Growing number of women taking senior leadership roles in ski industry

Growing number of women taking senior leadership roles in ski industry

Nadia Guerriero first demonstrated her ability to make smart business decisions when she was 22, fresh out of the University of Colorado and working for a Boulder sports agency representing Olympic athletes.

She was the fourth person Brad Hunt hired at Gold Medal Management, a company whose clients included Olympic champions in track and field, skiing and swimming. Initially, her job was to answer phones and copy faxes. The year was 1996.

“About six months later,” recalled Guerriero, who is now chief operating officer at Beaver Creek Resort, “I said to Brad, ‘Hey, that email thing, seems a lot of people are starting to use it. I think we should think about getting on board. He said, ‘Okay, research it.’ So I arranged for us to get a website and email addresses.”

Now, Guerriero, who moved into resort management in 2007, not only has one of the most important ski jobs in Colorado, she is also part of a growing number of women leaders in the ski industry. At Vail Resorts alone, the managing director is a woman, Kirsten Lynch, and women have responsibilities at four of the company’s five Colorado resorts.

Beaver Creek Resort Chief Operating Officer Nadia Guerriero, right, poses with Sophie Goldschmidt, executive director of the US Ski and Snowboard Association, center, and Sierra Shafer, editor-in-chief of Ski Magazine, during a public slopeside chat. Beaver Creek in December. You are just part of the growing number of women holding positions of power and influence in the ski industry. Heroic is a USSSA initiative created “to celebrate the power of women while investing in their future success.” (Provided by Beaver Creek Resort)

Elsewhere in Colorado, Rana Dershowitz is chief operating officer at Aspen Snowmass; Roxanne Hoover is General Manager of Granby Ranch; Jen Brill is GM at Silverton Mountain; and Melanie Mills is President and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA.

Other women leaders in the ski industry include Sophie Goldschmidt, executive director of the US Ski & Snowboard Association, and Kelly Pawlak, president of the Lakewood-based National Ski Areas Association.

Headquartered in Broomfield, Vail Resorts is at the forefront of this trend.

“Our board is gender balanced and 45% of our top-level executives are women,” said Guerriero. “We have 10 women running resorts, which is basically a quarter of our resorts. That wasn’t the case five years ago. That was definitely not the case 10 years ago. This is my seventh year running a resort and I find it quite amazing.”

The company’s flagship resort in Vail is managed by Beth Howard, who began her career in the ski industry 38 years ago working in a kitchen in Beaver Creek preparing food for company-owned restaurants in Beaver Creek and Vail. She thought she was just doing a college summer internship.

“Nadia copied faxes and answered the phone,” Howard said. “I was chopping vegetables.”

Vail Resorts officials credit former CEO Rob Katz, Lynch’s predecessor, with driving gender equality at the company. In addition to Vail and Beaver Creek, women lead the mountains of the Vail resorts in Breckenridge (Jody Churich) and Crested Butte (Tara Schoedinger).

“About a decade ago, our company was very keen to create a path for women leaders in the resorts because that wasn’t a typical model in the ski industry,” said Howard, who used the company’s Women in Leadership program to develop her career advancement, as did Guerriero. “It was very intentional to put development courses together to open those doors and show that there can be a career path. I have to be part of it. I have benefited from it. I think we are second to none in the industry in opening that door and really making a conscious effort to empower women.”

At US Ski & Snowboard, America’s governing body for snow sports with a mission to produce Olympic athletes, Goldschmidt sees the recent surge in female ski leadership as a “seismic shift.” Britain’s Goldschmidt worked at the NBA, Rugby Football Union, the PGA European Tour and the World Surf League before becoming the USSSA’s first female CEO in 2021.

“Studies show that companies make better decisions the more diversity there is in management positions – not only female, but also ethnic diversity,” said the Brit Goldschmidt. “Sport in general hasn’t been the most diverse place to work, gender or otherwise, and I think it’s really positive that that’s starting to change. Hopefully we do a good job when women are given the opportunity and that creates more momentum and greater opportunity for the next generation.”

Lynch, who succeeded Katz in fall 2021, says the rise in female CEOs is helping young women believe they can rise to those positions, too. She worked in marketing at Ford Motor Co., Kraft Foods and PepsiCo before joining Vail Resorts in 2011 as Chief Marketing Officer.

Kirsten Lynch became CEO of Broomfield-based Vail Resorts last November, succeeding Rob Katz. (Provided by Vail Resorts)

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked for three female Fortune 500 CEOs,” said Lynch. “Having women in leadership positions has a tremendous impact on what everyone in the company can achieve, whether they are women, people of color, people with disabilities or marginalized groups. It creates the unlock that other people can achieve that.”

After 28 years working her way up in the food and beverage division at Vail Resorts, Howard decided she wanted to set her sights higher.

“I had enough guts to say I wanted to run a resort one day and asked what that would mean for me to ever be considered because I’ve worked in a fairly specialized field for many years,” said Howard. “Our company is incredibly good at leadership development programs, so I was placed in a program with a mentor.”

She received training in mountain operations, areas she had no experience in, such as snowmaking, fleet maintenance, and lift operations. In 2014, she was named general manager of the company’s Northstar resorts in California. Guerriero, who joined Vail Resorts in 2007, was responsible for Northstar’s base division 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 to Vail, Guerriero replaced her at Beaver Creek.

Guerriero has a 13-year-old daughter and says: “My house looks different than a traditional household. I have a lot of support from my husband. I think some of those barriers still exist, but they will exist forever. It’s about how you do it and in some ways the sacrifices you’re willing to make. That’s the beauty of having more women in the lead. We can consciously break down the barriers for other women. There used to be that time when you were “the only one”. It was like there was only room for one. That does not exist anymore.”

Pawlak, who has served as chairman of the National Ski Areas Association since 2017, spent 32 years on Vermont’s Mount Snow. She started there as a secretary after college and worked her way up.

“At some point I realized I wanted to run the ski resort, I wanted to be general manager, so I let people know that,” Pawlak said. “I’m sure there were behind-the-scenes conversations like, ‘Really, this woman down in guest service wants to be a GM?'” Pawlak said. “Because back then, the kind of person who got these positions really had a strong background in the mountains, people who could hop in a snowcat and make snow in a pinch. That wasn’t my area of ​​expertise.”

But Pawlak became Mount Snow’s general manager in 2005 and stayed in that position until she joined the NSAA and moved to Lakewood.

“I think the mindset had to change at some point, that you don’t have to be that certain macho who can operate a chainsaw to run a ski resort,” Pawlak said. “People skills are important. I’m just looking forward to the next generations because there will be more women at the top and we see things differently. Diversity drives innovation.”

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