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Women Are Finally Crushing the Glass Ceiling of the Ski Industry

Published: 04/04/2018
By Jo Piazza, Women@Forbes — When Connie Marshall first started working at Utah's Alta Ski Area in the seventies the roles were very gender specific.

"Women worked in the ticket offices and in the office support roles," said Marshall, now the Director of Marketing and PR for the resort. "The ski school had a low percentage of women instructors, the lift crew and ski patrol was almost entirely male. Luckily, we've made some great inroads since then."

As one of the few women in a management role Marshall felt like it was her job to start breaking down some of the barriers. In her four plus decade career she worked hard to negotiate flexible schedules for parents of both genders and to raise awareness of various gender gaps. She made sure that women's voices were heard. Today she calls that a good start. "The ski industry is changing and the old guard is appreciative of bright, young people who can influence change and bring their talents to the workplace," Marshall said.

In some circles the winter sports industry is still referred to as an old boys club. The good news is that it's getting better. More and more women are excelling in management positions and overseeing some of the country’s most prominent ski resorts as they break barriers for the next generation.

2017 was a good year. Last year the National Ski Areas Association, the trade association for ski area owners and operators, appointed Kelly Pawlak its first ever woman as president and CEO. The job, traditionally held by men, has the influence to shape the future of the industry.

This past season, Meegan Moszynski was also named first female executive director of the National Ski Patrol.

“The ratio of men to women in our industry is still very lop-sided, consistent with the ratio of active snow-sports participants,” said Raelene Davis, Ski Utah’s Chief Operating Officer and VP of Marketing. “With this said, there has been movement recently with women into senior leadership roles. Within the past decade, we’ve seen women rise to become presidents, general managers and CEOs of resorts and resort associations, something unprecedented before the turn of the century. It has taken over 80 years for the industry to begin to embrace women and their wealth of knowledge, their innovation and creativity and their determined work ethic. We’ve come a long way.”

Davis expects the next generation to be even more inclusive.

“My observation is that things are changing and as the old guard retires, new, younger blood is taking the helm,” she said. “This new guard is new school and does not hold the same traditional stereotypes regarding employment roles. Therefore, it is my hope that young women will be hired based on their talent and not denied employment based on their gender.”

I talked to some of the women crushing the winter sports glass ceiling to find out how they did it and what advice they want to give to the next generation.

Don't be afraid to throw your hat in the ring....

When Kim Mayhew, the General Manager of the Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah, first started teaching skiing in New Hampshire in 1978 there were few women instructors and none in management. "It was traditionally a very male oriented sport and therefore, men dominated the management of ski schools. Growing up, I had no female role models leading the sport. I did have one female race coach for one season at the age of thirteen and she was very influential in growing my passion for the sport," Mayhew said. "I have fielded some interesting comments from time to time that come from my male counterparts in the industry. One quite recent sarcastic comment was 'Hey, Kim, so I was wondering what your husband thinks about you having such a big GM job now?' My quick response was, 'He thinks it’s awesome!'"

Mayhew's best advice for a women, or anyone, breaking into the ski industry is be patient and learn as much as you can about the workings of the resort. "Become known for your team spirit and work ethic and most importantly, follow your passion and when an opportunity presents itself for advancement in the industry, throw your hat in the ring."

Find your balance...

All three of Raelene Davis's sons were born while she was working with Ski Utah. In the 80’s, this was a challenge. "It wasn’t cool to be pregnant and working full-time, especially in Utah," Davis said. "A working mother was not looked upon favorably. And, unlike today, it wasn’t cool to talk about your children at work. I didn’t let this deter me from doing the best job I could. I persevered," Davis said. "To say it was challenging trying to balance home-life and career is an understatement. I didn’t have the luxury of having an in-home nanny, so each morning, my husband and I would get the kids ready and take them to daycare. Handing my babies off to another women each morning was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. We made it work because my husband and I knew that what I was doing was important for me and for our family, and we also felt that what I was doing was good for children. Promoting a beautiful state and a healthy lifestyle to others would give our children the sense of service, community and instill in them the values that we held dear to us."