‘Representation is important’: Summit women reflect on positive shifts in leadership at local ski areas | SummitDaily.com

‘Representation is important’: Summit women reflect on positive shifts in leadership at local ski areas

Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort
Jody Churich encourages a group of youth skiers while skiing at Breckenridge Ski Resort.Churich is one of many women who have led the charge to make ski resorts more diverse through women taking over leadership positions.
Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort

When Jody Churich began her career in the ski industry 30 years ago, it was a completely different work environment than today, she said.

Positions of power were often held by men, and women had to prove themselves in order to move up within the industry, she said.

Churich started her career at Alpine Meadows (now Palisades Tahoe) as a college intern for the ski area in the marketing department, but she quickly set her eyes on moving up in the ski area.

“I started as an intern, and then I spent the winter teaching kids skiing,” Churich said. “I really aspired to get a job in the marketing department and landed one at Alpine Meadows. I started out truly as a snow reporter and a marketing coordinator.”

While trusting in her abilities, Churich steadily received promotion after promotion throughout the next few years. She was the director of marketing for the Tahoe region before she became the chief operating officer for Woodward and the executive vice president of POWDR.

With the connections she had made throughout her years in the ski industry, Churich then made the jump to Vail Resorts in October 2018 when she became the senior director of skier services at Park City Ski Resort. Like her experience within POWDR, Churich steadily climbed the ladder until she became the vice president and chief operating officer of Keystone in October 2019 and eventually took over the same position at Breckenridge in June 2021.

Churich did not find it extremely difficult to progress within the ski industry because of how driven she is, however, she said she did struggle at the beginning of her career with being an outlier within the profession.

“There were not women running ski resorts, so I was kind of an anomaly,” Churich said of some of the early struggles in her career. “Some of the struggles I faced was being the only female at the table in the boardroom — working to build that confidence to find my unique voice.”

Keystone Resort/Courtesy photo
Pam Brown poses with her dog during the Summit summer months. Brown has worked within the ski industry for several decades and currently is the senior manager of lift operations at Keystone.
Keystone Resort/Courtesy photo

Churich says she eventually found confidence in her voice by realizing she brought a unique point of view to the boardroom table that was missing at many ski resorts at the time. 

“I did not think about being the only one out there,” Churich said. “I just thought about what I had to contribute — really trying to understand how we could better serve guests and that was a little bit of a different point of view. Some of my male counterpart leaders were very operational driven, and that set me apart a little bit. Having the diversity of thought in the room served me well.”

Robin Tencick, Keystone’s director of base operations, and Pam Brown, Keystone’s senior manager of lift operations, echoed this sentiment and said they also often struggled in the early part of their careers in trying to find their voice or proving themselves to their male counterparts.

“I think like a lot of women — you feel like you have to prove yourself and work twice as hard,” Brown said. “I felt like I had to prove to lift maintenance and the higher-ups at the ski area that I could do this.”

“I think the biggest challenge that I have actually had is the imposter syndrome for myself and doubts from other people,” Tencick said. “Coming into a management position within Vail Resorts as kind of that nontraditional hire was quite challenging, and I felt like I had to prove myself.”

Keystone Resort/Courtesy photo
Robin Tencick poses for a photo at Keystone Resort. Tencick currently serves at the director of base operations at Keystone Resort.
Keystone Resort/Courtesy photo

For Copper Mountain Resort’s lift operations, RFID and activities manager Megan Lundquist — who started her career as a ski lift operator at Copper — the majority of her struggles revolved around being taken seriously as a woman in the ski industry. 

“When I am trying to manage a guest complaint or an irate guest, I have had people tell me they need to speak to someone of higher authority, a man — or my favorite — someone older and more experienced,” Lundquist said. It’s highly demeaning when I feel like I need to respond to these situations with a male coworker so that I am taken seriously.”

Beyond the day-to-day tasks of being the vice president and chief operating officer at Breckenridge, Churich feels a responsibility to make the ski industry feel more approachable to women and help them reach milestones within their own career.

“I am certainly mentoring women within our resort here, and I see more women supporting each other more now than ever before,” Churich said. “A sisterhood of support for achieving and we should celebrate that.”

Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo
Megan Lundquist poses for a photo while at the base of Copper Mountain Resort. After starting at Copper as a ski lift operator, Lundquist is now the lift operations, RFID and activities manager at Copper.
Copper Mountain Resort/Courtesy photo

Strong leaders like Churich have ultimately led to a large number of women in leadership roles at Breckenridge and Keystone Ski Resort, which has bled over to nearby Copper and Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort. 

Tencick, Brown, Lundquist and Breckenridge’s Marissa Frutchey started their careers in lower-level ski resort positions much like Churich. Brown and Lundquist started their careers as ski lift operators, Tencick began as a snowboard instructor at Copper and Frutchey started as a seasonal supervisor of mountain dining. 

Now all four women are in high-level positions at their respective ski resorts with Frutchey working as the senior director of mountain dining at Breckenridge.

One thing that is common between the career arcs of Tencick, Brown, Lundquist and Frutchey is the amount of support they say they have received from other employees within the ski industry. Many said they feel they would not be in the position they are in today without the support of the people within the ski resorts.

“I have been very fortunate to have worked alongside several incredible female leaders throughout my career at Breck,” Frutchey said. These women in leadership really showed me a path that I knew I could pursue. Through their mentorship I feel like it really helped me develop my confidence as a leader, and I realized that I too deserve a place at the table.”

Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort
Marissa Frutchey poses for a photo at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Frutchey is currently the senior director of mountain dining at Breckenridge Ski Resort.
Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort

“I have always been lucky enough to find a mentor within the industry,” Tencick said. “Although I have had challenges from outside forces, I have always had at least one leader who has believed in me and given me the confidence to know that I am in the right place.”

Although women representation in the ski industry is on the rise when compared to the state of the profession in the ’70s to the ’90s, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Churich hopes to continue to grow the representation of women in the ski industry to the point that in the next five to 10 years that the effort to get women in leadership positions across the professional world is obsolete.

“Representation is important, and it is awesome to see women in leadership roles here at Vail Resorts and throughout the ski industry and beyond,” Churich said. “I think ultimately my hope is that this focus and effort are no longer necessary because representation of all genders, all backgrounds are simply the norm.”

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