By Karen D. Lorentz
For high school juniors and seniors — and their parents — spring is a time for pondering college and potential careers.
For males and females who love snow sports, Vermont has two universities that offer bachelor degrees in mountain resort management with high job placement rates.
But where historically females didn’t think of careers in the ski industry, that has changed as the mountain resort has become a growth field for women.
Northern Vermont University’s Sean Doll notes that seven of the 20 students currently in the mountain resort management degree program are female whereas 10-20 years ago it might have been one. Of seven students currently in practicum, three are women, he noted.
Women are more aware of the opportunities now, he said of the greater interest he sees and noting female MRM grads go on to work at Vermont and other mountain areas as well as in ski-industry or tourism related jobs.
Agreeing that the ski industry has historically been dominated by males, Frank Pauze, coordinator of Castleton University’s School of Resort & Hospitality Management at Killington, also notes that has changed.
“The ratio throughout the 21 years of the program’s history is 70/30 male/female. But I am happy to say that we have seen a more equitable balance in the last three years since CU took over the program. We are now at a 57/43 male/female ratio.”
Seeing is believing
“One of the best things about working in the ski industry as long as I have (24 years, including 17 seasons at Okemo) is seeing the transition from being a male-dominated workplace to one that is more diverse and inclusive of women — especially when it comes to women in what we still consider non-traditional roles,” comments Bonnie MacPherson, Vail Resorts communications manager for Okemo, Mount Sunapee, and Crotched Mountain.
“Traditionally, women in the ski industry have filled guest-facing, service-oriented roles with some middle management opportunities in departments like ski and ride school, guest services, hospitality, food and beverage, and retail. Some areas where women started to find leadership opportunities included human resources, accounting, marketing, sales, and communications,” MacPherson notes.
For decades women were rarely seen in mountain operations roles, but that, too, is changing.
“It is becoming more common to see women snowmakers, grooming operators, and mechanics.” Recently, Okemo diesel mechanic Halley Riley-Elliot of Proctor won the congeniality award in the Miss Vermont USA Competition. Women are making their way into management positions in lift operations, base area facilities, and in other non-traditional mountain operations roles,” MacPherson added.
Women as visible, inspiring leaders
Today, women hold many positions that were previously the domain of men — from lift supervisors and general managers to serving on resort leadership teams and as heads of state and national ski organizations.
“I was unsure of what I wanted to do after I graduated high school, but I knew that I loved snow sports.” After graduating from the Killington School of Resort Management program in 2009, Laramie began working as Killington’s conference and wedding sales coordinator and then sales representative. She became the executive coordinator, providing support to the resort president and the director of marketing (September 2012 to July 2015), which led to a promotion as the internal communications and guest experience manager. In July 2019 Laramie, along with Jordan Spear, another 2009 KSRM alum, was promoted to the Killington Resort leadership team with Laramie named Killington’s director of communications, events, and Special projects.
Commenting on opportunities for advancement for women, Laramie noted that Killington focuses on having “a team that enjoys being here” and welcomes and supports individuals who are team players, understand the culture, and work hard. “They will train the right person on new skills to help them advance their career at the resort. We currently have our first female Lift Operations Manager Kayla Sarajian and her team is excelling,” she added of the opportunities for women to advance in “non-traditional” jobs. A woman is also Killington’s engineering/permits and compliance manager — another mountain operations position usually held by males.
Noting it’s not a 50/50 male/female workforce in the ski industry and that there is “always room for more women,” Laramie added, “We just attended a POWDR-wide marketing, communications and events summit and it was great to see so many females in management roles at the other POWDR resorts. Although I didn’t count heads in the room, it appeared to be a 50/50 split in attendance.”
Asked about her own job satisfaction, Laramie cited enjoyment of learning new skills, executing events, improving the guest experience, and having “a job I enjoy walking into every day.”
Glass ceiling shattered
“At Vail Resorts, women with a love for the outdoors and a passion for winter sports are seeing that the glass ceiling has been shattered. The company recognizes the disparity between the number of men and women in top leadership positions and is taking action to rectify the imbalance,”MacPherson said.
“It starts at the top with Vail Resorts CEO Kirsten Lynch, and there is a growing number of women on the company’s executive committee working as vice presidents, directors, and resort general managers. At the local level, women are making up a greater percentage of resort senior leadership teams,” she added.
A ski instructor at age 15, Molly Mahar graduated from UVM’s recreational management program in 1987 and worked in marketing and/or sales for the Vermont Ski Areas Association and at several ski resorts before becoming VSAA President in 2019.
Kelly Pawlak began her career at Mount Snow in 1985 and worked in a variety of executive positions including marketing director before becoming Mount Snow’s vice president and general manager in 2005. In 2018 she became president of the National Ski Areas Association.
College degrees expand horizons
Castleton University offers a three-year resort and hospitality management bachelor’s degree in partnership with Killington. The tri-semester program features traditional fall and spring learning at the Castleton campus with on-mountain learning and classes on its Killington Campus during three paid co-op terms
(two winters, one summer). “Te work experience is the foundation for the co-op course, where we integrate the student work experiences into weekly class assignments,” Pauze explains.
During those terms students work 35 to 40 hours per week at Killington and/or Pico Resorts in addition to taking nine credits of courses taught in Killington by Castleton professors and instructors from Killington’s top management team.
The 75-credit major provides workplace experiences and skills needed to succeed in the resort industry, and graduates have a 99% employment rate. This is in addition to female grads managing inns, events, lift ops, and HR in Vermont and working at resorts country and even world wide along with some in service jobs such as property management.
Citing the paid co-op terms during which students can earn $6,000 or more, Pauze noted that “graduating in three years is cost effective. Of the 282 students who have started the RHM program, 236 have graduated in 3 years, an 84% grad rate,” he noted, adding, “It’s more about the student’s ‘fit’ with the program and their desired career choice. We have seen male and female students succeed equally in the program.”
Northern Vermont University offers a four- year bachelor-of-science degree in Outdoor Education, Leadership, and Tourism with a concentration in Mountain Resort Management to prepare students for careers in the ski industry.
The MRM concentration focuses on all aspects of resort and ski area management, from on-the- mountain to back-of-the house positions, and courses include software technologies, environmental science, resort law, and risk management among others.
Students choose from two tracks in the concentration —mountain operations or resort management — and complete practicums in their focus area. Currently, one woman is following a practicum in mountain ops and two are in the resort management track practicum, Doll said.
Noting that many ski areas have become year-round resorts, Doll said that likely contributes to women becoming more interested in ski resort careers.
“Some graduates start out and stay in mountain
work, but others find the resort management skills and experiences are transferable to other tourism or ski- related jobs,” he added, noting one female alum is now the vendor service manager for Rossignol USA and another works in hotel management.
“Te outdoors is a growth industry,” Doll said, citing the “appeal of the outdoors and the fun” but also noting that the degree program has “attracted not only more women but also women who don’t ski or snowboard. They tend to be outdoors oriented (and learn to ski/snowboard) or want to be in the resort industry,” he said, noting he is seeing many female managers at resorts now as well as women leaders like Mahar and Pawlak.
From an “old boys club” (male dominated by circumstances, not deliberately), the ski industry has transitioned to a growth field with lots of opportunities for women.