Still in their ski boots, four of the ski industry’s leading women took the stage in the Little Nell hotel for a panel discussion about gender disparity as part of Aspen Skiing Co’s International Women’s Day celebrations.
SkiCo senior vice president of mountain operations Katie Ertl was joined on the panel by Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, Kelly Pawlak, CEO of the National Ski Area Association, and Meegan Moszynski, executive director of National Ski Patrol. The talk, moderated by SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan, touched on the gender imbalance that the ski industry sees in its customers and its workforce.
Mills said that even in Colorado’s passport program geared toward getting 5th and 6th graders lift tickets to resorts in the state, more males sign up for the program than females. As the customer base ages the percentage gap between genders widens, with the Rocky Mountain ski resorts only experiencing about 39 percent of its customer base to be female.
“I think we need to take a look at that,” Mills said.
Moszynski, who is the first female to ever lead the National Ski Patrol, said that statistics are easier to get than answers, when it comes to explaining the industry’s gender gap.
Nationwide women only made up 25 percent of ski patrol jobs.
“The why is the tough part,” she said.
Ertl told the crowd the numbers are even worse when looking at the applications for top roles across the industry. Of the 52 applicants vying for a recent mountain manager opening, only 3 were female.
“We are very aware of the need to invite women in when we are hiring for a position,” Ertl said. “We need to do more outreach, looking within our own organization...it takes all of us consciously bringing women up.”
Across the country there are 50 ski resorts run by women. Pawlak said that number might not sound high, but it is a significant jump from the previous decade. And, she said women continue to fill out upper management jobs.
“The women are doing the heavy lifting and have been for decades in the industry,” Pawlak said.
She said she began her career as “part of the problem,” but, over time, has worked to modernize the workplace to allow for flexible schedules to account for parenting and other issues that might cull women from the workforce.
Kaplan said there is always more to do in building toward a more inclusive workplace.
“Amen I like that,” he said.
During the audience question portion of the discussion, the panel was asked what is being done locally to help women rise in the field. One woman said it’s been especially hard in the areas of snowmaking and grooming, where women experience unequal treatment from their coworkers.
“If there is misogyny or harassment come talk to me afterward and let's take care of that right now,” Kaplan said.
He said throughout his experience he has known women who ski better than him, hike faster and are smarter, so he is perplexed why the industry isn’t more balanced.
“I think the sport is a great equalizer, that's why it’s a mystery to me,” he said. “We can do a better job, always.”
The panel was part of a daylong celebration of International Women’s day put on by SkiCo. The second annual women’s ski parade made its way down Aspen Mountain midafternoon, and a silent auction of prints by female photographers was held as a fundraiser for Response.
“As a values-driven company, we really believe in inclusivity for all and that includes gender,” said Tucker Vest Burton, Senior Public Relations Manager with SkiCo.
She said the discussion was just one look at what is a larger gender disparity issue worldwide.
“We were talking about it within the ski industry today but there is a gender gap that exists broadly within the United States,” Vest Burton said. “As a country and an industry we still have a ways to go but we are learning and talking about it and that’s where it all starts.”
Ertl also said the discussion alone is a good step forward to creating a culture change in the ski industry workforce.
“I think it’s fantastic and it really shows what our leadership thinks is improtant for all of us,” she said.
She said the senior management team are open to finding ways to encourage more women to get involved in the company, and to encourage them to continue to grow professionally within the industry.
“What is really nice is they are not just driving (the conversation). They are listening to all of us who are wanting to drive it,” Ertl said.
Even in the three years that she has been at the helm at National Ski Patrol, Moszynski said she has seen conscious efforts by men and women to make the job more open and sustainable for women.
“What is interesting about patrolling is it’s an equal field kind of job. She is out there because she has the skills to do the job,” Moszynski said.
“It’s a low percentage of women in this job but once they are there, they are treated pretty equally.”