No mountain is too high for Vail’s COO
Good Company: Beth Howard found her passion as a pioneer in the outdoor industry early on
Beth Howard | Chief Operating Officer, Vail Mountain
Hometown: Corwith, Iowa
What she’s reading: “The Power of Moments” and “Epic by Nature” podcast
Beth Howard is an icon — and an anomaly. Starting as a college intern at Colorado’s Beaver Creek Resort, she has spent 35 years winding her way through food and beverage and operational management roles at Vail Resorts nationwide, earning a SAMMY Industry Leadership Award as the general manager of California’s Northstar resort along the way.
An Iowa native, Howard earned a degree in Food & Nutrition in Business at the University of Northern Iowa. Married with one son, Howard loves to be outdoors, playing golf and spending time with her Vail-based family. We talked to her about committing to a career at one company — and finding a passion as a pioneer in the outdoor industry.
ColoradoBiz: You’ve worked at Vail Resorts for your entire career, which isn’t common today. How did you go from an internship to the C-suite?
Beth Howard: I’ve been here so long because I found what I love doing, and the company had many opportunities along the way, so I continued to grow and be challenged. I enjoy providing our guests with an experience of a lifetime. Whether that’s in food and beverage where I started, or from the vantage point I have now, it’s the attention to detail and focus on guest service that put smiles on our guests’ faces and motivate me to work harder every day. The journey felt natural because what motivated me never changed.
CB: Women now lead three of Vail Resorts’ five mountains in Colorado. What does this say about the company and the ski industry?
BH: It says that Vail Resorts cares about leadership and leadership development. We have a strong mentorship program and we have leaders willing to push us all to do our best. They’re also willing to push us out of our comfort zone, no matter where we are in our career.
If you look at me, for example, I spent nearly 29 years in food and beverage. But thanks to Pat Campbell, president of our Mountain Division, I was able to take on a project that identified best practices for our grooming and snow surface division, which had absolutely nothing to do with food and beverage. Thanks to Pat’s mentorship, I was able to set my career on this entire new trajectory. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but for Vail Resorts, this investment in leadership and mentorship is fundamental to who we are as an organization.
CB: You’ve mentioned that Vail Resorts is a supportive work environment for all employees, including women, because there’s “permission” to move, innovate and have a voice.
BH: Just like Vail Resorts has invested heavily in leadership, we’ve also invested heavily in inclusion and empowerment. In 2019, Rob Katz, our CEO, announced the creation of POWDER – Providing Opportunity for Women through Diversity, Equality and Respect.
The truly innovative part about this program is that it not only has total leadership buy-in, but we also empower engagement at all levels throughout our company. This program creates a culture of inclusion across all 37 of our mountains and offers mentorship and growth opportunities aimed at harnessing the power of a diverse organization. POWDER isn’t about me giving someone on my team permission to seize an opportunity; it’s about creating an environment that ensures opportunity exists for everyone.
CB: What is Vail Resorts doing to prove its “good company” reputation during the pandemic?
BH: When Vail Mountain closed early this March, Eagle County’s population immediately decreased by nearly 75%. We’re confident that this difficult decision helped give our community the best chance to manage this health crisis. There wasn’t an order to close any of our resorts at that point, but our CEO and executive team knew it was the best thing for our employees, communities and guests.
Since that time, we’ve been working around the clock to help where we can. We’ve provided food to employees and food banks, we’ve let employees remain in our housing units, we’ve donated personal protective equipment to our local health services, we’ve pre-positioned our medical supplies for local emergency use, and we’ve been in lock-step with public health officials every step of the way.
Across our entire company, we have donated more than 50,000 pounds of food to mountain communities hit hard by the rapid end of this ski season; and our CEO Rob Katz donated $2.5 million to support these communities and our employees through the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust and our EpicPromise Foundation.
We’re also listening to our guests to figure out how we can address their shortened season, as well as the coming skiing and riding season. What we’ve found is that we have an incredibly diverse set of guests and therefore we couldn’t provide a one-size-fits-all solution. We listened hard and we heard that our guests want to feel confident in their ability to purchase season passes. So we are now offering free Epic Coverage for the 2020-21 season, which provides refunds if you have an eligible injury, job loss or experience other personal events that prevent you from using your pass.
It also provides a refund for certain resort closures, including for events like COVID-19. And among other things, we’re providing credits for season pass holders of up to 80% for guests who felt they didn’t get the entire value of their 2019-20 season-pass product. Being a “good company” means being a good listener, and we believe the adjustments we’ve made demonstrate that Vail Resorts is listening to our guests.
CB: What are you most concerned about for Vail Resorts and your home mountain, the iconic Vail? What are you most hopeful about professionally – and personally?
BH: Every day seems like a new challenge since the outbreak of COVID-19. This isn’t unique to Vail Mountain or Vail Resorts. However, the investments we’ve made at Vail Resorts in leadership and programs like POWDER has me very optimistic.
Our company is always innovating, and our industry is growing. People will always long for the mountains, the outdoors, and connection with these special places. I’m excited and hopeful for the innovations that will come from this difficult time, and I’m excited to see leaders blossom at our company. I’m already witnessing people I’ve mentored step up into leadership roles during this crisis, and it makes me proud.
CB: What advice do you have for women looking to rise up and make a mark in the outdoor industry?
BH: I think it’s important to be genuine — don’t pretend to be an expert in something you’re not. Instead, be an expert at learning and listening. It’s easy, especially in this industry, to feel like you have to walk into a room and be in charge or show bravado; instead, I think it’s more important to foster an environment that creates leaders. Leave a mark by empowering your team. Create an atmosphere where others can step up and be the experts.