Vail snowmaker carries on mountain’s military legacy, nominates managers for Patriot Award
Kate Schifani grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before playing Division I soccer at Air Force Academy and commissioning in the United States military. She’s worked on B-52 bombers at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana as an aircraft maintenance officer and deployed for about a year with the U.S. Army as a counter terrorism adviser with the Iraqi Counter Terrorism service.
In 2014, Schifani left the military’s active duty and joined Vail Resorts, where today she is a snowmaking manager. She’s also stayed on the U.S. Air Force Reserve, going to Colorado Springs each month for a couple of days to work on C-130 aircraft.
Schifani says she is thankful for her employers at Vail Resorts continuing to allow, and encourage her reserve duties while working in Vail, and as a token of that thanks, she has nominated Steve Johnson, Brian Suhadolc and Beth Howard for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Patriot Award.
“I’m super proud of what I’ve done with the Air Force and I’m really grateful that the people here have recognized that,” Schifani said. “One of the reasons I wanted to nominate them is because I feel like there are a lot of people here that have served, in various ways, that kind of get covered in a coat of snow when it starts to fall and we all go about our business as a ski area. But it’s kind of cool to know how people got here and what kind of backgrounds they bring with them. Especially as we look to be more diverse and inclusive, recognizing those different backgrounds and the different strengths people have make us better, more diverse, more inclusive and more successful as a company.”
Schifani first came to Vail in the 2014-15 season, after a friend at the Air Force Academy invited her out for a winter. She worked on the Birds of Prey 2015 World Championships race crew before joining mountain safety. As she switched into new roles within the company, Schifani said she never really saw any correlation between working in the military and working at a ski company. But then an injury that took her off the mountain allowed her to reassess what she was doing. Moving to an operations manager position at Vail, she’s found a role where she can use some of her skills acquired in the Air Force.
“An operations management skill set that I had spent nine years developing with the Air Force was 100% translatable to what I’m doing as an operations manager at a ski area — just applied a little differently,” she said.
Vail Mountain and its founders have deep ties to the military through the 10th Mountain Division, the country’s first elite mountain warfare unit, which trained in nearby Camp Hale in the 1940s. During World War II, the 10th Mountain Division fought in the mountains of Italy, helping secure Mount Belvedere during a night mission up Riva Ridge, from which the Vail ski run derives its name.
Vail founder Pete Seibert was a member of the 10th Mountain Division, along with Bob Parker, Vail’s first marketing director. After getting the mountain up and running, they recruited their old 10th Mountain Division buddy Sarge Brown, which is where Vail’s military influence in its operations traces its origins.
William Brown earned the rank of sergeant major, the highest non-commissioned rank in the Army, before joining Vail’s operations crews in 1966 when he retired from the military with five Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars. Brown, who was known as “Sarge,” found the Vail crew to be informally organized when he arrived and quickly whipped them into shape, Parker said of Brown in 1990.
“His contribution, from the very first day as trail crew supervisor, was to establish paramilitary standards of scheduling and planning, punctuality, equipment care and personal appearance,” Parker wrote.
‘Extremely focused leaders’
Suhadolc, who is the vice president of mountain operations at Vail Mountain, said he appreciates the resort’s deep connection to the military and veteran community.
“It’s an honor to continue that tradition and I’m humbled that Kate chose to honor our Vail family with this award,” Suhadolc said. “[Schifani] is a tremendous asset to the team here at Vail. She is a phenomenal leader to our snowmakers and she approaches her role with grit and determination. It’s an honor to have veterans and reservists on our team. They are extremely focused leaders and teammates, and they bring an energy that is really great to work with.”
Over the years, Schifani has participated in the Vail Legacy Days parades and ski-downs, which honor the 10th. She said she enjoyed participating in them and meeting other veterans in the Vail Resorts family.
“It was fun because it was people that I had known from working at Vail that I would see regularly that I didn’t even know were veterans, and vice versa,” she said.
To nominate Johnson, Suhadolc and Howard for the Patriot Award, Schifani submitted a nomination that included how her employers are supportive of her reserve duty and how they see value in what she does outside of her work with the company. An official plaque and recognition will be awarded if her nomination is approved.
“I just really appreciate the fact that Steve, Brian and Beth can look at what I do when I’m not here and still find value in it and see how it helps us when I am here,” Schifani said. “It’s a lot of trust. … We do the same thing with airplanes that we do basically with a snowmaking production season.”
Vail Mountain’s Closing Day is set for April 18.
Vail Daily reporter John LaConte contributed to this story. Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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