When you picture a typical work conference, a four walled room with tables and a screen comes to mind. There may be a table for drinks and food and some presentations throughout the day. Now imagine a work conference, but instead of business casual clothing, you’re wearing skis and you’re on a ski hill.
The Ski and Snowboard Cyber Security Conference (SSCC), which took place on March 2 at the The Heights Ski & Country Club in Barrie, ON, offered networking opportunities and conversations with cybersecurity professionals.
The idea came to Evgeniy Kharam, a cybersecurity professional and consultant, after he made a LinkedIn post regarding an experience he had networking with others during a snowboard instructor course. Kharam asked why conferences aren’t offered in more creative ways—like on the slopes
“Our goal when we started this was to bring a unique event to our field, creating a space that allowed people to network differently. With everything we have gone through over the last few years, we believe people are hungry for in-person interaction,” Kharam said.
With the help from Tony Abi-Jaoude, an account executive at Uptycs and independent cybersecurity advisor, the two were able to get in contact with a ski club Abi-Jaoude was part of. Fast forward eight months, after securing a spot at the club, the SSCC was finally in its planning stages.
Kharam and Abi-Jaoude were able to rent the whole ski club and hill for the conference. They organized tickets and began promoting the event. All proceeds from the event went to local charity, Redwood Park, a charity that creates affordable housing for communities.
The actual day was very successful, Kharam says.
While attendees weren’t hitting the slopes, the conference offered an Executive Panel Fireside Chat, discussing cybersecurity challenges facing the industry.
The panel featured Ryan Healey-Ogde, chief communications at Cyber Security Global Alliance, Vivek Khindria, CISO at Loblaw Companies Ltd, Sandi Jones, head of corporate technology at Interac, and Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst at IT-Harvest were also on the panel.
“It exceeded our expectations. With a unique schedule that focused more on networking versus presentations, we provided an environment that was both fun and informative,” Kharam said.
He added that it was a relaxing and laid back experience for a conference, which made it even more rewarding.
Conference attendees echoed similar sentiments.
Sandi Jones, head of corporate technology and enterprise asset management at Interac, said the light schedule made connecting and networking much more “real”.
“The relaxed atmosphere, attendees coming off the hill with their minds refreshed, and the less structured setup inside made it really easy for me to connect and have real conversations about technology, securing talent, bridging the gap between business and security, and much more.”
For Darren Fox, the regional sales director at Vulcan Cyber, the event made it much easier for him to connect with vendors for work — something that had proven difficult due to missed messages and unreliable communication services.
“With the advent of auto diallers and automated email campaigns, vendors have forced our prospects to only use their cell phones. There is no single number that works, and direct inbound emails are ignored or go into spam. If a rep changes vendors, their outreaches aren’t getting through. During the event, I had an executive approach me that I’ve known for years but wasn’t getting my messages. They told me they struggle with the very thing we address and asked me to meet with their team. After the event, I’ve already been in touch with the team lead. The event has paid for itself,” Fox said.
After positive feedback. Kharam is looking forward to hosting more events similar to the ski and snowboard conference.
“With the feedback we have received, we have decided to move forward with The SSCC 2024. We are currently working on a unique date for the conference, and are just awaiting confirmation from The Heights Ski and Country Club before making the official announcement. And, while we are planning for another winter event, we are also considering options for other seasons, including summer.”