Four years ago, Derek Pankoff went to a job fair. He was completing Selkirk College’s ski industry program and looking for a work practicum in one specific area: freestyle skiing events at Silver Star Resort.
An international-caliber skier and experienced snowboarder, Derek had started to ski at Silver Star when he was a child. Now at the end of a two-year Ski Resort Operations and Management program at Selkirk College, he wanted to complete his 21-week practicum at the resort. Derek convinced them to trust his experience and let him develop freestyle ski and snowboard terrain. “If I didn’t get this job,” says Derek, “I wouldn’t be working in the ski industry.”
Silver Star hired him as terrain park supervisor. Initially, Derek supervised two employees and the daily operations of the park. During his first year, he believed it would be a job with regular work hours. “People don’t understand that snow deteriorates every day,” says Derek. “You’re always on maintenance, always trying to make it bigger and better. Guests expect it. They’re disappointed if it isn’t.”
His responsibilities expanded with the growth of the park. Silver Star offered him the position of TELUS terrain park manager. Now, Derek oversees the planning, building, budgets and daily operations of the park. “It’s a lot more time-consuming and physically demanding than I originally thought.” When events take place, he works up to 16 hours a day.
In summer, Derek is in constant communication with resort staff on building, designing and maintaining freestyle ski and snowboard hills. “When your product depends on so many departments, like grooming, ski-patrol, the ski school and the snowboard school, everybody has to work together to make it work.” In late fall, he hires employees for the season and trains new staff. In winter, he manages and coordinates building hills and jumps for freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.
Currently, Derek has eight staff members who take care of everything from opening and closing the park to the daily grooming of hills. “The biggest challenges are weather conditions and daily and nightly maintenance,” says Derek. Despite this, “I get to do what I love to do every day.”
Derek advises those interested in a tourism career to “do something that you love doing.” He believes “you need to have great guest relations and customer skills” to work in tourism. While going to Selkirk College “definitely gave me skills and opportunity,” Derek attributes his success in the industry to his overall knowledge of the ski and snowboard world. “Without that, I would have never got to where I am.”