Industry Profile: CMC Graduate & Surefoot Tech Kyle Ballinghoff
11 Aug, 2009
Shay: What is your job title?
Kyle: A Surefoot Custom Boot Technician
Shay: What were the decisions behind attending Colorado Mountain College?
Kyle: I had always wanted to live in steamboat and CMC has the best program (ski biz) for what I wanted to do with my life.
Shay: What was your first set up?
Kyle: A Burton Craig Kelly Signature Air, with some Sorel-esk boots.
Shay: What is your current set up?
Kyle: I switch between a Lib-Tech 159 TRS BTX and a Lib-Tech 158 Dark Series BTX for everyday riding. The days that it is really deep I strap into a Lib-Tech 160 Banana Hammock. For bindings it is kind of whatever I can get my hands on and that won’t break in two weeks, currently got a some Rides and Unions. Boots, Salomon F22 size 10.
Shay: What was your first job?
Kyle: I was an apprentice for my dad’s electrical company.
Shay: What’s a great day of snowboarding to you?
Kyle: Strong Black Coffee and Guns N’ Roses during the drive up to the mountain, pulling up to see all your friends are actually at the mountain and not dealing with real life, then riding fun, original lines, that put an ear-to-ear smiles on your whole riding posse. Snowboarding to me is about having fun and that is what makes or breaks a day.
Shay: Who are your influences?
Kyle: Haha that’s a long list, Scotty Wittlake is for sure at the top. That guy personified snowboarding to me. On a day-to-day basis, my friends are a huge source of influence.
Shay: How long have you been snowboarding?
Kyle: 16 Years
Shay: How many days do you get to ride a year?
Shay: Was it an easy adjustment into college?
Kyle: Haha they don’t make it hard in the ski business program. All the SKB classes are scheduled at times after the mountain has closed for the day. It really makes the question of “will I go to the hill or to class” a rarity.
Shay: Why were you interested in the Ski and Snowboard Business degree program?
Kyle: It is one of, if not the, most professional, straightforward, and logical ways to turn a love for snow into a successful career. I realized I wasn’t going pro and figured it would be better to be the guy somehow directing a 120-foot jump then to be the guy jumping it haha.
Shay: What classes have you taken in that program?
Kyle: Ski & Snowboard Retailing and Sales, Snow Sports Promotions, Accelerated Boot Fitting, Accelerated Ski & Board Tuning, Ski & Board Product Design, Ski & Snowboard Marketing and Media, Snow Sports Retail & Wholesale, Integrated Portfolio & Capstone, Work Experience, and many other general business, economic, and accounting classes.
Shay: Which was your favorite class and why?
Kyle: Well Ski & Board Product Design was particularly cool because you and a team go through the entire production and design process. At the end of the class, if your team can outsell the competing teams ideas, your design is actually produced and you leave the class with a professionally made, ride able snowboard, designed uniquely by you.
Shay: How did the program prepare you for the snowboard industry?
Kyle: You actually get to examine the industry from every angle. You take a board from the blueprint stages, through production, into wholesale and dealer contacting, all the way to marketing, adverting, and finally retail sale and service to the final customer. There is only so much you can learn from swinging from the nuts of a local rep or shop-sponsored kid. This program teaches you what you actually need, not just how to bro-bra with dudes with pro-forms and hope for a job.
Shay: You were required to attend the SIA tradeshow, what was that experience like?
Kyle: Well SIA was actually an opportunity not a requirement. SKB students can submit their resumes along with a letter of interest in being an intern for the show. Personality I sent my info to many companies showing at SIA and ending up being a marketing intern for Burton. The experience was crazy, Vegas was crazy, Burton was crazy. It was cool working for one of the biggest exhibitors because if you can hang with them you can hang with almost anyone but I definitely got a good look at the kind of company I never want to work for.
Shay: What are you looking forward to after graduating from CMC?
Kyle: I should go get a real job but I am having too much fun where I am at right now, when the right opportunity presents itself I am sure a will make a huge impact in the way we do business in this industry.
Shay: What are you thoughts on the current state of the industry?
Kyle: You and I both know that snowboarding will never die, however the days of kids buying this year’s new shade of black pants to replace last year’s black pants are over. I know everyone is starting to freak out because of this uncharted territory we are now in but the fact is the markets are still there, they are just a lot smarter with their money. I mean when you look at the company’s that are thriving they are offering potential customers unique products. Even in this “bad” economy and with the cheapest board retailing at $469 (not exactly a price-point) everyone is going bat-shit for Lib-Tech and they are up 81 percent! I look at their success as a good lesson for this new era. They give their customers a full package and have found a niche in snowboard production. They focus on what they know they can be good at. All production is in the USA so they have full quality control, which is step one in finding a niche. Secondly they stand behind their product, which they can do cost-effetely because they over see the whole process and know warranty issues will be rare. In this economy if people are going to break out the wallet they need to know whatever they are spending money on is worth the buck and is build to last. Lastly they stay true to what they know and focus on making their snowboards better. Lib figures they will allow their potential customers to buy jeans and belts at Target something Burton could take a lesson from. When you get to spread your focus out too much you lose the edge that got you in business in the first place. There are a lot of people trying to be good at everything, but to be successful right now you have to be the best at one thing. I truly believe that customer service and product longevity will be massive keys to success in this new era.
Shay: What other jobs/companies have you worked at?
Kyle: Just random retail stuff, made coffee, some construction, the town I grew up didn’t have any snowboard shops or even anything close.
Shay: What are some memorable experiences from your time at CMC and in the business program?
Kyle: The marketing internship with Burton was a big one. I don’t remember everything that happened in Vegas but I won’t forget about that experience for a long time.
Shay: What is your current job?
Kyle: I’m a Surefoot Custom Boot Technician.
Shay: How is working for Surefoot (any cool work events, work environment, job perks)?
Kyle: It is absolutely awesome. The environment is very relaxed. I get to work with all of my friends and Surefoot is a great company to work for. They reward hard work and give their employees clear goals to work for. One cool event is when Surefoot hires new employees, they fly them to Aspen to be personally trained by the two owners and founders of the company.
Shay: What education/experience did you have before getting the job?
Kyle: I had a lot of experience in customer focused specialty retail, and I had gone through accelerated boot-fitting up at the college.
Shay: What’s the best perk you’ve gotten from your job?
Kyle: Orthotics for sure, they make such a difference in your riding and they make your feet unbelievably comfy.
Shay: Any disadvantages of your job?
Kyle: No I am so stoked. I love going to work. It is a weird thing to say.
Shay: Education vs. Experience. Which do you think is more important?
Kyle: Well it is always a tough thing to balance because you can learn a lot through higher education and everyone has to get their first job in the industry at some time but right now I think real work knowledge and experience are a must in this economy. Education gets you into the interview; Experience gets you the job.
Shay: What advice would you give to people wanting to complete a Ski and Snowboard Business degree?
Kyle: Make sure that is what you want to do and work hard at it. You can go a long way with the help of this program and it is so much fun, but if you just want to be a ski-bum just do that. Don’t waste your money on classes you are not going to try in or even go to and don’t waste your professors’ time.
Shay: Final thoughts?
Kyle: I am just having as much fun as I possibly can and I highly recommend that to everyone. Make yourself happy and do what you want to do, knee surgery sucks and think snow.