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Mountain moguls have the right attitude

Kimberly Nicoletti
HCBR
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
ALL |

It’s common knowledge that, throughout the decades, many career-minded women have experienced forms of discrimination. But that’s not what most women in power choose to focus on ” and therein lies one of the secrets to their successes.

Pat Campbell, Patti Burnett and Julie Rust represent a growing trend in the ski industry: Women working in traditionally male-dominated roles.

Campbell has been the chief operating officer at Keystone Resort since November. Previously she held positions as the ski school director and the director of skier services at Breckenridge Ski Area.

She notices a difference in the ease of being accepted as a woman in a supervisory role since she started moving up the ranks a little more than a decade ago at Wyoming ski areas. When she transitioned from supervisor to assistant director of ski school at a Wyoming resort in 1995, “it raised some eyebrows,” she said – and she left it at that, even though she said there was more to the story. It’s her conscious decision not to focus on any negative aspects of gender.

“I can’t say I’ve ever really thought of myself as a woman in a nontraditional role,” Campbell said. “If you perceive it that way, you almost set up barriers for yourself. The minute you walk in the door and think, ‘Oh man, this is a nontraditional role,’ you’re already starting yourself at a disadvantage. Don’t make any excuses for yourself before you even get started. You’ve got to believe in it.”

Her ability to move forward despite obstacles is one of the characteristics she shares with Burnett, Rust, Beth Slifer and other successful women: They admit there have been challenges related to gender, but they don’t focus on them. Instead, they focus on their goals.

“For me, I’m always motivated to do my best, whether people are questioning my abilities or not,” Campbell said. “I try not to let what people think be the driver of my performance. I think it’s important to always do you best no matter what you think people are thinking.”

Patience and determination goes a long way too, she said.

Burnett, a former supervisor of Copper Mountain’s ski patrol for 13 years, learned determination at an early age. She grew up at a time where money wasn’t available for girls’ sports, so she ski raced with and against boys in upstate New York.

“The coach would tell me I had to work twice or three times more as the guys,” Burnett said. “I don’t think he wanted me on the team. He put this extra burden on me. It just taught me to work hard.”

She couldn’t race in giant slalom because she didn’t weigh enough, and that taught her another important lesson: To be willing to try everything while admitting she had some limitations. Rather than attempting to cover up weaknesses, she decided to build on her strengths.

As she did that, she realized ski patrolling had a lot to do with not just strength, but also finesse. For example, she said men could lift the 60- to 70-pound toboggan easier because she doesn’t weigh much more than 100 pounds, but it also require finesse to take a guest comfortably down the mountain on a sled. She also found that sometimes children warmed up to women patrollers more quickly. And she said women sometimes could help “civilize the group a little,” making it less of a boys’ club.

But, occasionally, it’s lonely being a woman at the top, Campbell said.

“You can feel a little isolated at times,” she said. “Sometimes you just can’t always be one of the guys.”

Rust, in her seventh year as director of Vail’s ski patrol, has eight women patrollers (not including herself) out of 70 on her team. She’s worked at Vail Resorts since 1979, and her patrol job is just one more of the many in the ski industry where men outnumbered women, so she’s used to it.

But she sees it becoming more mainstream for women to move up the ranks and views the changes as being about mutual respect. Campbell agrees, saying Vail Resorts is leading the way in offering high-level opportunities to women. And Burnett said Copper knows that the more diversity its ski patrol and other departments have, the more it has to offer. Each woman encourages more women and minorities to reach for their dreams.

“People (should) not be afraid to try something that is different from what they think is normal as far as their gender goes or their age goes ” just take a risk,” Burnett said.


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