Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO Addresses Current Racial Unrest | Admits Personal Failings in Addressing ‘Overwhelmingly White’ Sport

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Robert Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts. image: Matt Nager

Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz sent a letter to employees on Tuesday saying “we are part of the problem” in reference to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the week of protests and unrest across the nation, and the world.

Having been around our industry for close to 30 years and CEO of Vail Resorts for the past 14 years, I must also confront that I have not done enough to make progress. I see this as a personal failing.

– Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO

He acknowledges that the employees of his company, and the people that participate in the sport we all love, are overwhelmingly white. According to his letter, this is a personal failing on his part, and that he himself has not done enough over the years to address this and make progress.

The biggest barriers of entry for skiing and riding are cost, access to equipment, and proximity to resorts, which Vail Resorts will continue to address. We need to address the culture of our sport and make our sport and mountain communities more inviting, he adds. The company will begin by prioritizing dialogue that acknowledges that changes need to be made and that the company’s next meeting will focus on these issues.

The full letter is below:

I have been contemplating how to respond to the gravity of the events unfolding across the United States and the outrage and grief so many are feeling following not only the unjust death of George Floyd, but the continued presence of systemic racism facing the Black community. To the members of the Black community in our Vail Resorts family, we stand with you. We support you.

While our current focus as a Company has been on recovering from the challenging impacts of COVID-19, it’s still essential to be aware and acknowledge what is happening around us. People of color have been hardest hit by this pandemic while continuing to struggle with the very real impacts of racism in their daily lives. This fact makes me reflect on what our Company should do about it. In some ways, these issues might feel removed from the ski industry – to some, it might not feel like our problem. But that is the problem.

Explicit and implicit racism, sexism or any kind of discrimination have absolutely no place at Vail Resorts. Personally and professionally, we need to continue to be vigilant in creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion, expand access for communities that face barriers to enjoying the mountains, and contribute to groups that are on the front lines of standing up for basic human rights, especially for those who have historically been marginalized. But we also need to realize this is not enough.

As much as I have been saddened seeing these acts of racism across our country, I am also confronted by the fact that our Company and our sport are overwhelmingly white, with incredibly low representation from people of color. Over the past few years, we have begun to raise this topic, both internally and externally – emphasizing that inclusion and diversity “must be true” at Vail Resorts, while also admitting that we have a long way to go.

Having been around our industry for close to 30 years and CEO of Vail Resorts for the past 14 years, I must also confront that I have not done enough to make progress. I see this as a personal failing. On something that is not only a moral and societal issue, but a business issue. We would be a stronger company and a better industry with more diverse viewpoints. Our sport would be more resilient with broader engagement. Even with that reality, we have not made progress. Why?

Candidly, I am not sure I fully know what the solution is. Our sport has a number of barriers, including cost, access to equipment and proximity to our resorts. But those are barriers for many people. And while we need to continue to address those barriers, we also need to dig deeper.

While I’m sure most everyone in our industry believes they are tolerant and welcoming, we need to acknowledge that there are parts of the culture of our sport that are clearly not inviting. Maybe the image we have created of the mountain lifestyle needs to be more varied. Maybe, as a fairly close-knit and passionate group of skiers and riders, our community carries a deep implicit bias. It would not be a stretch to call us a clique. Maybe it’s our fear of change. While I would like to think that I have been an agent of change in this industry, a decade later I am still running a company that has very limited racial diversity.

If we genuinely want to address racial inequality, let’s start by talking about what part we play in it – not just make statements about how others can do better. And let’s begin by prioritizing dialogue that acknowledges we need to change. I welcome each of you to give some thought to this and encourage you to attend our next POWDER event later this month, which will focus on both gender and racial diversity and how we can create a more inclusive culture. This is a conversation I intend to embrace with more urgency. Despite having a long way to go, this is an issue we have to make progress on. It’s only then that we can begin to do our part for racial equality.

Rob Katz
Chief Executive Officer

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4 thoughts on “Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO Addresses Current Racial Unrest | Admits Personal Failings in Addressing ‘Overwhelmingly White’ Sport

  1. Another ridiculous, transparent, dishonest, manipulative example of virtue signalling. Laughable. Happened to be in Sun Valley when the Brotherhood visited, knew several people since I taught them how to ski back in the dark ages. Never, ever heard any black skier whine about barriers preventing them from spending their money where they wanted to ski. What’s next, Rob? Building Vail on the South Side of Chicago, where I grew up? Didn’t learn to ski when I was a kid, which might have something to with poverty and the reality that there were no mountains within a thousand miles. The barriers are economic and cultural, and the ski industry can’t do a damn thing about it. All you frauds can do is treat anybody well regardless of their color. Speaking of which, where is my full refund on the days I didn’t use on my card? You know, acting ethically and fairly to your mostly white customers?

  2. I agree with vinceD , stop importing foreign workers and recruit people in big cities and pay them an actual living wage and reduce or completely eliminate the housing cost . If the cost of monthly rent is more than what you make in wages what’s the incentive to apply for work at a ski resort ? Winter employment should not just be about the season pass , it should be about making a living wage and the possibility of advancement in the industry and better job opportunities and higher wages , the ski resorts are still not doing enough to address the housing shortage and the disparity between a living wage and seasonal wages. Pay your employees more money and give them free health insurance and they will come . The ski industry has been making billions of dollars and hasn’t been spending it on housing or health insurance for its employees.
    It’s time for change Rob Katz

  3. On one hand he says he wants to make skiing more appealing to Black people. On the other hand he lobbies for more work visas so he can import workers. Why not recruit workers from our Black population where unemployment is horrible to fill positions?

    Can’t have it both ways Rob. Nice try.

    1. Like white Americans, black Americans won’t work as cheap as the foreigners and won’t tolerate the lousy living conditions.

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