Beaver Creek’s natural leader: Nadia Guerriero settles into her new role
Beaver Creek's new COO has taken an unconventional path to the top as the leader of one of Vail Resorts' signature mountains
BEAVER CREEK — Twenty winters ago, back when she was managing high-flying freeskiers, Nadia Guerriero went to an X Games concert at a barn in Mount Snow, Vermont.
In tow were Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, Guerriero’s star client at the time, and up-and-coming X Games stars Tanner Hall, C.R. Johnson and Evan Raps.
“We would go to Mount Snow and rent condos and stay on the golf course. And there were only two restaurants at that time,” Guerriero recalls.
The Snow Barn, a beer and pizza joint with a stage for live acts, was the hub of the late-night scene for the fourth edition of the fledgling Winter X Games.
The entire crew was amped to see some live music, but nobody knew much about the artist performing that night.
“He was a rap artist, and we were like, OK, let’s go and go see him,” Guerriero says. “I don’t know, the barn holds 200, maybe 250 people. It’s a small venue. But the act that night was Eminem.”
Guerriero lets out a laugh, before adding: “And we were like, ‘Oh, this guy’s pretty good.’”
She tells this story on a postcard-perfect October morning at Beaver Creek, weeks before the chairlifts start spinning, to provide some context on a career that’s taken her from managing elite athletes to running events to now running one of the signature mountains of the world’s leading ski resort company.
In late February, Guerriero was named the new chief operating officer of Beaver Creek, replacing Beth Howard, who took the top job at Vail. It’s the second time Guerriero has succeeded Howard, the first coming in 2016 at Northstar in Lake Tahoe.
In 20 years, Guerriero and the company she works for have certainly come a long way.
And, well, that rapper she saw all those years ago in Vermont has done OK for himself, too.
A homecoming of sorts
Even though she has lived in California, then Nevada for the last two decades, Guerriero says she’s always called Colorado home. Her family moved from Michigan to tiny Masonville, a small, unincorporated town west of Loveland and Fort Collins, when she was 4. The family relocated to Boulder when she was 10, which is where she attended middle school and high school.
Guerriero’s first time on downhill skis was at tiny Eldora, just 20 miles up the road from Boulder, when her parents signed her and her younger sister up for night ski lessons.
“I was 10 and she was 8. We would just go straight down and the instructor would just be yelling, ‘Turn! Turn!’” Guerriero says. “And we just thought, What for? Why?”
Guerriero’s parents still live in Boulder County, in Louisville, which is less than 5 miles from Vail Resorts’ headquarters in Broomfield.
“There’s this level of familiarity for me,” Guerriero says. “I’ve gotten to see my parents. It’s been really comfortable to move back and I’m thrilled to be here.”
An unconventional path to the top
Guerriero admits, growing up in Colorado, that she never saw herself one day running a ski resort, much less working in the ski industry.
She’s not the Vail Resorts lifer, like Howard, who worked her way up the company ladder after starting out in food and beverage at Vail Mountain, or Chris Jarnot, the executive vice president of the company’s mountain division who grew up in the Vail Valley and got his start working at Beaver Creek 34 years ago during his college winter breaks. Jarnot announced in June that he’s leaving Vail Resorts at the end of this year to spend more time with his family.
Guerriero says the one thing she really wanted to do as a young woman was to work in sports.
“I didn’t know what that looked like or what it was going to be like,” she says. “It wasn’t real specific. I played sports growing up but I was not a star athlete. I didn’t go to college to play sports or anything, but I loved sports. Everything about it — the camaraderie, the teamwork, the dedication, the commitment. And I really liked team sports, too. I liked being part of a team. I especially liked being part of a winning team.”
During her junior and senior year at the University of Colorado, Guerriero worked in athletics, getting an apprenticeship under Dave Plati, the longtime sports information director who’s maybe second only to Ralphie the buffalo as an institution in the CU athletic department.
She helped run the press box at football games and press row at basketball games and earned a reputation as a hard worker who could juggle a number of tasks under pressure.
“Of course I remember her,” Plati wrote in an email. “Nadia was smart, engaging, good work ethic … and a good people person, which in any PR walk of life you need to be. You can usually tell when someone will go on to big things, so I am not the least bit surprised. I am happy and excited for her.”
When asked if she ever encountered any resistance as a woman working in male-dominated spaces, Guerriero says if there was any, it never distracted her.
“I probably did,” she says. “I just had a personality where I either wasn’t aware of it and I certainly wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I worked the sidelines at the CU basketball games and one of my jobs was to go into the men’s locker room and gather quotes from the coach at the press conference afterward and, yeah, there probably were some sideways glances and some other things. If comments were made, I didn’t hear them. I knew I had a job to do, and that was the most important thing. That’s what I focused on.”
A high EQ
It’s that focus and work ethic, coupled with an open-mindedness to coming up with solutions, that Moseley says makes Guerriero such a dynamic asset in any job.
“She is an incredibly hard worker,” he says. “No matter what the circumstances. No matter if we had her out until 2 in the morning, she was still on it at 6 a.m. and making sure stuff got done. And smart.”
