By Karen D. Lorentz
Diane Mueller is the sixth woman to actively operate a Vermont ski area with her husband but has done so for longer than most — now in her 36th season and just two seasons shy of Suzanne Smith’s 38-year record at Killington.
Mueller follows Janet Mead, 1937-1954, at Pico (solo owner/operator after husband’s death in 1942); June Acker, 1954-1964 (solo owner/operator 1956-64); Suzanne Smith at Killington, 1958-1996; Betsy Pratt at Mad River Glen, 1972-1995 (solo from 1975); and Susan Plausteiner at Ascutney, 1993-2010.
There have also been a few female GMs at Vermont areas, including Vice President/GM Kelly Pawlak at Mount Snow, 2005-2017; VP/GM Gloria Chadwick at Burke, 1975-1983; and Genevieve Faherty, VP of Northeast Slopes (a surface lift community area) since 2005.
As Okemo’s executive vice president, Mueller is the only woman working at the helm of a major Vermont ski resort today. With her husband Tim, who is president of Okemo, and their adult children, she also heads up Triple Peaks LLC, which operates Mt. Sunapee and Crested Butte in addition to Okemo.
Q&A with Diane Mueller
Mountain Times: The ski industry has traditionally been a male dominated business, so what was it like for you to become an owner/operator working with your husband at Okemo?
Diane Mueller: When Tim and I first got to Okemo, I didn’t realize how male oriented the ski business was. Even today, I am apt to overlook the fact that I might be the only woman in the room during a meeting. I always think of it as the right people are in the room and don’t think about gender.
Over the first few years at Okemo, Tim and I promoted some very capable women to leadership positions that had been previously held by men. Maybe because Tim and I always look for talented people, I wasn’t focused on how most people in leadership roles across the industry were men.
I am fortunate to have a husband who isn’t gender-biased and appreciates what I contribute, as well as what everyone else brings to the table in their respective positions. Are there times when Tim gets the credit when we are both responsible? Sure, but sometimes those tables are turned and I get the credit he deserves.
The two of us live our work as partners and equals, both in the workplace and at home. We discuss everything—it’s just part of our collaborative leadership style. It is never about who did what. It is always about did the job get done well.
MT: What has it been like as your children grew up in the ski business at Okemo?
DM: As Ethan and Erica became involved in the business, the discussions we had at home over the years turned into “Mueller Meetings,” they happened around the dinner table, on the phone, in the car, or while hiking in the woods or riding the lift. It is now a family affair with Erica working at Crested Butte and Ethan working with the GMs at all three resorts.
MT: What do women bring to the ski business and how would you describe your contributions?
DM: By our very nature, women are nurturing, good at multi-tasking—we go to work every day AND take care of the home—and tend to be creative thinkers.
Then I throw into that mix my upbringing and talents that have shaped who I am as a person and more specifically my role at Okemo. I gave myself the title “Director of Stuff” because I hate formal titles—so does Tim, but someone has to be the president! As Director of Stuff, I can get involved in whatever “stuff” I want to, and it sure is fun!
I think I bring the perspective of a mother, starting as a young mother at age 32 to a grandmother now. I have always tried to think of how mothers are involved in the ski experience. That starts with consideration for their concerns about a sport they know nothing about (when their husband announces that he is taking the family skiing) and extends to the mothers of teenage racers who are trying to keep up with the kids when skiing and find ways to include their friends in family ski trips.
Mothers put the needs of their families first—what do they need to pack? Will they be okay when I drop them off for their lesson? Will they be too tired to try skating at the end of the day? As a
mother who happens to be in the ski business, I weigh in on how children’s programs work, how spaces should be decorated so they are appealing to children, and what moms need so they have a great day, too.
MT: Does the concern for what families go through extend to staff?
DM: Tim and I feel a personal responsibility for our employees—we are the Okemo Family. I care about the people with whom we work and try to stay connected to them. As a member of a large extended family, I care about what is happening in their lives, both at work and at home. And most importantly, we ask, “Is there something we can do to support them?”
This is where I get involved in the HR [Human Resources] world. One of the things I think we do really well is employee training. We put a lot of effort into developing training programs so our employees are comfortable in their positions and can excel at what they do. Sometimes I get to work with the staff in their various departments. I learn a lot and we laugh a lot. Much of what I learn is incorporated in staff trainings I conduct.
As a multi-tasker, I juggle projects at work and then do the same at home. By nature, I am an organizer and an efficiency expert. It is just who I am, and so I bring that to work with me everyday where it manifests itself in helping employees develop tools and systems that support giving our guests the best experience possible.
MT: I know you are an artist and creative so how does that play a role?
DM: I am full of ideas and not bashful about bringing them forward. They don’t all become a reality. I think Tim cringes a bit when I start a sentence with “I have been thinking… ”
Take my interest in culinary services. When you are sitting with a group of people whose primary responsibility is the guest experience out on the hill, the topic of food isn’t even on the radar
screen. Before offering outstanding fare at ski areas came into vogue, I was pushing to give culinary a front-row seat. Dining out was becoming a national trend, and we needed to take notice. Okemo is now a leader in the quality and diversity of food and restaurants offered to guests.
MT: And your perspective on skiing and Okemo today, 36 seasons later?
DM: “Conquering the mountain” means different things to different people. I bring the perspective of someone who enjoys the view, the exercise, and the social aspects.
Not everyone is in it for speed, although I admit my sister Karen [Reynolds] and I used to count the number of runs we made in a day.
Now, I am at the table with others on our leadership team to remind them that some of us like to make graceful turns and watch our children and now grandchildren doing the same.
Some of us love standing at the top of the lift looking at the multiple ridgelines as they fade into the distant White Mountains, one undulating wave at a time.
I am an entrepreneur with a strong competitive spirit, but I do it with a focus on what I would call the softer side. I think that is part of what helps turn vacation moments into timeless traditions for Okemo guests.