This Is What It's Really Like to Make the Snow at One of America's Most Popular Ski Resorts

"It's an awesome challenge."

A skier going down a snowy mountain in Vail
Photo: Tomas Cohen/Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Most of us can only dream of controlling the weather. But for Kate Schifani, it's an everyday superpower.

As the snowmaking manager at Vail Mountain in Vail, Colorado, Schifani, a year-round Vail resident, has quite the gig, and her path to get there was anything but ordinary.

"I was fortunate enough to know I'd have a job leaving the Air Force Academy in 2007, and selected aircraft maintenance as my career field because I knew I love leading people," Schifani shares with Travel + Leisure.

While working in aircraft maintenance, Schifani got to work on B-52 airplanes before being deployed as a counterterrorism advisor. She transitioned to the reserves in 2014, first stationed at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs before reassignment to Hill in March 2021, where she still serves as the Commander of the 419 Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. However, somehow this wasn't enough for Schifani.

Once off active duty, Schifani started working at Beaver Creek. Her first job in the ski industry was as a member of the Race Crew for the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships, which she says was a "total blast." In 2016, Schifani made her way to Vail Mountain to work in mountain safety, then transitioned into a managerial role before working as a health and safety coordinator for the mountain, further enhancing her knowledge of just how the mountain operates.

But, like many others, Schifani found herself furloughed in 2020 due to the pandemic. There was, however, one glimmer of hope — a snowmaking job at Vail. After a bit of counsel from her mentors, Schifani went for it and landed the gig, which turned out to be the dream job she never knew she wanted.

"If I had to describe my career trajectory some way, I think I'd steal a line from the great journalist Mary Carillo, who, in a podcast with Julie Foudy, said she got to where she is by being the 'idiot who said yes,'" says Schifani. "I've said yes to just about every opportunity I've been given and am grateful for the people who helped develop me and trusted me to do well with them."

A snowy mountain in Vail
Ben Lindbloom/Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Now, Schifani's daily responsibilities revolve around all things snow, snow, and more snow.

"Sometimes — especially in the early season — we don't get the same luscious snowfall we're used to for the rest of the winter in Colorado. So through a combination of cold weather, water, air, and something called nucleation, we use equipment to make the snow we need to enhance our early season surface," she explains. "I'm in charge of the team of people who are out on the mountain 24/7 during those early months moving equipment, checking snow quality, and sequencing where we use our resources to make the best snow most efficiently across the mountain."

And yes, snowmaking is a year-round job.

"Our production season runs from October to January. We spend the rest of the winter doing maintenance on our equipment that we can get to easily on skis, and the summer working on the infrastructure," Schifani adds. "If we're good at what we do, people won't notice snowmaking, but there is a huge infrastructure commitment in terms of underground water and air pipes, pumps, compressors, and a lot of upkeep on all of it."

According to Schifani, Vail's snowmaking team is a bit smaller than most, meaning everyone has to pull together and wear many different hats.

"Sometime in September, we start prepping the system to make snow, and then I turn into a semi-professional meteorologist," she says. And, as Schifani explains, there really is more alike than different in her two worlds of snowmaking and aircraft maintenance.

"In both, there is a tangible outcome we're working toward — nice, skiable snow or an airplane that takes off," she says. "There is a finite amount of resources and time, and passionate people trying to work together to get to the outcome. My role as a leader in both is to make the people on the ground as successful as they can be, to fight for more or different resources, and to try new processes or ways of doing things to discover ways to get better. In one context, an airplane takes off and is loud, cool, and fast. In the other, I get to ski. It doesn't get much better."

Though the work of making snow day in and day out can seem monotonous from the outside, Schifani says that's really the magic of it all.

"It's like assembling a huge jigsaw puzzle, where each day you get a handful more pieces that may or may not go together yet and having to place them where they belong in anticipation of getting the rest of the pieces," she says. "It's an awesome challenge that is going on behind the scenes. We hope no one ever notices. We hope they just show up to Vail and leave thinking they've skied the best snow in North America."

For those looking to break into the field and control the weather too, Schifani urges them to go for it, just like she did.

"It's a lot of work and a lot of fun," she says. "It's super rewarding to see what you do bring so many people joy and lasting memories. If you're creative, passionate, and willing to work, there's a whole world of opportunity."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles