By Tarah O’Connor
Uncertainty, transition, a sense of loss, a sense of adventure. These are the normal feelings each spring for the seasonal flock of professional ski patrollers. We move into smaller pods of raft guides, wildland firefighters, mountain guides, gardeners, ER techs, bartenders and carpenters.
This is the “normal” flow of an already difficult seasonal life. It was made even more difficult when we collectively had the rug pulled out from us this past March. #didweallgetfired
Because of resorts’ abrupt closures, first year patrollers were denied the knowledge of a full season or where we store the bumps for the summer. The skiing public ventured into the backcountry – perhaps for the first time ever – and people seasoned in the ski industry sat around saying “what the f*** just happened?” As someone who has spent her entire life living and working in ski towns, it made me look at my life under a microscope.
I have an odd skill set and I can only imagine an HR representative in a corporate environment looking at me while I proudly detail my ability to blow shit up, reward dogs with high pitch squeals, cart bodies down a mountain, and tie knots in blizzard conditions at 12,000 feet. I would let her know my strengths are ALWAYS showing up on time and my weaknesses are dropping F bombs in every other sentence. Oh, and I have ZERO experience in my major, Finance.
The reality is that I chose this path a long time ago. If tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, what will I do today? The answer has always been simple. GO SKIING
I have crafted this lifestyle and this job choice. I was a ski instructor, a waitress and bartender. I was a gardener, a wrangler and a barista. I chose to make ski bumming a profession and way of life. Ski patrolling is the best way to do that in my opinion.
It is difficult to piece together work in the offseason while trying to maintain housing, relationships and sanity. Yet we have all committed to this lifesytle year in and year out. It’s a passion that many don’t understand or romanticize. There are countless days of unpaid work. There are certificates and qualifications that will never have a return in investment. There are divorces and alcoholism. There is death and disability. However we remember the camaraderie, the powder days and the heroic rescues most times. This seasonal life provides that sense of adventure that we all crave deep down. Each transition is different, and this year’s was difficult to say the least.
As the ski industry begins to prepare for what this coming season will look like I have looked at the sustainability of my chosen career path. A lot is still unknown, yet I can confidently still say I am excited for next ski season and I am excited to keep ski patrolling in the future. The snow will still fall, the pace will slow a little, and ultimately we may start looking more at our outdoor playgrounds with the respect they deserve. The answer despite the uncertainty is still the same: GO SKIING.