Carolyn skiing

February 22, 2024

A Collective, Collaborative Voice: Carolyn Stempler on Making Snowsports a More Inclusive Space

Story by Gabrielle Gasser, Photos courtesy of Big Sky Resort and Women of Winter

Big Sky community member, Carolyn Stempler, is no stranger to breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. Learn about how two key organizations helped influence her time on the slopes, and how it comes full circle this week when we welcome NBS & Women of Winter to Big Sky Resort. 

Carolyn Stempler has spent a lifetime breaking glass ceilings, working for nonprofits, and fearlessly advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion before those terms were even commonly used. Now, she knows that she is exactly where she’s meant to be, using the skills that she’s cultivated throughout her career to help transform the snowsports industry into a more inclusive space.

Stempler, 62, currently lives in Big Sky and works as a children’s ski instructor at Big Sky Resort. She is also the Executive Director of the local nonprofit Women of Winter (WoW), an organization dedicated to offering scholarships to Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color to become snowboard and alpine ski instructors.

Carolyn instructing

Stempler’s path into the snowsports industry began in 1985 when she was 23 with an invitation to join the St. Louis Show Me Skiers, a local National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) club, on a trip to ski at Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. Stempler had never skied before and ended up not only enjoying the sport but excelling at it and quickly becoming one of the best female skiers in her club.

A couple of years after her very first ski trip, Stempler began working for American Airlines, which enabled her to take affordable ski trips almost every weekend. Stempler skied a lot by herself, but she always enjoyed opportunities to attend NBS events and ski with hundreds of other Black skiers and snowboarders.

“That moment was so powerful that it was hard to leave that organization and ski with any other group because that was our safe space, a place where we could be ourselves and be subject to microaggressions while on the snow,” Stempler said.

Off the snow, Stempler worked as a computer programmer in the ‘80s, eventually climbing the ranks to become the Chief Information Officer for a multi-billion dollar manufacturing company. After leaving the technology world, she then opened a Ben and Jerry's franchise and eventually found her way into the nonprofit world when she moved to Worcester, Mass., after marrying her husband Howard.

“I felt like I had done enough glass ceiling breaking in my career, and I wanted to do something different,” Stempler said.

Carolyn skiing at Big Sky

Now at the helm of Women of Winter, Stempler has partnered with Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors to broaden the organization's reach. Bringing her story full circle, Stempler will participate in the NBS annual summit, held this year in her neighborhood at Big Sky Resort from Feb 24 to March 2. The summit is a week of skiing, riding, and creating a community for African Americans in snow sports.

With support from WoW and PSIA-AASI, NBS is offering Level 1 Alpine and Snowboard certification scholarship opportunities to 12 of its female members. There will be a total of 24 scholarship recipients out on the slopes during the combined NBS summit and WoW scholarship event earning their certifications.

Stempler first became involved with WoW in 2021 when she became a scholarship recipient and earned her PSIA Level 1 Alpine certification. She found the opportunity through an NBS Facebook post and liked the idea of becoming a certified instructor after informally teaching friends and family to ski for years.

Carolyn teaching at Mountain Sports School

Stempler fell in love with Big Sky in 2021 when she and her husband witnessed a herd of elk crossing Montana Highway 64. Less than a year later, Stempler and her husband had bought a condo in Big Sky and made the mountains their home.

WoW gained its 501(c)(3) status in 2022, enabling the organization to apply for grants, and then Stempler stepped into her current role in 2023.

“I’m taking something that I'm really good at, which is creating safe spaces, breaking down barriers, breaking glass ceilings, and putting it towards something I have a passion for,” Stempler said. “Because I have 40 to 50 years of experience in skiing and in equity work, I thought this is it. This is what I'm supposed to be doing.”

Stempler said she has been focused on broadening the WoW community and increasing the organization’s impacts in the snowsports industry in order to take the nonprofit “to the next level.”

Carolyn with Women of WinterCarolyn and other Women of Winter participants in 2023

“The DEI work that we do can't just be narrowly focused,” Stempler said “It's supposed to be broad. The focus is not supposed to just be in one space. It needs to be something that impacts the entire country. Because that's the only way we're going to be able to make a difference.”

According to data collected by the National Ski Areas Association, 88% of skiers are white, and 40% are women. Stempler’s goal is to move the needle and bring more people of color into the snowsports industry by lowering barriers to entry, like the cost of tickets, travel, and lodging, as well as opening pathways into careers in the industry.

“My goal is to bring us all together and have this collective, collaborative voice,” Stempler said. “And maybe we can get a seat at the table where we can start having these hard conversations.”

Gabrielle Gasser is a writer and photographer who grew up in Big Sky, Montana and is currently based out of Bozeman. In the winter you'll find her ski instructing out on the slopes at Big Sky Resort or curled up with a good book.