Colby-Sawyer alumni work in almost every facet of the ski industry, from coaching and sales to ski patrol and program direction. Sport management major Brian Heon ’98 and exercise and sport science major Megan Costello Burch ’01 are among those who constantly think snow. They’ve traversed winding paths back to New Hampshire: Heon is vice president and general manager of Wildcat Mountain in Gorham, and Burch is marketing and sales director at Mount Sunapee, home of the Chargers’ alpine ski program. Both exude passion for the sport and industry that has taken them from college ski racing to working with the biggest boss of all: Mother Nature.
Heon's Wild(cat) Ride
When Wildcat Mountain opens for the season, it’s Heon’s call. When a groomer or a cook is out for a shift, Heon will jump into the Snowcat or behind the grill. When the plumbing goes haywire, it’s Heon who has to figure out how to solve the problem. And he wouldn’t have it any other way — Heon knew by age 14 that he wanted to ski competitively and then run a ski resort. He came to Colby-Sawyer to make both those goals happen.
“Sport management, skiing and being in New Hampshire were all exciting to me. Colby-Sawyer taught me to manage people, to grow as a person, and to be well versed in the liberal arts while specializing in sports management and sports psychology,” said Heon. “I appreciate the education I got.”
Heon’s internship in operational management through Disney’s College Program in Florida turned into his first job, and though the experience proved invaluable, he soon missed the mountains. He headed for Utah, where the Disney name opened the door to mountain operations at Canyons Resort. There he met the Mainer he married, and then he started a business brokering house boats on Lake Mead. The 110-degree summers proved too much, though, and Heon took a job with Mount Snow in Vermont for three years before sliding across the border to Wildcat in 2013.
He relishes the mountain’s 2,000 vertical feet, long ski season and history.
“One of the cool things about Wildcat is a lot of the trails were cut 60 years ago, and back then you cut the trails where the mountain took you, so there are more narrow, windy trails here,” Heon said.
Snowmaking starts in October, and so do the 80-hour weeks.
“The mountain is 24/7 during the winter; this place at four in the morning is booming with snowmaking,” he said. “We have about 50 miles of pipe here that move 2,200 gallons of water a minute.”
The mountain staff is a highly trained group operating on a tightly choreographed schedule, but some things are beyond control.
“If you lose Christmas and Presidents’ Week, you’re out of luck when it comes to the bottom line,” said Heon. “You can have the best chairlifts and the best snowmaking, but if it’s 48 degrees and raining all Presidents’ Week, it’s really hard to come back from those conditions.”
The biggest misperception about Heon’s job is that he has summers off — that’s when the staff tackles their biggest projects, in addition to running a zipline and hosting weddings.
“It’s a year-round enterprise,” said Heon. “If you’re going to work in the ski industry, you have to have a passion for it or you’ll go crazy.”
Burch just marked her first anniversary at Mount Sunapee, but her family’s been in the area since her great-grandparents bought a place on Lake Sunapee. Burch grew up ski racing in North Conway and attended Burke Academy, where she met Jill Firstbrook ’91, then Colby-Sawyer tennis and ski coach and current Alpine Program Director at Mount Sunapee. Firstbrook worked hard to get Burch to Colby-Sawyer, where the ski team became her life and she found her calling — in marketing.
“I really believe in the storytelling part of marketing and making that connection and being relatable,” said Burch. “It’s all about how you connect with people. I always tell my interns — I have two from Colby-Sawyer now — to never forget what you’ve done or whom you’ve met.”
Burch’s own internship senior year with Völkl led to her first job as marketing coordinator with the company. Head Penn Racquet Sports recruited her for a communications manager position in Arizona, and though she loved the job, she missed New Hampshire. While Burch was home for a wedding, her former boss at Völkl who had moved on to Tecnica asked if she’d return to New England. Burch said yes and was marketing manager for Tecnica Blizzard for six and a half years.
Firstbrook told Burch about the Mount Sunapee position and now, Burch lives and breathes the #wearesunapee campaign she helped create.
“The campaign just sort of took off, and now my job is to make sure people make trips to Sunapee more than once a year. We have a great team, but the queen is actually Mother Nature — that’s what drives people to ski. If you’re in Boston and you see sunshine and puddles, you’re not thinking about skiing. If a snowstorm comes, the marketing director is a genius, but if it doesn’t … it’s a tough business. But I feel fortunate to have a job I love in an area where I want to live and raise my family.”