Skico celebrates women’s day, hosts panel on gender equality in ski industry

At the top of Aspen Mountain on Sunday afternoon, more than two-dozen women grouped together outside of the Sundeck, chatting and adjusting their boots before heading down the mountain as one unit.

“Yeah, go women!” a woman shouted as more ladies of all ages skied or snowboarded up to the gathering.

Soon, that enthusiasm sounded down the Silver Bells, Spar Gulch and Little Nell runs as the women and a few men whistled and cheered with each turn, accompanied by a black Aspen-Snowmass flag held by Snowmass mountain manager Susan Cross and a few skiers in costumes who added a festive flair to the start of Aspen Skiing Co.’s second annual International Women’s Day celebration.

“I think events like this bring more people into the movement and get other people in the valley excited about supporting other women,” said Ava Thornely, 16.

Thornely, along with Elleana Bone, Pearl Soderberg and Macy Hopkinson all participated in Skico’s women’s day parade, skiing down with a banner that read “Power to Pakistan.”

That’s the name of the Aspen High School club Hopkinson founded and all four teens are a part of that helps provide access to education for youth in Pakistan in hopes of eliminating generational poverty, building gender equity and creating better futures, according to the club website.

The teens said they feel it is important to help all women access education and equality, and said events like the Sunday parade are inspiring.

“Our club is a women’s club. We all are passionate about supporting other women, which is what we did today, too,” Thornely said.

“Everyone here seems to have equal opportunity, but that shouldn’t be a privilege, that should be normal,” Bone added. “All of us should have the same opportunities, but we’re not quite there yet in the U.S. or internationally.”

First through the women’s parade on the mountain, then the panel discussion, silent auction featuring the work of Skico’s women photographers, and après party at Chair 9 bar in The Little Nell, the skiing company aimed to facilitate an event part of the larger International Women’s Day celebration and conversations surrounding gender equity and equality, while also looking specifically at women’s roles in the ski industry.

“It’s important to be a part of that conversation and to push toward gender parity,” said Tucker Vest Burton, senior public relations manager with Skico. “It’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a humanity issue. We’re all in this together, it’s about everyone.”

After locals settled into Chair 9, buying drinks, “Ski Like a Girl” shirts and bidding on the four female Skico photographers’ work ­— all purchases that went toward supporting Response, a local nonprofit that educates people on domestic violence and sexual abuse and supports survivors from Aspen to El Jebel — the panel discussion with four major women players on the local, state and national levels of the ski industry began.

With Mike Kaplan, Skico CEO, as moderator, Katie Ertl, Skico’s senior vice president of mountain operations; Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA; Meegan Moszynski, the first-ever female executive director of National Ski Patrol; and Kelly Pawlak, CEO of the National Ski Area Association all discussed the gender-related trends and data they’ve seen in their ski industry organizations and fields.

Citing specifics like the fact that 39% of skiers in the Rockies region are women, 25% of ski patrollers across the nation are women and 50 women are running ski resorts in the U.S., all four of the barrier-breaking panelists said that while the industry has come a long way over the past decade or more, it still has a long way to go to bring more women on the mountain as skiers and snowboarders and into top-level positions.

For example, when Skico was hiring for both Aspen and Snowmass mountain managers two years ago, the company received 52 applications. Only three were submitted by women, Ertl said.

When asked why more women don’t apply for top-level positions or male-dominated roles like snowmakers or groomers, the panelists said they aren’t 100% sure, but feel a lot has to do with lack of confidence or not feeling fully qualified.

The panelists also said they feel that building skills and confidence among girls at a younger age, along with a larger shift of societal norms, could help bring more women into skiing, snowboarding and underrepresented areas of the ski industry.

“I appreciate having this conversation a lot, about women in the industry and how we still are the minority and how is that growing, but I also like to say to people I hope that we can soon get to the point where we’re not having this conversation,” Moszynski said.

“I hope we can encourage future generations of women, whether it’s young women or women who want to make a career change, that they feel just as welcome because it’s not such a big deal unto itself based on gender.”

One program Moszynski highlighted that’s helped start this cultural shift is the partnership between SheJumps, a national nonprofit aimed at increasing participation of women and girls in outdoor activities; and National Ski Patrol, the nonprofit membership association that serves as the leading authority of on-mountain safety, to put on full-day junior ski patrol experiences for young girls and teenagers.

These “Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol” events give girls a glimpse at what it’s like to work as a patroller and teaching them the on-mountain safety and first aid skills they need (See related story on page A9).

The panelists also mentioned existing mentorship programming for women in the ski industry to help them gain confidence in climbing the ladder, along with educational resources through organizations like the National Ski Area Association and Colorado Ski Country USA.

“We are very aware of the need to invite women in and that means when we’re hiring for a position, my team knows I want to see at least one woman in the group of finalists,” Mills said of Colorado Ski Country USA specifically.“I think it takes all of us consciously continuing to work to bring more women up behind us.”

Overall, the panelists said they feel there needs to be more research into things like why there are fewer girls and women skiing and snowboarding than men, and why women are less likely to apply for jobs they aren’t fully qualified for than men, along with more mentorship opportunities and conversations around gender parity for women in the ski industry, including at Skico.

“Moving forward, we need to let women know you can apply for these jobs,” Ertl said. “We’re not going to get all of the jobs we apply for, that’s never going to happen, but let’s start putting our name in the hat and going after our interests and not just what we think we’re supposed to do.”