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May 2022

The Path to Progress

Commitment and accountability are the keys to making the mountains more inclusive, equitable, and diverse. 

Written by Sarah Wojcik | 0 comment

In February 2005, SAM hosted a “Diversity Summit” in Steamboat, Colo. It was facilitated by the New Haven Group and sponsored by big names like Pepsi, Sprint, Anheuser-Busch, and United Airlines. High-level management from resorts across North America attended, and together discussed inclusion, attracting and retaining a diverse staff, marketing to a broader audience, and more. Specialists in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) shared stories and best practices. SAM promised to devote continued editorial focus to this discussion, hosted a panel on diversity at a National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) conference, a workshop at the New England Summit, and created a Diversity Award. The industry had momentum and hope.

Well, we failed. According to NSAA’s 2020-21 Demographic Report, minority representation at U.S. ski areas has actually decreased over the last decade, relative to the population.

However, in the last two years, the call for cultural change has been louder than ever. And many in the resort industry have joined the chorus. So, how do we avoid repeating history and sustain the momentum we have now?

We continue to make real investment into the movement, increasing our support for community outreach programs, ski industry forums for sharing DEI best practices, and most importantly, actions at our own businesses aimed at internal cultural change. 

To avoid failure again, the snowsports industry needs to commit to addressing equity, inclusion, and diversity gaps head on. Here are some examples of those in the industry paving the way forward for lasting change.   


In 2020, Alterra Mountain Company CEO Rusty Gregory sent a message to employees that addressed the company’s efforts to move beyond “the important passive pursuits of being welcoming and inclusive to guests and employees of all colors” to more actively and intentionally combat racial inequality in the mountains. Since then, Alterra has partnered with organizations like the Share Winter Foundation, She Jumps, and Native Outdoors to reduce socioeconomic barriers to entry to the mountains for underserved communities. The company is also addressing DEI internally, looking at equity in employee compensation and promotions, inclusivity in hiring, and more.

A resort’s values, when put into action, directly affect its culture. Reflecting on the current culture and its flaws can be uncomfortable, and suggesting change can trigger pushback. That is why Alterra is being thoughtful and deliberate in developing and implementing the necessary changes to its company culture.

Measuring equity. “Alterra is a more effective ambassador of diversity, equity, and inclusion when it is also assessing and addressing its own internal culture, policies, and support systems,” says Annie Kao, interim diversity, equity, and inclusion leader for Alterra. “We’re at a data collecting stage at the moment.” says Kao. “Lack of data on equity and inclusion is our biggest hurdle.”

When it comes to building a more equitable company structure, says Kao, “We’re looking at pay scale, processes and procedures for recruitment, hiring, and promoting to measure equity.” 

Inclusion data is being collected via surveys, focus groups, and interviews. The goal? A structure for fair access and support throughout any person’s employment experience at Alterra.

“We recently conducted an inclusion survey across all of our destinations and work locations to help assess the degree to which our company culture is welcoming to people with a variety of different backgrounds, experiences, and identities,” says Alterra social responsibility specialist Hannah Wineman. “Gathering this information directly from our employees enhances our ability to identify specific strengths and opportunities as we continue to make progress on our DEI path.”

Alterra is also practicing consistency in messaging to employees, and providing comprehensive DEI training with modules provided by the Equity Project, a DEI consulting firm. The company is now assessing how to hold employees accountable to its DEI policies.  


Creating an engaging and supportive culture is vital to fostering DEI success at all organizations, big and small.

“We need to spend more time making sure whoever comes to our resorts, organization, race program, or to learn to ski or ride is made to feel that this is a good place for them and they belong here,” says Schone Malliet, CEO and founder of Winter4Kids, a New Jersey-based nonprofit dedicated to positively influencing youth behaviors through engagement with winter sports.

“I believe in welcoming, embracing, belonging, and empathy or ‘we be,’” explains Malliet. “Those are activities and actions that change and create new culture. And they are not just limited to race, but across gender, religion, etc.”

Open dialogue. Being more welcoming isn’t just a “feel good” idea, it’s an actionable approach. One example is to create an opportunity for employees to share their experiences with leadership about anything from sexism and racism to pay equity and time off. Creating an open dialogue allows every employee’s voice to be heard and provides leaders with vital feedback for improving the company culture.

Since becoming Snowbasin, Utah, general manager in 2018, Davy Ratchford has committed to providing more leadership opportunities for women, something the resort lacked upon his arrival. Snowbasin has since promoted women into leadership positions, supported employees’ career goals, and has been getting great feedback via staff surveys. 

However, a humbling wakeup call came when during a staff meeting, a woman, new in her career at Snowbasin, identified an obvious but previously unrecognized obstacle for women in leadership at the resort—the ski area didn’t provide maternity leave. “Palm slap to the head,” says Ratchford. “Why hadn’t we considered that? It was a helpful reminder that we need to be open to constant conversation with employees about their changing needs. 

“The only way to move this forward is to listen and intentionally make a path where this can be done,” he adds. 

Leadership must be open to learning about their employees’ experiences if they expect their employees to embrace customers in the same way. “Everyone plays a role in shaping everyday culture,” says Alterra’s Kao. When everyone is a part of the conversation and feels heard, that can seep into the guest experience, where employees want to make the customer’s experience just as welcoming as their own.

