Vail Resorts’ New ‘POWDER’ Room

In 2019 Vail Resorts was named by Forbes magazine as one of the top places in the U.S. for women to work. Here’s why. 

Note: This issue, we took a special look at women in snowsports. For more about that, head here.

When Pat Campbell was running Breckinridge in Colorado, she sometimes had trouble convincing guests that a woman could do her job, even though she had been in the ski industry for almost 30 years, working her way up from a ski instructor to general manager.

“I remember this one time, I was riding the chairlift at Breckenridge with these guys and chatting

Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division. Photo courtesy Vail Resorts

with them and they were like, ‘Well what do you do?’ I said, ‘Oh, I run the ski resort.’ They said, ‘Well what does that mean?’ I said, “Well, you know, I oversee the resort.’ They said, ‘So you do H.R.?’ Finally, I said, ‘No, I am the chief operating officer. I am the head boss at the ski resort.’”

In 2015, Campbell was named President of Vail Resort’s Mountain Division. Since then, Vail Resorts has promoted women to be chief operating officers of eight of its 37 ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone in Colorado, Hotham Alpine in Australia, Northstar in California and Mount Sunapee,  N.H.

In March of 2019, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz announced a new company-wide initiative called POWDER: Providing Opportunity for Women through Diversity, Equality and Respect.

As Katz said at the time, “Within the mountain resort industry, there is a real push to honor and protect the past. Unfortunately, and sometimes unconsciously, that can spill over into people.”

The inspiration for the POWDER initiative came from the Women of Whistler Blackcomb program, a grassroots program started at the British Columbia resort by women leaders in 2015. It resulted in leadership trainings, conversations about implicit bias in Whistler’s workplace, changes to hiring patterns and more flexible schedules for young parents.

Within Vail Resorts. POWDER formed in 2019 with a steering committee of 11 executives and managers from across 37 resorts. Karen Wagner, Stowe Mountain Resort’s first woman ski patrol director, was selected as the lead representative for the Northeast region, which includes Okemo, Mount Snow, Attitash, Stowe, Mt. Sunapee and Wildcat.

Karen Wagner is the first woman to serve as patrol director at Stowe Mountain Resort.

Wagner has assembled a local POWDER team to bring the programming to Vail’s Northeast resorts. “This year, we are focusing on awareness and on fostering a culture of inclusion. I think for us, the place where progress can be made is in the little stuff,” says Wagner. “How do we make these traditionally male-dominated sectors of our industry more appealing to women?” she asks. “Then how do we recruit and retain them and move them up the leadership rungs?”

This winter, Vail is hosting monthly events, open to all employees, each with a theme. The first, hosted at Mount Sunapee in November was about being brave, with guest speaker Olympian Donna Weinbrecht, who won the first gold medal awarded in the Olympics for freestyle skiing in 1992.

The second event, hosted by Okemo, featured an open conversation among employees about unconscious bias in the ski industry and taught employees the Harvard Implicit Bias Test as a tool for evaluating whether they were complicit. Wagner and her team plan to host another event, featuring women pioneers in Vermont’s ski industry at Stowe this season.

In 2019 Forbes Magazine named Vail Resorts one of the top places to work as a woman.

“I think the current climate has been really eye-opening for a lot of men,” said Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz last spring. “It is not just a women’s issue. Men really need to be the champions of that change… we need to create forums where men and women can come together to talk about diversity.”

For more about the women leading Vermont’s ski patrol units, head here.

Featured Photo: Brandon, Vt. native Kristi Brown has tested skis for most of the major magazines and skied more than 150 pairs this past season, alone. Here she stomps it at her home mountain of Stowe. Photo by Jesse Schloff/Stowe Mountain Resort

Abagael Giles

Abagael Giles is the Assistant Editor at Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine. She loves free-heel skiing and exploring her home state of Vermont–one ridgetop at a time. Find her on Twitter at @AbagaelGiles.