These schools can help you break into the outdoor industry


Thinking of entering the booming outdoor recreation industry? If you’re a student (or working on a career change), there’s no better time to get started. A growing number of universities across the United States are now offering programs for future workers in the adventure industry, with the goal of better equipping the gear of tomorrow. manufacturers, retailers and business owners to succeed. Last 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 the other in Outdoor Recreation Industry Leadership (ORIL). The ORIB certificate focuses on core business skills such as accounting, finance, and marketing, and is aimed at recent graduates with no or limited business experience. The more advanced ORIL is designed for middle managers who already have some business acumen (outdoors or elsewhere). Courses for ORIL involve more advanced topics, such as financial models, supply chain challenges, human resources, and growth management.

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

“We are creating specialized, easy-to-access programs that will prepare students for outdoor industry jobs that are available now and future careers that will change the field,” said UD Chancellor Jeremy Haefner.

The new program is funded in part by a $3 million grant from the VF Foundation, the charitable 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 ideal location 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 underrepresented people, combined with DU’s extensive offering of courses relevant to business and industry, we hope to inspire the next generation of diverse leadership in the outdoor industry.”

With the outdoor economy driving $374 billion in annual consumer spending in the United States, it’s no surprise that academic offerings like this are popping up at colleges and universities nationwide. Below is a list of other notable programs aimed at getting people outdoors.


Want to start your own outdoor business? The University of ArkansasThe Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) helps would-be entrepreneurs understand the nuances of starting a business through workshops, mentorships, classes, and training at the university’s new Greenhouse Business Incubator in Bentonville, a destination with a growing outdoor reputation. Content is designed for the unique challenges of operating outdoor businesses and carrying out equipment concepts, and most consulting and networking services are free. Already have an outdoor business? GORP’s 12-week cohort program also helps owners expand their concepts through workshops, networking, and fundraising throughout the year.


Prescott College has two degree programs for those who want to make a living teaching, but want to do it outside. The Adventure Education program offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in outdoor education with courses in program administration and leadership, wilderness therapy, and more.


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

Earn your MBA with an emphasis on the outdoors at Western Colorado University in Gunison. The Outdoor Industry Master of Business Administration is a two-year program that includes an MBA core as well as specialized tracks for the product or service side of the outdoor industry. The product concentration includes specialized courses in sustainable equipment development and materials sourcing; supply chain and logistics; and sustainable finance. 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, the University of Colorado BoulderThe outdoor recreation economics master’s program includes a master’s degree in outdoor recreation economics, with additional graduate-level certificates in subjects such as natural resource policy and economic development. The program is entirely online, so you can follow it from anywhere, although Boulder offers impressive outdoor access.


For those interested in leading outdoor adventure programs, such as those offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and Outward Bound, Greenfield Community CollegeThe adventure education program of could provide the perfect training. The program focuses on the development of critical, philosophical and technical skills in adventure education. Backcountry travel, rock climbing, paddle sports, and Nordic skiing are all areas of focus, and the program’s certification skills meet national adventure industry standards.


Become a pro in the snow sports industry at Gogebic Community CollegeThe Ski Area Management program, where classroom work and hands-on experience in the school’s Mount Zion ski area prepares students for technical and administrative positions. Local training is followed by internships at ski resorts across the country. Courses include ski resort layout, ski instruction fundamentals, and ski resort cost and operation analysis.

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


Want to become a professional snow goat? Montana State UniversityThe snow science program in the school’s renowned Earth Science department teaches all things snow safety to undergraduate students seeking careers in the ski industry, research and rescue, guiding and other fields. The intensive courses involve several 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

Wilderness leadership and experiential education to Brevard College is a Bachelor of Arts degree focusing on marketable skills in professional guiding, teaching rock climbing, and other adventure careers. From satisfying customers to balancing corporate budgets, courses prepare students for the business and adventurous aspects of making a living in the outdoor industry.

The Masters Program in Experiential and Outdoor Education at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC is designed 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 in-person classes on weekends, making it easier for working students to graduate.


In Corvallis, Oregon State UniversityThe Center for Outdoor Recreation Economics offers a range of certificate and degree programs focusing on all aspects of the industry, from learning how to operate a ski lift to designing environmentally friendly products. the environment. For those curious about getting into the outdoor space, Foundations of Outdoor Recreation Economics is a unique $400 course, open to anyone, that provides insight into the economic, environmental, and societal impacts of outdoor recreation. outdoors. Check out the school’s free outdoor industry module for an overview of what to expect.

For those already working in the field of outdoor recreation, the MSc in Sports Product Management program at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Commerce teaches students how to bring material to market, from concept to promotion. Both on-site and online programs are available to accommodate full-time students and workers.


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


Want to work with the public outdoors? 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 pursue after graduation.

West Virginia

West Virginia University Institute of Technology 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 paddle sports are included, and courses focus on the fundamentals of running a business. Internships and a final project allow students to gain extensive real-world experience before graduating.