Vail Resorts CEO: We Are Part Of The Problem

Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts.

In a recent letter penned to the employees of the resort conglomerate Vail Resorts, Rob Katz, the CEO, made a bold statement: we, the ski community, and more specifically Vail Resorts, is part of the problem fueling racial injustice across the world.  In his letter, Katz starts off by addressing some of the challenges faced by COVID-19 and also offering condolences to the family of George Floyd, the man who was killed in Minnesota by police.

“I am also confronted by the fact that our Company and our sport are overwhelmingly white, with incredibly low representation from people of color.”

Most importantly, he recognizes the role of the ski industry. “I am also confronted by the fact that our Company and our sport are overwhelmingly white, with incredibly low representation from people of color.”, says Katz. “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.”

The admittance of guilt is the first step, and as an industry, and a society, we need to do better.  A few days ago, Katz also announced that Vail Resorts would be donating roughly $11.7 million to causes to help fight both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Check out the full letter below, and before you make any judgements, take a moment to think. —ML

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From Rob Katz/Vail Resorts

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 (employee only) 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.

Comments

One thought on “Vail Resorts CEO: We Are Part Of The Problem

  1. i appreciate your call to have a think before making a judgement. i’ve had a few days to think about it so here comes my judgement. The letter by Katz is the typical CEO letter corporations all over the world are releasing. It signals that they realize their role in a vaguely defined problem or injustice and they pledge to do better (whatever that is), and finally to donate a paltry sum to an advocacy group.

    You sir/madam, seem to want to indict the entire ski community as complicit in some collective crime. You’re asking individuals in the ski community to acknowledge their own guilt in some crime they have have never committed solely based on their membership in that group. No one can define what the crime is other than “racial injustice” and no one has offered any solutions other than “do better.”

    The ski community is as inclusive a community as you can find. I’ve been involved in skiing for 45 years now, and the ski community i know has always been inclusive. If you live to ski and contribute to the vibe, welcome aboard. Certainly there are barriers to skiing such as cost, location and effort required to do it. But to suggest that specific groups are excluded because the ski community is not active enough in the racial justice movement is simply absurd. Have you ever considered that some people are just not into skiing?

    if you want to self-flagellate based on the color of your skin, by all means go for it. but don’t ask the constituent members of a community to pay penance for something they’ve never done. I’m not saying that racial injustice does not exist or that it does not exist in the ski community. Certainly it does and any decent person should try to change that. But asking individuals to acknowledge their guilt on some collective crime is straight of Chairman Mao’s Struggle Sessions playbook, and worse it does nothing to actually solve the problem of racial injustice. Do better.

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