Diversify leadership. We must also recognize the need to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce, including leaders, in respect to race, gender, identity, socioeconomic background, etc. This takes effort, and it must be an intentional process. 

Consider Vail Resorts’ efforts to increase the number of women in leadership roles throughout its portfolio. Not only does Vail Resorts have a female CEO, eight of its mountain resorts are led by women, and 45 percent of its executive leadership team are women. “With the addition of CEO Kirsten Lynch, the company has also reached gender parity on its board of directors,” notes director of corporate communications Jamie Alvarez. 

This is the result of a calculated effort. With the 2019 launch of the enterprise-wide program POWDER (Providing Opportunity for Women through Diversity, Equality and Respect), the company applied resources to attract and retain a broad range of female talent while promoting leadership growth opportunities. “This platform has since expanded to leading diversity, equity, and inclusion—fostering an inclusive culture where diversity is valued and celebrated,” says Alvarez. 


A strong mission statement about your resort’s commitment to DEI will help direct actions and guide decisions from hiring to marketing. The statement should be referenced when making decisions across departments, so it’s vital to communicate it and reinforce it. 

If your resort doesn’t already have a DEI mission statement, fear not—you do not necessarily need to start from scratch. There are several outdoor brands that have excellent mission statements for their commitment to DEI, and many resorts and resort groups have issued statements and commitments to progress, too. Reference them for inspiration as you create your own.

The North Face, Vans, Smartwool. A shining example in the outdoor industry is VF Corporation, parent company of The North Face, Vans, Smartwool, and other apparel and outdoor brands. VF clearly outlines its commitment to DEI action in “all aspects of our business, from how we operate to how we engage with our consumers and how we build and utilize our workforce.” 

Its statement also delves into the “why” and “how” of its efforts to recruit and retain a workforce whose demographics reflect that of VF’s business locations: “To be clear, our targets are desired outcomes—we do not have mandatory quotas, nor do we ignore required qualifications. What we do intend to change is how and where we recruit as the basis for achieving our desired outcomes as well as providing developmental opportunities for people who historically may not have had the chance to be part of such opportunities.” 


To quote Carl Jung, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Mission statements and policies are only effective if they are upheld. Outlining procedures, showing progress, and holding your resort community—leadership, employees, guests—accountable is paramount to success. 

In the second edition of the VF Global Inclusion & Diversity Annual Profile, VF reported, among other things, its progress in gender and race employment since it started tracking those statistics in 2015. Over five years, representation of women at the director-level and above increased 3 percent, and overall representation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) was up 7 percent. 

Overall, the report demonstrated that the company put its mission statement into action, held itself accountable, and continues to do so.

Not everyone has been as successful. According to the National Park Service, diversifying its staff has been a goal since the Kennedy administration, but those good intentions have not moved the needle—Park Service staff is now less representative of our nation’s makeup than it was in the 1970s. Why? No accountability. In a 2020 National Parks Traveler article, James “JT” Reynolds, a retired African American superintendent at Death Valley National Park, said that diversity efforts in the National Park system have failed because there are no consequences for managers who “blow off” diversity policies from headquarters.

Accountability is not easy. It could, for example, mean firing toxic employees even though you are short staffed already. “I’ve had to remove someone at an inopportune time before,” says Ratchford. “But the benefit that the team saw by doing the right thing far outweighed the negative. When you’re governed by doing the right thing and your team supports that, it’s always better.”

In some cases, open dialogue and honest conversations can prevent an operation from losing staff, and it can lead to a culture where issues can be resolved in an honest and meaningful way. Accountability is more likely to weed out bad behavior, which can lead to better retention among staff that share your resort’s core values.


Few resorts have resources like those of VF, Vail Resorts, or Alterra to drive the change needed to make the ski and snowboard industry more equitable, inclusive, and diverse. But when larger entities start the work, they help to build a road map that others can follow.

“We know how to do this,” says Share Winter CEO Constance Beverley. “The ski industry is good at getting things done in tough circumstances. It just requires commitment and action.”

Just do it. From a business perspective, making positive change to your culture is a wise investment. It’s not going to happen overnight, so make it a long-term priority and bite off what you can chew. Here are some steps to consider:

Hire a DEI specialist to assess your operation and map out an action plan for improving DEI.

Self-assess your operation for DEI gaps: 

review salaries and pay rates for equity disparities;

review recruitment, hiring, and promotion practices for equity disparities;

survey staff about inclusivity; and

hold interviews with staff about the employee experience.

Create a mission statement and policies to reflect your resort’s values. Communicate them to staff every step of the way. Communicate them to your guests, too.

Be accountable. DEI policies must be upheld with clear processes and procedures on how to implement, enforce, measure, and even grow them.

Are we doomed to fail at this again? Only if we stop taking the necessary steps. Change takes time, but if enough of the industry makes the commitment and invests in improving snowsports culture, we can get to a place that is welcoming and empathetic enough that diversity and inclusion come naturally. With all of the available resources of today and the broad commitment to having these conversations, we are in an infinitely better position to keep the momentum this time, as long as we put the tools—readily available—to use.