Nadia Guerriero first demonstrated an aptitude for making shrewd business decisions when she was 22 years old, fresh out of the University of Colorado and working for a Boulder sports agency that represented Olympic athletes.
She was the fourth person hired by Brad Hunt at Gold Medal Management, a firm whose clients included Olympic champions in track and field, and skiing and swimming. At first, her job was to answer phones and copy faxes. The year was 1996.
“About six months down the road,” recalled Guerriero, who is now the chief operating officer at Beaver Creek Resort, “I said to Brad, ‘Hey, this email thing, it seems like a lot of people are starting to use it. I think it’s something we should think about getting on board with.’ He was like, ‘OK, research it.’ So I initiated us getting a website and getting email addresses.”
Now, Guerriero, who transitioned to ski area management in 2007, not only has one of the most important jobs in Colorado skiing, she also is part of a growing number of women in ski industry senior leadership positions. At Vail Resorts alone, the chief executive is a woman, Kirsten Lynch, and women are in charge at four of the company’s five Colorado resorts.
Elsewhere in Colorado, Rana Dershowitz is chief operating officer at Aspen Snowmass; Roxanne Hoover is general manager at Granby Ranch; Jen Brill is GM at Silverton Mountain; and Melanie Mills is president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA.
Other female leaders in the ski industry include Sophie Goldschmidt, chief executive of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, and Kelly Pawlak, president of the National Ski Areas Association which is based in Lakewood.
Vail Resorts, headquartered in Broomfield, has been at the forefront of the trend.
“Our board of directors has gender parity, and 45% of our top-level executives are women,” Guerriero said. “We have 10 women running resorts, which is basically one-quarter of our resorts. It was not this way five years ago. It certainly was not this way 10 years ago. This is my seventh year running a resort, and I think it’s pretty amazing.”
The company’s flagship resort in Vail is led by Beth Howard, who began her ski industry career 38 years ago, working in a kitchen at Beaver Creek where food was made for company-owned restaurants at Beaver Creek and Vail. She thought she was just fulfilling a college summer internship.
“Nadia was copying faxes and answering the phone,” Howard said. “I was chopping vegetables.”
Vail Resorts officials credit former chief executive Rob Katz, who was Lynch’s predecessor, with pushing gender equity at the company. In addition to Vail and Beaver Creek, women run Vail Resorts mountains in Breckenridge (Jody Churich) and Crested Butte (Tara Schoedinger).
“About a decade ago, our company was very intentional about creating a pathway for women leaders in the resorts, because that hasn’t been a typical model in the ski industry,” said Howard, who took advantage of the company’s Women in Leadership program to further her career, as did Guerriero. “Putting development classes together to open those doors and showing there can be a career path was all very intentional. I got to be a part of that. I benefited from it. I think we’re unmatched in the industry for opening that door and being really intentional about women in leadership.”
At U.S. Ski & Snowboard, which has a mission to produce Olympic athletes as America’s governing body for snow sports, Goldschmidt sees the recent increase of women leaders in skiing as a “seismic shift.” Goldschmidt, who is British, worked at the NBA, Rugby Football Union, PGA European Tour and the World Surf League before becoming USSSA’s first female CEO in 2021.
“Research shows that the more diversity you have in leadership positions — not just female, but racial diversity as well — ultimately the better decisions organizations make,” said Goldschmidt, who is British. “Sports, in general, have not been the most diverse workplaces, gender and otherwise, and I think it’s really positive that that’s beginning to change. Hopefully when women are given the opportunity, we do a good job, and that creates more momentum and greater opportunities for the next generation.”
Lynch, who succeeded Katz in the fall of 2021, says the increase in female CEOs helps young women believe they can rise to those positions as well. She worked in marketing at Ford Motor Co., Kraft Foods and PepsiCo before joining Vail Resorts as chief marketing officer in 2011.
“I was very fortunate in my career to work for three Fortune 500 female CEOs,” Lynch said. “Having women in leadership roles has a huge impact on what everyone in the company believes they can achieve, whether they are women, a person of color, a person with disability, any marginalized population. It creates the unlock that other people can achieve that.”
After spending 28 years working her way up in food and beverage operations at Vail Resorts, Howard decided she wanted to set her sights higher.
“I got courage enough to articulate that I aspired to lead a resort one day and asked what would that take for me to ever be considered, because I was in a pretty specialized arena for many years,” Howard said. “Our company is incredible with leadership development programs, so I was put into a program with a mentor.”
She received training in mountain operations, areas where she’d had no experience such as snowmaking, fleet maintenance and lift operations. In 2014, she was named general manager of the company’s Northstar resort in California. Guerriero, who had joined Vail Resorts in 2007, was in charge of Northstar’s base area operations at the time.
When Howard left Northstar in 2016 to become Beaver Creek’s chief operating officer, Guerriero replaced her as Northstar’s GM. Three years later, when Howard moved over to Vail, Guerriero replaced her at Beaver Creek.
Guerriero has a 13-year-old daughter and says, “Things look different in my house than they do in a traditional household. I have a ton of support from my husband. I think some of those barriers still exist, but they will forever. It’s about how you’re able to work it out, and in some respects, what sacrifices you’re willing to make. That’s the beauty of having more women in leadership. We can consciously break down the barriers for other women. There used to be this time when you were ‘the only.’ It was like there was only room for one. That doesn’t exist anymore.”
Pawlak, who has been the leader of the National Ski Areas Association since 2017, spent 32 years at Mount Snow in Vermont. She started as a secretary there after college and worked her way up the ranks.
“At some point I realized I wanted to run the ski area, I wanted to be the general manager, so I let people know that,” Pawlak said. “I am sure there were conversations behind the scenes like, ‘Really, that woman down in guest services wants to be the GM?’” Pawlak said. “Because back then, the type of person who was getting these positions really had a strong mountain operations background, people who in a pinch could jump into a snowcat and groom, or go out and make snow. That wasn’t my area of expertise.”
But Pawlak became Mount Snow’s general manager in 2005 and remained in that position until she joined NSAA and moved to Lakewood.
“I think the mindset had to change at some point, that you don’t have to be this certain kind of macho guy who can run a chain saw to run a ski resort,” Pawlak said. “People skills are important. I’m just excited for the next generations, because there’s going to be more women leading, and we see things differently. Diversity drives innovation.”