More than anything, Moseley says Guerriero has an emotional intelligence that is off the charts. He saw it when she was tasked with managing him when he was a 22-year-old hot shot, fresh off winning an Olympic medal and “on a tear.”
“I was in a full chaos mode,” he says. “Just tons of stuff coming my way. All kinds of great opportunities. She ended up being my manager, and we were just glued at the hip. She would help me figure out where I was going next and accompany me and make sure I was doing my job but also supporting me emotionally and mentally.”
Guerriero earned the nickname “Kashi” from the skiers she managed, she said, because of the cereal she ate each morning while surrounded by a bronanza of dudes whose diets mostly consisted of pizza and energy drinks.
“I was a little bit older than them, so I was the room mom,” she says. “I was also probably a lot healthier than them. I thought about what I was eating and stuff like that.”
It was no small task to manage all the strong egos in the mix, especially between Moseley, his agent, who was Guerriero’s boss, and all the sponsors who’d signed on after Moseley’s Olympic triumph.
Guerriero was the calming presence, the glue that kept it all together as Moseley challenged the advice of his agent and U.S. Ski Team officials to go do events like the X Games instead of returning to World Cup moguls circuit and obscurity.
“I was like, this is where I want to be. This is where my interests lie. Nadia got that. Totally understood that,” he says. “And fully supported me in that while also having to manage her boss, the agent, and also being a diplomat between the two of us and also being a diplomat with the sponsors who may or may not have been on board at the time as well. She just played this pivotal role. And we had a killer time doing it. She’s just such a cool friend and we just became super tight.”
A natural leader
When asked about breaking into resort management, which used to be an old boys club, Guerriero calls her rise, and Howard’s, both intentional … and inevitable.
The intentional part, she says, comes from Vail Resorts’ commitment to diversity in leadership and providing opportunities for women. The company has touted its leadership development programs designed to empower women in the work place for several years, and in March, Vail Resorts announced a new enterprise-wide initiative: POWDER, which stands for Providing Opportunities for Women through Diversity, Equality and Respect.
As for inevitable, Guerriero says “there’s no question that women leaders are as effective and sometimes more effective than male leaders.”
That’s obvious to anyone who’s ever worked with Guerriero or followed her career track. After years of working with athletes such as Moseley and other high-profile Olympians like Shaun White and Picabo Street, Guerriero got into running events, which led to a job with Northstar in 2007 as director of events and conference services. She was repeatedly promoted, first to GM of the village, then to senior director of base area operations before succeeding Howard as GM in 2016.
Asked about Northstar being acquired by Vail Resorts in October 2010, Guerriero gives an honest, refreshing answer.
“I was like, hmm, this could be pretty good. This could work out well for me. This feels a little bit like coming home,” she says. “That was my coming home moment. And, because I knew Vail Resorts, I knew the company, I knew Vail and I knew this area and because I was from Colorado I was like, yeah, I’m going to stick around and see how this goes. Obviously it went pretty well for me. A lot of my friends, they were like, Yeah, we’re outta here. And they went to other places. I think part of that, too, is that I’d had a level of experience, of life experience and work experience, to kind of know that this could be good.”
It certainly has. If there’s a theme to her work life, it’s persistence to constantly learn and improve and a knack for seizing opportunities when presented with a new challenge.
“I’ve worked hard in every job that I’ve had, which has provided opportunities, but it’s been this path of, like, oh, yeah, there’s an opportunity. I’m going to try that,” she says. “And so that’s how it was. If you were to ask me if I ever saw myself running a ski resort, or even working in the ski resort business, no. It was definitely not something that I thought was going to be in my future.”
“She has a little bit of freestyle in her,” Moseley adds. “She’s open-minded, which I think led her to go down that road with me. … Along the way she learned all these skills and I’m sure she didn’t really know where it was going either … I’m just really proud of her and to see her progress and to see her kind of keep growing, keep learning, and also combine all the skills that she kind of honed along the way. She’s a unique person.”
Guerriero, who is big into yoga, loves the word “alignment.” She mentions it when asked about how to get a number of different factions, such as all the various stakeholders at Beaver Creek, to work in harmony.
“It’s making sure that we’re all communicating and then making sure that we’re not just communicating but really listening, too,” she says. “So that we are listening for understanding and letting each other’s voices be heard and talking about and thinking about, OK, these decisions that we’re making, how do they ladder up to and how do they support the vision for where we’re going as a resort collectively together.”
Guerriero says her yoga keeps her centered, as does making sure she takes time to get out on the hill to get some laps in — whether that’s by herself or on her days off with her husband and daughter.
She says she learns so much from chairlift rides with guests who may not know exactly who they’re talking to.
“I make it a point. I love to ski. It’s a passion of mine,” she says. “It’s important for me to have that constant reminder of why I work so hard, and why I do this. To have that experience and get out there. To have it personally, but to also connect with guests. I will often go out by myself and just ride the chairlift with guests and find out how their day is going and what they like and don’t like and, so, I try and get out two to three times a week. We’re not talking full days, but I definitely get out as much as I can.”
Consider yourself lucky if you happen to catch a chair with her this winter.
Snowplowing efforts are a prime example of how sometimes the very people who need a service hinder its delivery.