Women of Winter – Interview with Deirdra Walsh
As we continue to highlight local women making history throughout the month of March, we’re reminded of their resilience and mindset. Meet Deirdra Walsh, president and general manager of Northstar California. Deirdra is one of eight women leading Vail’s portfolio of 37 resorts.
A portion of this interview was originally featured in the November issue of Moonshine Ink, written by Liz Bowling.
Check out the other blogs in this series:
Kari Brandt, Director of Ski Patrol at Diamond Peak
Michelle Parker, Professional Skier
You accepted the position of Vice President & General Manager at Northstar California in spring of 2019, can you tell us about what led you to this role and what it means to you to lead one of North Tahoe’s most prominent resorts?
Prior to coming to Northstar, I spent 10 years at Park City Mountain Resort as the Sr. Director of Food and Beverage. I was part of the resort’s leadership team that led the transformation of what was at the time two resorts (Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons) into one resort, which is now the largest ski resort in the U.S. That experience inspired me to want to be part of impacting and influencing at the next level. When the former GM at Northstar was promoted to Beaver Creek, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity of running a resort known for exceptional guest service, unique traditions and passionate employees.
What has motivated you throughout your career? Have there been any pivotal moments that paved the path for where you are today?
Ultimately I am motivated to bring out the best in others, and therefore I am always focused on doing my best work. I love working with people and seeing guests and employees come together through skiing and snowboarding at Northstar. There are so many moments that create memories that will last a lifetime for our guests, and being a small part of that inspires me.
There was a critical moment early in my career at Park City when a leadership role became available and my boss at the time asked if I would apply. I was so hesitant. I was young and felt I wasn’t qualified in the “traditional” way; but she didn’t give up. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That was a micro-moment that I may not have realized at the time, but now I utilize to serve as a constant reminder as a leader – to help people see their capabilities and potential even when they may not.
Describe your leadership style:
As a leader I strive to be collaborative, driven and genuine. I enjoy being with a team where we are collectively problem solving or creating something entirely new and bringing it life. I want to be the best at what we do and have the results that support this desire, while always being authentic.
What’s the best career advice you have received… and given?
Vail Resorts recently held a virtual Leadership Summit and one of the guest speakers was Nadia Rawlinson, the Chief People Officer of Slack. She really blew me away overall and her advice around a question of finding balance between work and home really resonated with me in this current moment. She said, “There is no ‘balance.’ In all things in life there are negotiations and trade-offs. You have a choice. You decide how that’s working for you.”
When giving career advice I seek to listen to understand. Everyone naturally experiences fear or perceived barriers that may be holding them back. I want to help them see what they can control and how they can bring their best and whole selves into whatever it is they do.
When you reflect on your career to date, what are you most proud of?
I am very proud to be running Northstar. If you asked me while I was in my 20s, a GM of a ski resort was not the career I imagined for myself. But this is exactly where I want to be. With everything surrounding us during this pandemic, I am proud that I work with a team that is so resilient, compassionate and dedicated. From our employees on the front lines to those behind the scenes, they all work so hard to make our business come to life every day. That’s inspiring and the most rewarding aspect of my career.
Anything you would change?
There’s always an opportunity to learn. I have made mistakes along the way and I think what’s important is to find the good that comes out of those situations. I think you are always learning through every step of your career, and being in-tune with what is going well and what isn’t going well are the keys to continued improvement.
What advice would you share with young people who are interested in working in the ski industry?
Follow your passion and do what you enjoy. Our industry offers so much opportunity – ski resorts provide the chance to work in so many different roles beyond skiing and snowboarding. This might just lead to a career you may not have imagined. I never envisioned I’d begin within the Food and Beverage division and eventually lead a resort. There are so many more examples of leaders with similar paths at Vail Resorts, which is exciting. And, I think that’s the beauty of skiing and riding – you always get to choose your own line, and that is also true in working with our company.
In a turbulent past year, what are you most looking forward to this winter?
We are fortunate to live in such an amazingly beautiful place with such great outdoor opportunity. I really am excited to get out and snowboard again this winter, both in my role as GM and also enjoying some quality time with my family. I am excited to get back to being out in the resort daily and interacting with Northstar employees and guests. Things have changed, but moments still matter and can create lifelong memories. Those memories are always what makes everything worth it.
What are you reading? What are you listening to? What’s on your winter playlist?
I am reading The Book of Awakening – inspired after a zoom call with a group of women in Truckee. I also have FYI – Learning Agility and A Little Life on my bedside table. Since my two young kids and my husband often control the playlist in our house these days, I have to include their song choices too. My son just discovered Coldplay so that makes the cut, my daughter loves Lizzo, my husband is an eternal Grateful Dead fan and I like to throw in some 90s hip hop whenever I can.