity to help the new Kawaba Ski Resort in Japan get established and headed overseas.

Returning to British Columbia in 1992, Paccagnan began a run of leadership positions at a variety of resorts including Apex Mountain Resort near Penticton, Mount Baldy near Oliver, Mont Ste-Marie in Quebec and Copper Mountain in Colorado. In 2006, Paccagnan accepted the position of President and CEO of Kicking Horse Resort in Golden where he spent the next eight years taking the popular resort to the next level.

Paccagnan’s career came full circle in 2013 when he returned to Panorama for the fourth time, this time as President and CEO.

“It’s where I started, it was my first love,” says the 52-year-old Paccagnan. “To be involved in something that you are so passionate about… the saying ‘if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life’ is correct. I love this industry and I love what it’s about, it’s given me so much.”

The nomination of Paccagnan for Distinguished Alumnus was put forward by current SROAM Program instructors and veteran industry leaders.

“Steve’s capacity to continually inspire his team to new levels remains evident in his more recent positions leading Kicking Horse Resort and now Panorama Mountain Village,” wrote Hugh Smythe, former President of Intrawest Resort Operations Group. “With his great passion for the ski industry, Steve has played an important role in promoting leadership and development programs, as well as marketing initiatives and government relationships through the Canada West Ski Areas Association, of which he is currently Chair of the board.”

Preparing Future Outdoor Recreation Leaders

Paccagnan continues to be a vital supporter of Selkirk College, having sat on the SROAM Program’s industry advisory committee for many years. He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization Alberta Chapter and sits on the Canadian Ski Council as a board director.

“It’s important that industry support the program and encourage the students,” says Paccagnan. “It’s important that we open up our resorts to the students so they can have access to learning and understanding of the practical side of the business tied to their academics. This way we create great leaders for the future. There are so many people in the industry that have gone to Selkirk College that have had incredible careers and are exceptional leaders.”

Joining Paccagnan on the graduation stage on April 28 will be fellow Distinguished Alumni honouree Patrice Gordon (Nursing Program) and Nakusp Mayor Karen Hamling who will receive a Honourary Diploma.