John Kanarowski has spent the past 20 years working in the tech industry, a body of work which might make him sound like strange fit for the position of executive director of Park City Ski and Snowboard. But Kanarowski says he is passionate about the snowsports that the club facilitates and has a long history with skiing and snowboarding.
The 48-year old put on his first skis while living in Germany at Garmisch-Partenkirchen – a massive resort complex near a military base where his father, a colonel in the U.S. Army, was stationed during Kanarowski’s youth.
As a result, Kanarowski skied with Ski-Club Garmisch team for 14 years, Kanarowski said.
Though his father was transferred to other bases around the world, the family continued to visit the resort near the Germany-Austria border for years to come. Kanarowski said his love for skiing has traveled with him since, including a detour into snowboarding in the late ’90s, when Kanarowski spent a few years living in Sugar House. He got his first boarding turns at Park City Mountain Resort.
Between then and now, he’s worked as an accountant for Merced Systems, which develops sales software, was a manager at ubiquitous software corporation Oracle. After that, he was the senior director for the Salt Lake City-based Workday, and was the general manager and senior vice president of Periscope Holdings, which sells software that handles big business.
So when he saw the opening at Park City Ski and Snowboard, he viewed it as a way to converge two large parts of his life seamlessly.
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“I saw that it combined passion for skiing and competitive skiing, as well as (a need for) someone who could run the business and administrative side of the organization,” he said. “I realized I had both of those – a strong passion in skiing and the business and administrative experience, too.”
After consulting the decision with his wife and kids, he applied for the job, and was eventually accepted in June after a two-month vetting process following the departure of Jesse Hunt, who left to become alpine director for U.S. Ski and Snowboard. He’s now set to lead an organization with more than 900 members.
Kanarowski said the main difference between his previous jobs and his new role will be a change in product and a change in customers. However, he said there’s also a lot of overlap.
“In a technology company, (customers’ needs are) what drives the innovations — focusing on the customer — and I think you can take that same approach to what we do as a ski club as well, and really focus on what are the services we are delivering to our families and athletes, what we’re doing well, and also understanding what we can improve,” he said.
He plans on using his experience in research to better serve PCSS’s customers.
One of Kanarowski’s main goals is to solidify a multi-sport program that would allow skiers to rotate through different sports on different days, including alpine ski racing, ski jumping, and cross-country skiing. The goal — a holdover from Hunt’s time and one of the reasons for the club’s consolidation last year — is to allow kids to sample different sports so they are better able to find their strengths and passions among a smorgasbord of activities.
“We have the building blocks, and there’s a lot of demand from customers, particularly for younger kids, to do something more like that and get that broader, multi-sport base,” Kanarowski said. “We can deliver on that.”
The other objective is to lower the overhead for parents and grow the club’s participation.
“That’s another thing we’ve been hearing from families,” Kanarowski said. “They are passionate about (PCSS’s sports offerings) and they realize these are not inexpensive sports, but on the other hand, I think people are asking ‘Hey, how can you deliver this programming at a lower price point; how can you make it more accessible to a broader set of families here in the community.’ We will work on that.”
He said the club does not yet have a silver bullet for lowering the cost of participation, particularly with equipment, though PCSS does offer rental programs for some ski gear.
The club is also seeking to expand its backcountry education and activities. Under Hunt, PCSS adopted a ski mountaineering race program which trains at the Utah Olympic Park, and Kanarowski said the club will both expand the current program and add backcountry education for kids and parents this year. He said the programs are a natural fit because of the club’s current offerings.
“We have big-mountain programs, we have all-mountain programs, so it’s really making sure they are learning the skills to be safe,” he said.
After taking over, Kanarowski said his transition has been like ones previous, where as a new hire he has been “drinking from the fire hose” to familiarize himself with the job and the organization. But he said the club was in a good place to change.
“We have a really good foundation in place here,” he said. “Bringing these clubs together; there was a lot of work done there with the integration team. I think (Hunt) has also hired a lot of great coaches and I think we have a really solid coaching staff and great programs that, over time, have produced amazing athletes.”
Kanarowski said he is already looking forward to winter, and has gotten his first taste of skiing for the season after joining one of the alpine high performance teams at a camp at Oregon’s Mount Hood.
“I’m super stoked for the winter,” he said. “Hopefully we will have a snow winter like two winters ago.”