Locals: Mary Kate Buckley
Interview by dina mishev
Photo by Ryan Dorgan
MARY KATE BUCKLEY, who started her new job as president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) this past June, first skied at the resort in 1985. Since that first trip, Buckley, who grew up in a nonskiing family in southern Connecticut, has returned to ski JHMR every winter but two. “Even when I was based in Paris or Hong Kong, I made sure to come back,” says the former Disney and Nike executive. In 2005, she finally bought a home in Teton Village. “I realized that every time I came here I was sad to leave,” she says, adding, “I wish I had bought something in 1985.” As big of a step as this was, the year prior Buckley had bought something even bigger: a sheep pasture on Tuscany’s Etruscan Coast. Her plan? To work with master Italian ski boot maker Roberto Cristoforetti to turn the land into a vineyard and winery; Azienda Agricola Urlari released its first vintage (2008) in 2010. Although spending significant time getting Urlari up and running, in 2013 and 2016 Buckley was a member of the 100 Club, a group that recognizes skiers and snowboarders who ski 100 days at JHMR in a single season.
Q. What’s harder: getting a vineyard and winery going or skiing 100 days at JHMR?
A. Both were pursuits of passion and so worth the challenge. I’m proud of both, [but] I’d say founding an award-winning winery edges out the 100-day feat simply because of how much longer it took—ten-plus years versus one hundred days! [Also], creating [Urlari] required learning a new set of skills including Italian, wine making, and wine marketing/distribution.
Q. Do you have a favorite run?
A. On a great day, it would be Ten Sleep over to Expert Chutes then cut over to the bottom half of Toilet Bowl, over to Raymer Plots and just keep going.
Q. Have you skied Corbet’s?
A. I think you have to.
A. It wasn’t pretty, but I liked the challenge of pushing myself over the edge at the top.
Q. It seems you like challenges in general?
A. All of my favorite business experiences have had huge learning curves.
Q. And the position of president of JHMR is no exception?
A. I haven’t run a ski resort, but I have been on the board for four years and have run a lot of businesses with emotional brand attachment—Disney and Nike have really strong cultures that employees and consumers identify with, just like [JHMR] does. The team on the ground here is running the mountain. They don’t need me, or anyone, coming in from the outside to tell them what they’re doing.
Q. How’d you come to found a winery with an Italian who made custom ski boots for World Cup racers for 43 years?
A. We met skiing in Portillo, Chile. I was the Regional Vice President and General Manager for Nike’s Americas Region at that point, and we started talking about athletic footwear. His family has a history of farming. Later we talked about wine. I was still working at Nike when we bought and planted the field. I got transferred to Amsterdam with Nike so I could be closer to it.
Q. How have the wines turned out?
A. Last year we were recognized as Tuscan Winery of the Year in the New York International Wine Competition and our SuperTuscan blend, Pervale, earned a “Double Gold” from a panel of top wine critics.
Q. What do you think is more remarkable: that you’re one of the few women at the helm of a major North American ski resort or that you’re a co-founder of a winery in Italy?
A. I love that when you look at a label of Urlari it says, “Imported to Teton Village, Wyoming.” It’s the only Italian wine imported here. I feel like I got the [JHMR job] on my merits. [They] weren’t looking to put a woman in this job.