skiing in Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe

How to Add Powder and Dirt to Your MBA Degree
World-class skiing and mountain biking add balance to Howard Wu’s MBA life

By 8 a.m., the air feels crisp and clear and we’re seeing traces of snow along the roadside. By 9 a.m., we’re putting boots on in the parking lot and it’s go time. By 5 p.m., I’ll be home and soon working on assignments and projects due the coming week.

At the Graduate School of Management, I can take off every Friday—when I have no classes—and access the wilderness in less than two hours. This is the MBA experience I was after and it has become a reality at UC Davis.

Along the way I’ve learned a few ways to take advantage of the region:

The iconic Squaw Valley Ski Resort


In 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession, I quit a cushy engineering job and moved to Utah to be a ski bum. I started a company for designing and manufacturing custom skis and skied a hundred times each season. I rode mountain bikes just as much.

“Most people take long vacations just to reach the great outdoors. I go there on a weekly basis, while working towards an MBA.”

When I made the decision to part ways with my company and develop new skills through an MBA program, I knew I could never leave the mountains behind entirely. And that’s one of the reasons I chose UC Davis for my MBA.

UC Davis outdoors offers nearby skiing


Core classes are not scheduled on Fridays—so that’s when we ride.

Skiers and snowboarders at the Graduate School connect to find carpools and ski buddies during the week.

Students can buy heavily-discounted season passes at numerous Lake Tahoe ski resorts in the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

One iconic ski resort here is Squaw Valley. While it does have mellow groomers for those new to the sport, Squaw is best known for its gnarliness (not a word from the MBA textbook). If you want to see what you’re made of, this is the place.

Our Friday routine is now to wake up in our own beds and spend the entire day skiing world-class terrain with friends, then finish school assignments and go to sleep in our own beds. Few business schools can offer days like this.

Rockville Hills Regional ParkMountain biking Castle PeakMountain biking Marin County, near San FranciscoMountain Biking near Wilder Ranch State Park
Mountain biking at Northstar resort in Lake Tahoe


If I finish class early, I often throw my mountain bike on the car and go for a legit ride before sundown. The areas surrounding Davis offer phenomenal mountain biking year-round. Even in winter, it’s warm enough to ride in shorts.

I can go for a short ride or spend all day biking, and find a little bit of everything, from rolling singletrack to technical descents through rock gardens. Drive west to the birthplace of mountain biking, Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and you have a lot to be explored on two wheels. Its coastal terrain wends through lush green forests.

Further south in Santa Cruz, the views are breathtaking. Dramatic cliffs drop into the ocean. Secluded beaches and coves beg to be explored. Sea lions and harbor seals congregate on rock islands. Where else can you see this from a mountain bike?

“Few business schools can offer days like this.”

For fast downhill riding, I head to Lake Tahoe’s Northstar resort. The ski lifts do the hard work and from the top I have a choice of high-speed gravity trails littered with perfectly-sculpted jumps, large wooden features and technical sections. It’s like a video game—except better because it’s real.

These are only a few of my favorite places to ski and bike. With UC Davis as home base, there are limitless opportunities to pursue any mountain adventure you desire, with no need to clear your schedule far in advance, book accommodations, find travel buddies or set aside a budget. 

Most people take long vacations just to reach the great outdoors. I go there on a weekly basis, while working towards an MBA.