(CBS4) – The ski industry has more women in leadership positions than ever before, and despite the pandemic those in charge are looking for ways to keep growing and moving forward in Colorado and across the country.

Beth Howard

Beth Howard (credit: CBS)

“Senior leadership roles in the ski industry wert not traditional [for women] when I came into it and I think Vail Resorts is just breaking the mold, we’ve got several COOs running our resorts and our new CEO Kirsten Lynch, just started,” said Beth Howard, COO of Vail Mountain.

Lynch took over for long-time CEO Rob Katz on Nov. 1 and is now the official operator of 37 ski resorts.

“Four out of 5 resorts in Colorado are run by women and that’s just momentous, ya know? With our CEO Kirsten Lynch,” said Jody Churich, COO of Breckenridge. “It’s just inspiring. She’s just an amazing role model for all of us and I want to be that for others behind me.”

Jody Churich

Jody Churich (credit: CBS)

Howard and Churich both started their careers in the ski industry in college, when it was run mostly by men. Now as the COOs of Vail Mountain and Breckenridge, they have no plans to look back.

“It’s important to have that commitment from our company for leadership development at all levels. It gives you that opportunity to become better each year and keep evolving,” said Howard.

“I really observe and look at what the guest behavior is and really try and understand what our barriers are and really just try to understand how to grow the sport. More than anything it’s not to change Breck, it’s how can we continue to grow and be more inclusive,” said Churich.

On Friday, Breckenridge and Vail Mountain kicked off opening day for the 2021-22 season with some fresh snow. For Breckenridge, Friday marked 60 seasons in operation. For Vail, it was the earliest opening day in a long time.

“It tied the earliest ever,” Howard continued, “and I think it was 1971 was the last time Vail opened on Nov. 12.”

It’s been one of the most difficult times for those leading the industry and for Vail, caution is the name of the game. You still have to mask up indoors, and for dining you’ll also need a reservation and proof of vaccination.

The good news is the lift line mazes and “ghost lanes” are gone.

“Just having opening day this morning without having all of the physically distances mazes and ghost lanes and all of the capacity constraints we had on loading these lifts, we didn’t have a line. We had lots of people and excitement, but everyone got up quickly and they’re up enjoying the mountain,” said Howard.

And the pandemic hasn’t stopped plans for new lifts.

“We have two new lifts going in Vail here next summer so a new lift for Game Creek will be a 6-person chair… and then we have a brand-new chair coming up out of Sundown Bowl,” she said.

At Breckenridge, the new Freedom Super Chair on Peak 7 will be open this season.

“It puts you right so you can egress the mountain more easily all the way down into town, which will be great,” said Churich.

Vail Resorts will be open through the end of April, and this year Breckenridge plans to stay open through Memorial Day, May 30.

Jamie Leary