August 21, 2014 | By Jake Weber
"There is nothing quite like setting a race course at 6:30 a.m. in pure silence," says Kyle Griffin, '14, of the early-morning work that's turning passion into profession. "The world is still as you watch the shadows of sunrise feather down the hill and the resort comes alive in the valley below."
Skiing before sunrise may one day be part of the job for Griffin, currently interning with Hotham Ski Company in Australia's Victoria province. A member of Michigan's all-state ski team while in high school, Griffin is working with Hotham's marketing department as well as coaching young members of its race squad.
A major focus of Griffin's job is addressing customer complaints that had been gathered by the company over the past few seasons. Analyzing the data with an eye for creative and cost-conscious solutions, Griffin identified a tough problem: customers' dissatisfaction with long lines at the chairlifts. Adding lifts wasn't economically feasible, while increasing lift speed wasn't safe. "We began to play music at the bottom of the lifts," Griffin says. "Not only are employees happier, those waiting in line are more content."
The fix, he explains, came directly from the application of marketing as a way to express value. "People are getting more value from their experience on the hill because of the enjoyment they get from the music. The price never changed, and there was hardly any input cost to adding music," he said, "but people were altogether happier—if even by a small amount."
Griffin attributes this insight to work done half a world way in Albion's classrooms, as part of the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management. "My college courses offered many opportunities to conduct research and draw conclusions based upon data collected, which has come to be a huge part of what I do both in the marketing department and on the slopes as a ski instructor and coach," he muses. "I am constantly asking probing questions that aim to get to the bottom of how another person thinks and learns, or how we as a company can get more people to the slopes."
As a coach with the Mount Hotham Racing Squad, Griffin has worked primarily with 15- to 19-year-old skiers, many of whom travel between Australia and North America in order to train year-round. He coaches the young skiers in both tactical and technical skills, "teaching them how to more efficiently ski bumpy terrain, deep snow, through trees, over cliffs, and on groomed slopes where we would practice very fine motor movements," says Griffin. "I would also teach them about their equipment. Often, proper equipment maintenance will take up to an hour each day."
Griffin found coaching to be a rigorous job in an environment where the "season" is at least six weeks shorter than in the U.S. "We are on the hill in all conditions, in back-to-back lessons, for seven or eight hours without breaks to get warm or to eat," he says. "Working on the hill in Australia has made me an expert at stuffing extra layers and gloves, rain gear, socks, and a sandwich all into my jacket!"
He's also aware that "understanding and incorporating another culture has helped me grow more worldly as a person. Even nuances provide you the opportunity to face slightly awkward situations with greater and greater ease. It could be something as small as not recognizing that every round of drinks, not only the first, should be 'cheered' to be polite," he says.
Griffin has worked as an instructor and with the administration of Michigan's Boyne Mountain Resort during his Albion College winter breaks, and plans to remain involved with the snow sports industry. The internship has "given me a greater breadth of understanding for the business as a whole—now I see how the industry operates on the other side of the world," he says. The experience has strengthened Griffin's goal to work in financial management of resort and retail properties.
At the end of the day, though, it's all about the skiing. "I have a 'bucket list' of slopes from Japan to Argentina, but my main goal in life is to make the sport of skiing matter to the 95 percent of people in the world that have not yet experienced it," he says. I’ve seen it bring families together, make for a lifetime of memories, become the careers of many, and provide a way to smile on even the most bitter winter days. That is the magic."