When Amber Broadaway coached high school track and field at Vermont’s Harwood High, she derived more satisfaction from the achievements of her athletes than she ever did as a competitor.
“It feels more heartfelt, I guess,” said Broadaway, who coached the Highlanders to three state titles. “As an athlete, there’s probably a level of personal pride. As the coach, you just look at this team and think, ‘Ah, they did this.’”
She believes it can be the same with running a ski resort.
Entering her first season as Solitude Mountain Resort’s president and chief operating officer, Broadaway has plans as big as the Honeycomb Cliffs that tower over the resort. She wants to make the Big Cottonwood Canyon property more environmentally friendly, more versatile and, yes, more profitable. And the foundation upon which all of that will be built, Broadaway says, is a strong team.
So when the former vice president of guest services and safety at Sugarbush Resort in Vermont toured Solitude in May as part of the interview process, she was delighted to find one already in place.
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“Really, for me, what sealed the deal was meeting the team,” she said. “... I felt such an incredible sense of knowledge and passion and love, and it really reminded me a lot of the people I had just spent the last eight years working with at Sugarbush.”
Though she’d never skied or snowboarded in Utah and had given birth to her second child just a few months earlier, Broadaway, 45, accepted the job and the challenges that come with it.
One of the most onerous of those challenges, she realizes, is helping skiers cope with the changes the resort has and will undergo. That includes convincing them to accept that Solitude is an Alterra Mountain Company-owned property and the main Utah destination for those who carry the Ikon pass. Increased crowding has been among the primary gripes among skiers and riders since Alterra purchased the ski area in 2018.
“I am here to put the stake in the ground,” she said. “We’re owned by Alterra, we are Ikon. Solitude is Ikon. There is no other. This is who we are. And now our job is to help shepherd us forward in a growth mindset that does take into account these concerns.”
‘The mountain was our babysitter’
When Broadaway looks out over Solitude, she envisions it as a place for family — and not just because of the small tribe of deer that crossed through, as if on cue, during her interview. This, she said, is the place she chose for her two girls, Aspen, 4, and Cedar, 1, to spend their childhood. As such, she plans to protect it, so their kids can grow up on its slopes, too, if they’d like. Perhaps they’ll experience some of the same freedoms she did as a kid raised on the runs and in the race program at the since-closed Mount Ascutney Resort in Brownsville, Vermont.
“My favorite memories are of being at the mountain with my two brothers and just, you know, we had full range. The mountain was our babysitter. Nobody was there with their parents, right?” Broadaway said. “So I think that was a big thing for me. When you start to get older and you start to think about having your own family, you really start to yearn for those connections that you had as a kid. And that was a great big motivator for getting into this industry.”
Her pathway was cleared, in part, by women like Kim Mayhew. Mayhew is Broadaway’s predecessor and the first woman to run Solitude. When she took over in 2015, she was also one of the first female resort COOs in the country and the only one in Utah.
This season, women will be at the helm of three Utah resorts: Solitude, Brian Head Resort and Woodward Park City.
“Women like Kim and others,” Broadaway said, “they bulldozed the way for folks like me to come in and enjoy a lot of the hard work that they’ve done as being a female in this industry and particularly in this role.”
While the environment for women in the ski industry may be improving, though, Broadaway said the decline of the natural environment is troubling.
Balancing growth and the environment
Packing a degree in environmental studies from Dartmouth College, Broadaway has made getting Solitude to net-zero emissions “a pretty strong theme of my vision.”
But that’s a stretch goal. In the short term, she’s focused on making the most of the resources Solitude already has. That includes adding recycling, maybe even dabbling in compostables and, when feasible, reusing water.
“I feel like this environment out here is more environmentally fragile than where I came from,” she said. “But the sustainability initiatives here are so inferior.”
Still, the bulk of the resort’s clientele, especially those between the ages of 25 and 40, are looking for strong environmental stewardship, she believes. But pleasing them isn’t at the crux of her push to conserve more. That’s fueled by her concerns about what global warming could do to the ski industry.
For that reason, she’s doing something that might not seem as environmentally sound. She hopes to increase Solitude’s snowmaking capacity in the coming years. Though that requires additional water, she maintains it’s “borrowed water” since the moisture returns to the water table as snow and runoff. It’s a necessary hedge against seasons in which the resort may not see enough natural snow to open for the lucrative holiday season.
“You can’t always count on the big snow in December anymore,” she said.
Broadaway also lauded Solitude for being the first in the state to enact another environmental measure: charging for parking. She plans to continue that program, which gives discounts to carpoolers. She’s also looking into ways to buses and more employees bussed up the canyon, which would cut down carbon emissions while also freeing up parking spaces.
Of course, more parking likely means more people packing into the Moonbeam Lodge and the Thirsty Squirrel and squeezing onto a Summit Express chair. That’s something Broadaway welcomes.
“Like any industry, we want to grow, right?” she said. “You know, we’re not in this to just break even or to lose money. We’re in this to grow our business.”
She would also like to expand summer offerings.
Broadaway emphasized, however, that growth brings other benefits to both visitors and employees.
Solitude joined most resorts around the country in cashing in on a record-breaking season last year in terms of participation. As a result of that boon, Broadaway said, the resort will be able to spend $600,000 this year on raising its minimum wage to $15 for all non-tipped employees.
Resort management is hoping that more than doubling the federal and state minimum wage, in addition to offering such benefits as a matching 401K and ski passes for all employees, will help shore up staff shortages. A reduction in foreign employees due to COVID-19 restrictions and a dearth of people seeking jobs have left many resorts scrambling.
Still, Broadaway’s motivations for making the wage increase the first major act of her tenure as Solitude’s chief is more nuanced. From coach to risk and safety manager to now resort COO, her style of leadership is to lift up those around her.
And nothing boosts team morale quite like a few more dollars floating around.
“When you have a happy staff,” she said, “all the other things kind of fall into place.”