Last year, the cold-blooded killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd amplified the call for social change. Racial injustice, apparent across the world, was thrust into the spotlight through a single message: we have had enough. The response has been positively deafening, without letup. Since these events, a movement has swept the globe calling for systemic change and equality across borders. Organizations, businesses, and individuals have voiced their support and pledged to actively make changes in their communities. Within the ski industry, one of these companies seeking social growth and inclusivity is Vail Resorts.
In June of 2020, CEO Rob Katz wrote a letter to his employees addressing a need for change within both the company and the ski industry as a whole.
“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.”
-Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO
Social issues seem removed from the ski world, but in reality, they are very much at the core of the sport. Skiing is a predominantly white sport, with BIPOC athletes seen few and far between. In his thesis, Katz pledges to make Vail an inclusive part of the mountain community. Since the letter, the resort mogul has taken steps toward actionable progress.
- Related: Rob Katz, Vail Resorts CEO Addresses Current Racial Unrest | Admits Personal Failings in Addressing ‘Overwhelmingly White’ Sport
Vail is building a multi-year plan with the understanding that implementation of change cannot happen overnight. Its first step to fostering a more inclusive company culture came through “Be Inclusive” into its core values. Not only does this address the mindset of the individual, but Vail also extends this pledge towards diversifying leadership development. While an elementary ideal to have, culture cannot be changed without a statement of intent.
In alignment with other business executives across multiple industries, Katz signed the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity & Inclusion, promoting equity and inclusion in the workplace. On a more local front, Vail joined the Colorado Inclusive Economy, a collection of business leaders united by a vision to rebuild Colorado’s economy in a way that works for all. Vail is taking the initiative to revamp “how we hire, support, and advance employees of color.” Additionally, the company has launched Leading Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, a new leadership development program promoting leadership growth within its own ranks.
In the February 4th episode of the Epic By Nature podcast, the ski industry’s lack of diversity is highlighted. Six BIPOC Vail employees share their experiences facing prejudice and exclusion within the ski industry, from stereotyping to direct acts of racism. The episode also gives them the platform to share various microaggressions and unconscious biases they have been subject to in the workplace, providing examples of how Vail can make its working environment comfortable and inclusive for employees of various backgrounds. Setting aside the individual’s race or background and taking an approach that champions employees based on their work are major steps in creating a productive and desirable workplace.
Outside of its own internal culture, Vail Resorts has committed to growing diversity within the sport with an approach towards the next generation of skiers and riders. The company announced that it would be expanding youth access programs across all 34 North American resorts, affecting metropolitan areas around its resorts while providing youth access to free lift tickets, ski school, and equipment rental. Welcoming younger generations of all backgrounds shows a commitment to serving the community and growing the sport across borders.
While Vail has made some progress towards change in its culture and image, a lot still needs to be done to foster skiing and snowboarding inclusivity. Barriers of elitism surrounding the industry must be broken down, not only by bringing others into it but also by increasing accessibility to a broader audience. This starts through culture, yes, but finding ways to ease the financial burden must also be a priority to make skiing inclusive for all.