Vail Resorts CEO Katz caught in crossfire between Polis, Utah governor
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis kicked off a Q&A with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz at the annual Western Governors’ Association meeting in Vail on Monday by asking his opinion of the CORE Act, which would create 73,000 acres of new wilderness and the first National Historic Landscape at Camp Hale.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, seated to the left of Polis, followed up with a question about how the ski industry can continue to grow given the rigidity of the current environmental regulations dictating the management of federal lands where most ski areas operate.
Polis, a Democrat, is one of the most progressive governors at the conference that runs through Wednesday. Herbert, a Republican, represents one of the most conservative states in the West.
The two shared a good-natured exchange about whose snow is better and the fact the United States Olympic Committee picked Utah over Colorado as a candidate for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Polis acknowledged those Winter Games have just about the same disapproval rating (88%) in Colorado as approval rating in Utah.
That prompted Herbert to joke about the “the contrast between the western side of the Rockies and eastern side of the Rockies.”
In fact, as Colorado politicians push for more protections for public lands in the White River National Forest and elsewhere in Colorado, their counterparts in Utah have successfully worked with the Trump administration to strip away protections for national monuments like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in order to encourage more mining and fossil fuel extraction. That divergence led to Colorado stealing the Outdoor Retailer show away from neighboring Utah.
For his part, Katz, whose company owns and operates resorts in both states, stuck to his talking points about the benefits of the overall outdoor recreation industry: nearly $900 billion in annual consumer spending nationwide; $73 billion a year on snow sports; $8.4 billion a year in revenue generated by ski resorts; 59 million skier visits (60% in West) and 7.6 million American jobs.
Without directly taking sides in the “more public lands protection and outdoor recreation” versus “less protection and more resource extraction” argument, Katz made it pretty clear where his company comes down. The greatest challenge to the ski industry, he said, is “first and foremost climate change,” accompanied by weather and snowpack variability.
As for the Polis question on the CORE Act, Katz focused on the Camp Hale aspect, with its preservation of the hallowed training ground of the famed 10th Mountain Division of World War II ski troopers who fought the Nazis and Japanese and returned home to found the ski industry.
“The opportunity is pretty significant,” Katz said. “Certainly within the Colorado community, Camp Hale has always had a very special place, but the national prominence and understanding and the connection that this industry has to its roots is unique, and I don’t think it’s well understood. [The CORE Act] would actually bring more engagement and participation and a better understanding of what the men and women of the military do and how critical it is.”
Then Katz tactfully tackled Herbert’s question about growing the ski industry under the current regulatory structure.
“We believe that the sport does need to grow and we also believe that it should be growing within its current footprint, so it is challenging and probably not wise to start new ski resorts at this point given all the environment challenges that you highlighted,” Katz told Herbert.
The way to do that, he added, is to expand ski terrain within current boundaries and utilize technology and infrastructure upgrades to move people more efficiently within resorts. He also said the ski industry must continue to invest in base area improvements, roads and housing.
Besides climate, Katz cited the additional challenges to the industry of making the sport more accessible to more people; investing in infrastructure to accommodate growth; and workforce and housing shortages.
The Vail Daily then brought up some of those very same topics in a one-on-one interview after the panel discussion with Gov. Polis, who formerly represented the Vail Valley as the congressman for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. Click here for that interview.