These Colleges Can Assist You Break into the Out of doors Trade



Thinking of getting into the booming outdoor leisure industry? If you’re a student (or working on a career change), there’s no better time to get started. A growing number of colleges across the US are now offering programs for future adventure industry workers with the goal of better equipping tomorrow’s gear manufacturers, retailers, and business owners for success. The newest school to join the list: the University of Denver.

DU’s new Leadership in Outdoor Recreation Industry program offers two postgraduate certificates – one in Outdoor Recreation Industry Business (ORIB) and another in Outdoor Recreation Industry Leadership (ORIL). The ORIB certificate focuses on fundamental business skills such as accounting, finance and marketing and is aimed at young graduates with little or no business experience. The more advanced ORIL is designed for middle managers who already have some business understanding (in the field or elsewhere). Coursework for the ORIL covers more advanced topics such as financial models, supply chain challenges, human resources and growth management.

Both programs begin in the spring, and virtual participation is an option for those who don’t live in the Mile High City.

“We create specialized, accessible programs that prepare students for the jobs available now in the outdoor industry and for future careers that will transform the field,” said DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner.

The new program is funded in part by a $3 million grant from the VF Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Denver-based VF Corporation, parent company of The North Face and Smartwool.

“Denver is an important center for the outdoor industry, making DU the perfect home for such a program,” said Steve Rendle, CEO of VF Corporation and chairman of the board of the VF Foundation. “Through the Foundation’s targeted support of scholarships for the underrepresented, combined with DU’s extensive offering of business and industry relevant courses, we hope to inspire the next generation of diverse leaders in the outdoor industry.”

Given that the outdoor economy generates a whopping $374 billion in annual consumer spending in the US, it’s no surprise that academic offerings like this are popping up at colleges and universities across the country. Below is a list of other notable programs aimed at getting people outside.


Do you want to start your own business in the outdoor industry? That University of ArkansasThe Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) helps aspiring entrepreneurs understand the nuances of starting a business through workshops, mentorship, classes and training at the university’s new Greenhouse incubator in Bentonville, a destination with a growing outdoor reputation. Content is designed for the unique challenges of running outdoor stores and implementing equipment concepts – and many of the consulting and networking services are free. Already have an outdoor business? GORP’s 12-week cohort program also helps owners grow their concepts through year-round workshops, networking, and funding.


Prescott College has two courses for everyone who wants to make a living from teaching – but outside of it. The Adventure Education Program offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in outdoor education with coursework in program administration and leadership, wilderness therapy and more.


Do you dream of becoming a mountain guide or ski resort operator? Majoring in Adventure Education Fort Lewis College helps students become wilderness therapists, guides, experiential educators, and public lands workers. After completing 33 credit hours of math, history, and science, students complete the 57-credit hour degree with courses such as Wilderness Expedition, Foundations of Adventure Education, Wilderness First Responder, and Teaching Methods for Adventure Education. Electives include Rock Climbing Fundamentals, Swiftwater Rescue, and Advanced Winter Backcountry Travel. For students focusing on the ski industry, the Ski Resort Operations Certificate teaches the ins and outs of on-mountain and corporate ski resort management.

Earn your MBA with an outdoor focus at Western Colorado University in Gunison. The Outdoor Industry Master of Business Administration is a two-year program that includes an MBA core plus specialized courses for the product or service side of the outdoor industry. The product concentration has specialized courses in sustainable equipment development and material sourcing; supply chain and logistics; and sustainable financing. The service concentration offers specialized courses in resort and hospitality management, natural resource regulation and sales. (Plus you can explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison when you’re not studying.)

Not to be outdone that University of Colorado BoulderThe Master’s program in Outdoor Recreation Economy includes an MS in Outdoor Recreation Economy with complementary graduate certificates in topics such as resource policy and economic development. The program is entirely online so you can take it with you from anywhere, although Boulder offers fantastic access to the great outdoors.


For those interested in leading outdoor adventure programs like those offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and Outward Bound, Greenfield Community College‘s Adventure Education Program could provide the perfect training. The program focuses on developing critical, philosophical and technical skills in adventure pedagogy. Backcountry travel, rock climbing, paddle sports, and cross-country skiing are key areas, and the program’s certification competencies match national standards in the adventure industry.


Become a professional in the snow sports industry Gogebic Community College‘s Ski Area Management Program, which provides instruction and hands-on experience at the school’s Mt. Zion ski area to prepare students for technical and administrative positions. On-site training is followed by internships in ski resorts across the country. Courses include ski resort layout, ski instruction fundamentals and ski resort operations/cost analysis.

If you are interested in working in public land management—whether at the local, state, or federal level—the Outdoor Recreation Leadership and Management Program is below University of Northern Michigan in Marquette is worth a look. The bachelor’s degree teaches students practical skills in various outdoor leisure specialties. The program also ensures that students meet the entry requirements of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).


Do you want to become a professional mountain goat? State University of MontanaThe Snow Science Program in the school’s renowned Faculty of Earth Sciences teaches all about snow safety to students pursuing careers in the ski industry, search and rescue, mountain guides and other fields. The intensive coursework spans multiple disciplines, including physics, engineering, hydrology and statistics, calculus, chemistry, and geomorphology. For graduate students, the Snow and Avalanche Lab combines study and research to help learners better understand and predict snow events.

North Carolina

The wilderness leadership and experiential education Brevard College is a Bachelor of Arts degree that focuses on marketable skills in professional leadership, rock climbing instruction, and other adventure careers. From keeping customers happy to balancing the company budget, the courses prepare students for both the business and adventurous aspects of life in the outdoor industry.

The master’s degree in experiential education and outdoor education Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina is for students who want to work as teachers at Expeditionary Learning Schools, Charter Schools, Community Colleges, Camps and beyond. The two-year program includes both online classes during the week and face-to-face classes at weekends, making it easier for working students to graduate.


in Corvallis, Oregon State University‘s Center for the Outdoor Recreation Economy has a range of certifications and programs that focus on all aspects of the industry, from learning to operate a ski lift to developing environmentally responsible products. For those curious to enter the outdoors, the Foundations of the Outdoor Recreation Economy is a $400 one-on-one course, open to all, that provides an overview of the economic, environmental, and societal impacts of the outdoor business. Check out the school’s free outdoor industry module to get an overview of what to expect.

For those who are already active in outdoor rec, the Sports Product Management master’s degree is ideal University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business teaches students how to bring equipment to market, from concept to promotion. Onsite and online programs are available for full-time and professional students.


For many, the ultimate dream of an outdoor career is to bring product ideas to life and get paid for it. The program for design and development of outdoor products at Utah State University in Logan is a Bachelor of Science degree that prepares students to enter the world of gear design and manufacturing. After two years of the basic course, students can specialize in design, development or product line management.


Would you like to work outdoors with the public? Bellingham’s Western Washington University offers a recreation management and leadership program – a Bachelor of Arts degree applicable to careers in sustainable tourism and community recreation. Guiding, camp counseling, wilderness therapy, and park management are just a few of the paths students take after graduation.

West Virginia

West Virginia University Technical Institute in Beckley’s Undergraduate Adventure Recreation Management Program prepares students for careers in outdoor businesses. Guide and instructor certifications in at least one discipline such as rock climbing or paddling are included, and coursework focuses on the fundamentals of running a business. Internships and a final project ensure that students have plenty of hands-on experience before they graduate.