Image: Ryan Dearth

 

Iwas born in Detroit. My dad liked to hunt and fish. And both my parents liked to ski, and they had the foresight to realize that they wanted to raise us in a place where we could be in an environment like that. My dad got a job as a teacher at Battle Mountain High School, which was in Minturn, where the [Vail] Ski and Snowboard Academy is now, and we packed up our little brick house in suburban Detroit and showed up in Gilman in 1973. Back then, the mine was operating, and they rented houses to teachers and policemen who lived and worked in the community. I still have my ski pass from that first season in the winter of 1973–74. About two and a half years later my parents bought 10 acres of land in Lake Creek, when it was just being developed, and built a house. So that’s where I grew up.

 

I started working for what was then Vail Associates during college when I’d come home from [the University of Colorado at] Boulder during Christmas break and spring breaks. I worked in Beaver Creek for guest services, so I worked at the front gate, in the parking lot, I loaded skis onto buses. Then right out of undergrad in 1989, I talked my way into an internship in the marketing department, which they just didn’t really do back then. At the end of the summer they offered me a job in the department, and I was in about a dozen different roles in marketing until 2008, when I moved into the chief operating officer role on Vail Mountain.

 

I served on the executive leadership team for Vail Resorts since 2003. Once you’re at that point, you have so much responsibility. I wasn’t always looking for more, and I remember having a specific thought that I was afraid to take on the chief operating officer job because it’s so intense and you’re responsible for so much, but I was also excited to move into that role because it was such a departure from what I was doing as the head of marketing at the time. And it threw a lot of challenges at me and forced me to be better at things I wasn’t necessarily very good at then. I absolutely think all those experiences I’ve had working for different parts of the company helped me throughout my career and made me more effective.

 

As the executive vice president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division since 2016, my office was in Broomfield, but my family lives here in Edwards, so I spent part of my week down there and part of my week at resorts up in the mountains. Part of my responsibilities for the last few years involved overseeing the five resorts here in Colorado, the three resorts in Australia, and the food and beverage business that we manage centrally.

Part of my job working within the mountain division leadership as we brought resorts on was integrating them with the company, and that brought about a lot of new opportunities. Whistler was focused on sustainability when we acquired it, and we learned a lot from them. We took ideas that they were trying to execute and put them in place or tried to put them in place across our other resorts. And a lot of times, the smaller independent resorts we acquired never had the resources to invest in sustainability or the efficiency of their operations. So when we showed up and we replaced old equipment with new equipment that saved energy and used fewer resources—snowmaking guns being the biggest example of that—we enabled the employees there to do things that they had always wanted to do, so they were usually positive about that.

Image: Ryan Dearth

 

Sometimes there was a negative reaction when we came into these communities; people would say it’s about real estate or we had some other hidden agenda, but Vail Resorts is a ski company. We operate ski resorts, and that’s our core. I grew up in one of these little mountain communities. I’ve lived in them my whole life. I’m totally familiar with some people’s aversion to change and progress, and that’s just the way things are. Occasionally, I had to remind myself how fortunate we were that people are so passionate about our business and have such a personal attachment when we changed anything. I became comfortable with that a really long time ago, and my skin grew thicker over the years. The Epic Pass model was mind boggling when we introduced it in 2008, and it still is—there are people in the communities around these small resorts we acquired this past fall that are like, “Wait a minute, my pass is now good at Vail and Park City and Whistler?” To be able to do that while we were improving the experience at their local resort was super gratifying.

 

There are so many favorite memories over the years. My first winter as COO of Vail Mountain, [former head of Vail Ski Patrol] Julie Rust and I were at the top of Chair 7 [Game Creek Express Lift] when the mountain opened to the public and some patrollers showed up and dropped the rope on Morning Side. It was the first week of January 2008 and it had snowed all week, and we had this top-to-bottom run with snow just rolling over our heads; she and I still talk about that day. A couple years ago, I was here for First Tracks, and my family came up. It was the first powder day where all five of us could really ski together, and we were on Headwall in Sun Up Bowl. My youngest—who’s now 15—was probably 9 at the time; he was skiing in powder how I remember trying to do it when I was his age (he was doing it a whole lot better than I did), and all five of us were just hooting and hollering and loving it. That was a pretty amazing day.

 

There are absolutely pieces that I will miss—tons and tons of things that I will miss—and there were bittersweet moments over these last months for sure. At my going-away party in January, [Vail Resorts CEO] Rob Katz announced that they’re renaming a run for me over in Blue Sky Basin. After this ski season is over and they can change the sign in Blue Sky and the name on the resort trail map, Montane Glade will be known as CJ’s Glade. I had no idea something like that would happen; I was blown away with emotion by the whole thing. Other people have had runs named for them over the years, but to be considered alongside them, that overwhelmed me. I’ll definitely be skiing that run next year.

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