NSP: When did you become a patroller, and what led you to start patrolling?
Michelle: I started as a paid patroller in 1995. I started skiing at age 26, when I was working at Cardrona Ski Area in New Zealand as a lift operator. There, I met my first husband, an American on an exchange from Crystal Mountain as a patroller. He and I did a couple of years of back-to-back seasons where my skiing improved with over 300 days a year on the slopes. Patrolling allowed me to continue to ski, do all these cool things that go along with patrolling, and, best of all, get paid to do it.
NSP: What did you find most challenging about patroller training prior to becoming a patroller?
Michelle: My biggest challenge to become a patroller was mastering skiing. When I got to Crystal, I wasn’t a great skier, but I loved it anyway. The wet Pacific Northwest snow proved to be a great teacher. You can’t rely on bad technique when the snow is so unforgiving. I spent every possible minute on snow, and it didn’t take long before I could ski most of the terrain at Crystal.
NSP: How many cups of coffee do/did you drink during a patrol shift?
Michelle: I drink at least half a pot of coffee every morning before getting to work. Once I’m on the job, I don’t drink any more. I prefer to relax when drinking coffee, and unless it’s a rainy day, there isn’t much down time.
NSP: Do you prefer to ski powder or groomers? Also, what is your favorite type of downhill bike terrain?
Michelle: Powder, of course!
NSP: What have you learned the most about yourself from patrolling?
Michelle: I’m a person that lives for experiences, not wealth. I love working in the outdoors and all the experiences that go along with that. Helping keep people safe in the outdoors and educating and saving lives for me is also rewarding. Those things bring a smile to my face every day, and I would not trade this job as a patroller for anything.
NSP: What do you find most rewarding about being a member of the National Ski Patrol?
Michelle: I find camaraderie. I love walking into the patrol room knowing that my colleagues are there for me no matter what. On an accident, I can rely on the other patrollers to be there, be my support, on the same page, with the same training to help someone through their time of need. On an avalanche mitigation morning, we work as a team, training, practice, over and over, for that one time you are needed to save a life. At the end of the day, on sweep, I take time to look around, enjoy the moment, and to be thankful for the life I have.
NSP: Can you tell me about the recent SheJumps Wild Skills Junior Ski Patrol held at your mountain? How many girls came, and what did you do for them?
Michelle: There were over 40 girls who participated in the second annual Junior Patrol event. Since this event is organized by SheJumps, it is geared toward encouraging girls to grow through experiences in the outdoors. We introduced the girls to the world of patrolling, including first aid, snow safety, and tobogganing. They even got to watch Darwin, one of Crystal’s avalanche dogs, perform an avalanche rescue drill.
NSP: Do you think Wild Skills can be a good recruitment tool for the Young Adult Program?
Michelle: Absolutely. Several of the girls have participated in multiple Junior Ski Patrol events at Crystal. Many of the participants showed a keen interest in patrolling in the future. For others, introducing them to our program showed them the important role patrollers play on the slopes.
NSP: What was the reaction like from the girls’ parents to the program?
Michelle: The parents were as enthusiastic as the participants. After our first program last December, when the waiting list was longer than the maximum we could allow in the program, we decided to offer a second event. Many of the parents thanked us in person for introducing their daughters to our world.
NSP: What did you like most about Wild Skills?
Michelle: I love to see the girls get a chance to experience the outdoors. As a mum of a young lady, I feel giving them the opportunity in the outdoors will show them how big of a world we live in, to keep exploring, living an adventurous life. My daughter, Casey, is now a volunteer patroller. She grew up watching me and her dad working as patrollers. For girls who would not normally have these opportunities, Wild Skills gives them inspiration in pursuing whatever they want.
NSP: You’ve been named a Subaru ambassador this coming season; what have you enjoyed about the vehicle so far?
Michelle: While I live in town almost 60 miles each way from Crystal Mountain, we do have a small log cabin that sits on U.S. Forest Service land six miles down the Crystal Boulevard. It’s a snowy Forest Service road, rarely plowed. When working, I stay at the cabin five, sometimes six days, so having a good vehicle is important to me. The Subaru Outback has great clearance, four-wheel drive high and low, along with higher gas mileage. When I rode in the back, I was pleasantly surprised how much leg room there was to be able to fully stretch out with the reclining heated rear seat. There is lots of space in the rear for all our gear, which is another feature I love. Thanks, Subaru, for another great car.