Snowsports summit takes on diversity topic as a key business issue

Sometimes a simple conversation can spark a big idea. Olivia Rowan, associate publisher for Ski Area Management (SAM) magazine, a trade publication for winter resorts, was talking to Roberto Moreno, the executive director of the Alpino project, a Denver-based non-profit that is working to increase diversity in snowsports and mountain recreation. It's like the Big City Mountaineers of snowsports, but rather than taking minority youth camping, Alpino takes them skiing.
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Sometimes a simple conversation can spark a big idea. Olivia Rowan, associate publisher for Ski Area Management (SAM) magazine, a trade publication for winter resorts, was talking to Roberto Moreno, the executive director of the Alpino project, a Denver-based non-profit that is working to increase diversity in snowsports and mountain recreation. It's like the Big City Mountaineers of snowsports, but rather than taking minority youth camping, Alpino takes them skiing.

Their idea: Bring ski resorts and other industries together to discuss ways to recruit and increase participation from diverse cultures. The kickoff summit in Steamboat Springs, Colo., co-hosted by SAM and PepsiCo, was an invite-only event bringing together key industry players who could help create the platform and talk it up.Â

"Focusing on diversity is the right thing to do, but it's also a business issue," Rowan told SNEWS®. "We're a flat industry and need to look to new customers. We absolutely have to look at this as a business issue and that'll give our industry staying power going forward. The world is changing all around us and we need to look internally at ourselves."

Rowan said market research shows that African Americans and Hispanics are interested in snowsports but don't know how to get involved, and more than 70 percent of people under age 18 are "multicultural."

"The workforce is more racially, ethnically and culturally mixed than ever before -- diversifying our workforce and marketplace is critical to our future success as an industry," she said. "Companies that recognize new and different markets and customer needs will have a distinct competitive advantage."

The summit was facilitated by New Haven Consulting, a firm specializing in diversity training and consulting. The 30 to 35 participants included an array of resorts, among them were American Skiing Company, Booth Creek Ski Holdings and Vail Resorts, and non-profit organizations, as well as companies outside the snowsports industry that offered their failures and triumphs to the group as they worked to diversify their companies and industries. They included Amtrak, Sprint, United Airlines and Reginald Jones, the former Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner in President Clinton's administration.

New Haven Consulting used video and discussion breakouts over the day-and-a-half summit, and participants laid the foundation to get a dialogue going in the industry. The group agreed from the start that they could not create the answers in the short time, but were creating a platform for discussion, said Rowan.

The group determined the following points:

> The commitment to increasing diversity in the sport must come from top management.
> Diversity issues must be addressed at all levels in the company -- from the parking attendant and the lift operator, to the restaurant staff and ski school, as well as administration.
> Achieving change requires a long-term commitment; this problem will not be fixed overnight.
> The industry should welcome input from other categories of the service industry and learn from their successes.
> The industry needs to explore ways to develop a love of the mountains among cultural groups that historically have not participated in mountain sports in order to grow a multi-cultural customer and employee base.

Rowan noted that these points are just the beginning to achieving the goals for the summit: retaining, attracting and growing diverse markets.

"These are baby steps, but the one thing we heard from a lot of the outside industry people that we brought in -- Sprint, Amtrak and United --is you normally see an industry come together like this as a reaction to something that has happened. They thought it was neat that we were doing it proactively," Rowan told us, "but I don't want to pat ourselves on the back because we are behind on this. We should have done this a long time ago -- and everybody is aware of that."

Chris Goddard, president of CGPR public relations, a PR company that has been involved in the snowsports industry since its launch in 1993, co-sponsored the event and told SNEWS® that the summit offered interesting fodder for discussions in the snowsports and outdoor industries.Â

"The people participating were really high level -- both from the people expecting to learn and the people who had learned. The people who were there had had valuable experiences. I took away from it those experiences, but also that this was a group committed at a senior level," she said.Â

To keep the ball rolling on the diversity issue and expand it, SAM is offering a Diversity Workshop in conjunction with the New England Snowsports Summit in New Hampshire on Sept. 9. Registration will be open, allowing companies to send staff from all sectors, including human resources and marketing. For more information, visit www.saminfo.com.

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