Cunningham: What helped shape your career to prepare you for this role?
Ertl: Concurrent with my management role in the ski school, I had support from Ski Co to work with the Professional Ski Instructors of America-American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIAAASI). I was the manager for the National Education Teams and we traveled around the country nationally and internationally, sharing the methods of education in ski and snowboard teaching. That helped expand my horizons, introduced me to people in the industry and allowed me to make connections. At the same time, I was working with the four schools here in Aspen Snowmass, growing that business unit and working toward constant improvement. My philosophy has always been, “Do the best job I can where I am.” How am I going to do better today than I was yesterday? If you can manage four ski schools and four teams with that attitude, can I do it with four mountains?
Cunningham: What is it like being a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated industry? Have you faced any challenges in this regard? Were there any differences in the challenges you may have faced working in the ski schools versus your current position in mountain operations?
Ertl: I feel very lucky. I’ve been able to achieve high positions while maneuvering through what is a male-dominated industry. In the higher echelons of teaching, when you start going from ski/snowboard instructor up through to Examiner, Trainer-Examiner and beyond, it becomes more and more male-dominated. In Mountain Operations, it’s feels more male-dominated. The main challenge I have experienced is bringing ideas to the table and being heard. That said, I operate under the philosophy that, if the idea gets put into action and the team succeeds, it does not always matter where the credit lands. I cannot say for certain that that challenge of mine is related to gender, but I have started to pay attention to supporting others’ ideas, to make sure that, if credit is due, it is given, regardless of gender. Beyond that, I let my actions speak louder than my words. I’ve generally experienced that women will listen to words with more scrutiny than men; men will watch for actions. I think it can be easier for women if they let their actions speak to what they want to come through. I’m not trying to lean on a crutch in any way. That’s just what I’ve seen and those are the challenges I have personally experienced.
Cunningham: You’ve been working in the field for thirty years. What was happening for women industry-wide when you first started working?
Ertl: My scope was a lot narrower then, as I was in my twenties and teaching kids in the Ski School. I do recall that women were breaking glass ceilings in this industry. In the ski-instructor world, they were starting to become Trainers and Educators, but there were not many. Let me give you some stats: as a Trainer, which means you’ve gotten all of your certifications and now you’re teaching others, 30% are female right now. When I started, only 10% of Trainers were female. At the ski schools at Aspen Snowmass, the gender split of our pro staff is almost 50/50. If you get above Trainer into Examiner, that number goes down to 30%. If you go on to national education teams, it comes down to 18%. In the 1980s, women were just beginning to break into the Training and management roles. However, it was less frequent than it is now. We have a lot more women who are coming into leadership roles at ASC. It’s exciting.
Cunningham: How do you view gender as it relates to the ski and snow sport industry?
Ertl: It is a big conversation in many industries and it is complex. The answer does not lie in whether the person applying for the job has confidence in their ability – we know they do, or they likely would not apply. Maybe the answer lies in how we see the conversation from the side of hiring. It is a cultural conversation, and requires a discussion about leadership and competency. Can we take off our blinders to the idea that certain jobs are “better” for women or men and, rather, look for the qualities that will make a difference?
Cunningham: Do you think women’s leadership helps the overall wellbeing of snow sports? I think you’ve answered that. It should be based on skill level.
Ertl: Yes, but I do think a balance is good. It’s important to have those voices at the table.
Cunningham: In your opinion, what is the next step for women in the industry?
Ertl: Hopefully, the next step will include the continuation of inviting women into the conversation; encouraging them to take a step where maybe they normally wouldn’t. Encouraging groups of employees to listen and find the best person for the job, and it has to include our perception of people as well as the courage of the individual. We have to do a better job listening, not getting tied up in the emotions, but listening to what someone is saying. What is the content? What is the context? How is it going to help the business? If we can keep those things in focus, it would be beneficial. Whether you’re male or female, if you can find that within yourself, you’re going to be presented with more opportunities.