Rich Pietrafesa, NSP National Board Chair

Trail Sweep interviewed Richard Pietrafesa, newly elected chair of the NSP National Board about his experiences, aspirations, and goals for the NSP in his new role. Elected as a National Board Rep last year, Rich was a member of Toggenburg Ski Patrol for 20 years. When Toggenburg closed in 2021, Rich joined Labrador Mountain in the Central New York Region, Eastern Division in 2022. (Updated 5/3/24)

What experiences and skills do you bring to the NSP as National Board Chair?

Any number of us currently on the board could perform the job of chair. I don’t believe I bring any unique abilities to the role. But I do have a particular philosophy about how an effective board should function, and about the role of the chair, which I think is useful to our organization at this juncture.

Board leadership and executive leadership are two very different skills. The hard work for any board chair is managing board dynamics and human relations – providing leadership to a group of mostly senior, successful, action-oriented, performance-driven, sophisticated individuals from different backgrounds, as we have at the NSP. Different from a chief executive, restraint, patience, and being a good listener are essential attributes for the NSP board chair to possess. The role is not to be a commander, but rather a facilitator. A good board chair recognizes that he/she is not first among equals. He/she is just the person responsible for supporting the group to fulfill its collective responsibilities.

Having worked on many boards, I understand this role and these responsibilities. And I understand the need to support our CEO, Stephanie Cox, as she drives the organization forward.

At the same time, I think I offer the perspective of a regular, 22-year volunteer patroller who isn’t necessarily concerned with what goes on behind the scenes at the NSP – we just want it to work for us, the membership.

Why did you decide to run for the National Board Chair?

Like all of my colleagues on the board, I am deeply passionate about the mission of the National Ski Patrol and committed to serving its members. The past two years were focused on stabilizing the organization. I applaud my predecessor, Rick Boyce, for the hard-fought and important successes that he achieved during that period. We might not have the luxury of looking forward had it not been for his diligence, hard work, and quick decision-making.

But as we move into a new phase for the organization, I thought it was time for a fresh approach. I wanted to see the board turn its focus back on the membership and return to celebrating one another, and our collective successes. We need to find the resources to better support our programs, both existing and new. And we need to do a better job of letting the public know what we do, and the value we bring to the outdoor recreation industry.

I continue to be amazed at the time, skills, and dedication that members devote to our organization. It is very unusual! We need to trumpet that in the right ways so that we regain the public stature that we once held.

What are your short- and long-term goals?

I cannot promise any spectacular, unexpected outcomes. What I can promise is an open, honest, and trustworthy atmosphere for discussion and debate; strong support of our executive director as she executes her plan; respect for members and leadership in the field; and care and custody over the long-term welfare of this organization that we all care so much about.

Near term, we are focused on ways to make the NSP a more agile organization as we adapt to a rapidly changing industry. We have a project to streamline the P&Ps (Policies & Procedures) so that the office and patrols have more latitude to operate efficiently. We are examining our branding and exploring ways to strengthen and standardize that across all the divisions and regions to strengthen our national brand. I’d like the board to examine member benefits, with an eye toward generating enhancements for both initial recruitment and internal advancement, particularly with the Senior program. We are all using our career experience to analyze NSP’s revenue streams and brainstorm ways to expand them. Finally, we are taking a close look at the NSP store, filling member demands for more desirable merchandise while simultaneously rightsizing our financial commitment to that segment. Currently 1/3rd of our liquid capital is tied up in the NSP store. We can operate a store with much less and put that capital to better use earning revenue for us.

For the long term, we are discussing ways to broaden our membership by decoupling membership from credentials. Is there any reason why someone helped by the NSP couldn’t become a supporting member, with different benefits/privileges? Tiered membership is very common in organizations like ours as a way to support the mission. I’d like to see us take concrete steps toward creating a sizable endowment to help fund core programs and relieve pressure on member dues. And I believe the board should analyze and tackle the issue of member engagement – both in our programs and in our election – as a tool for recruitment, retention, and general member satisfaction.

What are your plans to improve the image of the NSP and its relationship with the NSAA?

Stephanie has built and maintains an excellent relationship with NSAA, and just as importantly, with its members. She is getting out and talking to both patrol directors and area managers around the country, understanding their needs and their issues. As a result, Stephanie is engaged in a number of collaborations with NSAA, both offensive and defensive (regulatory issues). Her efforts are increasing visibility and awareness of the important work done by ski patrollers, enhancing communication and collaboration between the two organizations, and actively seeking opportunities for joint initiatives and partnerships that benefit both parties and the skiing community as a whole.

What are your plans for clearer communication regarding the value of membership dues?

It is an unfortunate fact of life that dues need to continue to increase with inflation. While we are working hard to offset dues with sponsors and other ancillary income streams, membership remains our primary source of revenue. At the same time, we are very cognizant of the need to enhance member benefits as dues increase in order to deliver good value to members.

Stephanie has added some wonderful new member benefits this year – and – the savings from which could easily more than cover an individual’s annual dues. And of course we continue to offer new, valuable education courses to our membership free of charge, as part of our member benefits.

At the same time, beginning in July, everyone will start seeing transparent and comprehensive messaging that clearly outlines the benefits and services provided to NSP members, as well as the impact of dues on supporting the organization’s mission and programs.

What are your plans to reduce divisional infighting and restore the rapport among the divisions?

There is no infighting. I think the divisions maintain a wonderful rapport with one another. They continually collaborate, share best practices, and deliver programs to our membership as efficiently as possible. While there is always room for improvement, I think the divisions do a remarkable job with the resources they have at their disposal.

When I joined the board last year there was noticeable tension between the board and the divisions. I am working very hard to rebuild that critical trust. Trust is the single most critical building block underlying board effectiveness. Effecting positive change requires believing in each other’s good intentions.

At board meetings we’ve ended the microfocus on tweaking NSP’s governing documents. We agreed to put them away in a drawer this year so that we can look outward, back toward the men and women we represent – the dedicated volunteer and career patrollers who make this such an unusual organization.

Instead of rushing to get things done quickly, my emphasis is on getting things done properly. While sometimes frustrating, it makes sense to take our time with important decisions, gathering and considering input from all board members, and across our depth of leadership. Listening to people. I’ve learned in life that the best path to a durable outcome isn’t always a straight line.

That isn’t to suggest that we are dragging out decisions. Quite the contrary, better communication and the trust that comes with it has streamlined decision-making and strengthened relationships. I think the board and the division directors now again enjoy mutual trust and understanding in our shared mission. This has allowed us to better utilize our time together brainstorming as a group on important issues like long-term stability, revenue and membership growth, stronger branding, and product improvement.