In the exciting world of winter sports and mountains, it’s rare to come across a career path as inspiring and diverse as that of Valeria Ghezzi. Born in Milan, this exceptional woman has transformed a family heritage into a profound vocation, combining management, innovation and a passion for nature.

Head of the San Martino di Castrozza resort, nestled in the heart of the Dolomites, and President of ANEF (Associazione Nazionale Esercenti Funiviari) since 2014, Valeria Ghezzi is a leading figure in the ski lift industry and mountain tourism.

Her background, marked by a degree in interpretation and translation in Geneva and a degree in political science in Milan, illustrates a deep commitment to sustainable development and innovation in the winter sports sector. In this exclusive interview with I Love Ski, Valeria Ghezzi talks about her career, her motivations and her vision for the future of the mountains, reflecting on a life dedicated to her passion for her work, her love of the mountains and the importance of adapting to contemporary challenges such as climate change.

Valeria Ghezzi, can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m 60 years old and was born in Milan, where my heart is deeply rooted. I’m married with two grown-up children (my daughter is 30 and lives in New York and my son has just started working with me). I trained as an interpreter in Geneva, which gave me a good command of the French language. My family started running a ski resort in 1957 (San Martino di Castrozza), where I am today. Skiing, which my family introduced in 1957 when they took over the running of the San Martino di Castrozza ski resort, was not something I was keen on as a child – the cold was too much of a contrast to my love of the warmth of the sun and the sea.

My first aspiration was to travel the globe, and it was with this intention that I left to study in Geneva. However, fate decided otherwise when my father fell ill during my final year at university. With management of the family business on hold, I took the somewhat reluctant decision in 1989 to take over. At first, it was just an attempt at self-preservation, but the business became my vocation.

At the same time, I supplemented my studies in Geneva with a degree in political science in Milan, giving me a sound knowledge of the law, economics and the principles of business administration – essential tools for managing our family business. I arrived in San Martino di Castrozza on my own, without knowing anything about it, and with many challenges to face.

I’m married to someone who, if she could, would live on skis. My husband is passionate about the mountains and ski touring.

All these trials and experiences have been the pillars of my career path and the decisions I’ve made. When my father fell ill, I found myself starting out alone in this unknown world. I never had a mentor or superior to guide me or teach me the subtleties of our profession. However, I owe a debt of gratitude to the resort’s engineers and technicians, whose support was crucial in helping me learn the ropes. I made up for this with an insatiable curiosity, and read and listened a lot, striving to assimilate know-how using a logic that English-speakers refer to as ‘common sense’.

Today, I’m continuing my adventure at San Martino di Castrozza. My role as President of ANEF since 2014 has proved to be a wonderful opportunity for exchange and learning from my peers, allowing me to probe the thoughts and choices of other operators. Although the spirit of participation and contribution continues to drive me, I am aware that the time may have come to pass the torch. After a decade in this role, I feel the risk of complacency looming. Although the next generation is ready to take over, I’ve been asked to stay on for another two years. So I will continue to listen to my colleagues, knowing that change is essential for innovation and dynamism in our sector.

Today I continue my adventure in San Martino di Castrozza. My role as President of ANEF since 2014 has proved to be a wonderful opportunity for exchange and learning from my peers, allowing me to sound out the thoughts and options of other operators. While the spirit of participation and contribution continues to drive me, I am aware that the time may have come for me to pass the torch. After a decade in this position, I feel the risk of complacency looming. Although the next generation is ready to take over, I have been asked to stay on for two more years. So I will continue to listen to my colleagues, knowing that change is essential for innovation and dynamism in our sector.

Valeria Ghezzi, what are your passions?

Today, my profession has become a real passion. Swimming and my love of the sea have always held a special place in my heart, although my fair skin and my tendency to develop melanomas quickly force me to stay in the shade. Now, the sea is a distant dream, while the mountains have turned out to be a new passion, illustrating that one can change in life.

I love to travel, and whenever I have free time I travel with my husband all over the world, to big cities, cultural sites, for hiking or nature immersions. My children, who know my taste for experiences rather than material possessions, invite me on trips, holidays and weekend getaways. I can’t stay at home and do nothing.

I don’t have much time, but I love to cook when I can spare half a day. It’s an activity that allows me to relax and give free rein to my creativity.

What motivates you? Why do you get up in the morning?

Firstly, I wake up very early. I start in the morning doing everything I need to do and I assure you I don’t even realise it’s evening!

Today I don’t need any motivation, I’ve got lots to do and lots of interest. In fact, I can’t keep up with all the things I need (or want) to read.

What is your greatest achievement or success?

The cohesion of my family is a huge source of pride for me. Despite a life split between Milan and the Dolomites, juggling my professional responsibilities and family life with two children, the bond that unites us has remained unbreakable, which is a great source of satisfaction for me.

The COVID-19 pandemic was an unexpected turning point, prompting me to move to the Dolomites during the containment period. I convinced my husband to join us, joking that it was absurd for him, a keen skier, to stay in Milan during that period. Against all the odds, and despite family predictions that our union would be put to the test, our marriage emerged all the stronger for it. And they were all wrong (laughs) and quite amazed. That’s very satisfying.

Professionally, my entry into the world of the Dolomites was marked by two simultaneous identities: that of being “my father’s daughter” and that of being a woman, in a field where the presence of women was uncommon at the time. In the past, women were rare in the ski lift sector, which was often perceived as a male environment.

Despite this, I took on my responsibilities without trying to distinguish myself. I dedicated myself to my task with diligence and integrity. Today, the recognition for my work is unanimous; I am respected for my seriousness and my ability to do my job competently. The recognition of my peers is testimony to the commitment and passion that drive me every day.

Do you have any regrets today?

Of course I do. Looking back, I recognise that I made many mistakes, and I took responsibility for each one.

Today, both my company and the mountain village that lives off our business have developed, and that is now strictly linked to the ski lifts. I’m aware that, without some of these missteps, the growth of my company could have taken a different trajectory.

On a personal level, my biggest regret is that I didn’t devote enough time to my family. The difficulty of dividing my time between the professional and the personal has often demanded excessive rigour from me. I admit that in some respects I can appear cold, a facet of my personality that sometimes unintentionally colours my personal relationships. With hindsight, I feel that things could have been approached differently, that this balance could have been better managed.

How do you see the mountains of tomorrow?

Climate change is both a problem and an opportunity.

For skiing, which remains the mainstay of our seasons and central to our bottom line, we face daunting challenges, such as this year’s lack of snow and higher temperatures. Nonetheless, we managed to come out on top by producing high-quality snow, which enabled us to sustain our seasonal business.

What’s more, we’re now banking heavily on the summer season. I’m convinced that the mountains have immense potential during the summer, with vast possibilities to explore. We are currently working to make the most of the shoulder seasons, such as autumn and spring in the Dolomites.

I sometimes find myself in the spirit of Milan, where I have my roots and where I run a family hotel. In Milan, we work all year round, so why limit ourselves to four months in the Dolomites? Today, our work extends over seven or eight months, which is a very positive development. Whereas a decade ago, winter accounted for 95% of our sales, many resorts now generate up to 20% of their business in summer. On average, summer represents between 10 and 15% of our business, and I’m convinced that there is still room for growth.

The mountains of tomorrow will offer seasonal diversity and activities that go beyond skiing, including during the winter. It’s essential to work on this diversification. As a ski lift operator, it’s our duty to defend our financial results, which is a real challenge.

In Italy, gastronomy occupies a central place, in harmony with sports and leisure activities. It’s an essential part of the experience we offer our visitors, whatever the season.