Professional ski patrollers rarely talk about their job. We don’t want to brag, for one thing. Up until I wrote a book about it, I never shared specifics either. “So you just ski for work?” Someone might ask. I’d tell them, “not exactly.” I help people when they get injured, I’d say, vaguely. I
might also mention that I mitigate avalanche hazard. With explosives.
That’s when I usually would get a blank stare. Or widened eyes. Maybe even an averted gaze. People didn’t really know what to make of me. I spent my life where others vacationed. I didn’t own a home. I had no children nor any desire to ever be a mother. I was a ski bum.
Typically I’d get one of two reactions: jealousy or embarrassment. Either the listener would want to know more about how the job, how I got into it, how he (usually he) could get paid to gaze across the slopes at the jagged tips of mountains holding up the sky. Or the listener would smile politely, force herself (usually her) to close her gaping mouth and look away. “Oh, that sounds nice.”
Patrollers are supposed to be stoic and reserved, strong and impartial. But mostly, I think ski patrollers are just afraid that if they tell others about how great our jobs really are, someone just might take it all away. After all, we are paid to ski. That part is true. We also stand witness to the awesome power of nature–we watch winter storms gather and twist, pressing snow down into the crevices, building the snowpack. Hiking in wind and snow and rain, we stop to notice the change of light, when cold crystals hang suspended above the slope and the slanting sunlight peaking beneath the clouds illuminates the air with an electric current.
We throw explosives and start avalanches, marveling at way the slabs break up and gather momentum, their tenuous hold now severed. We ski down, unhurried, before the slopes are open to the public, carving the fresh groomed, splitting the untracked powder, inhaling the uncrowded air. We help people that are injured, hopefully easing their pain. I have seen beauty and death, gratitude and anger, all in a single day on the job.
So it feels a bit odd to spill the beans. In just a few months, readers will know all about me, all about my job. Some will wonder why I do it. Others will wonder how they, too, could have such a great job. But my fellow ski patrollers will wonder what the big deal is.
When I first started talking to publishers about my book, I quickly realized that the skiing part was the draw. The medical memoir niche is pretty full in the publishing business. But the professional ski patrol niche is empty. That’s because, like I said, ski patrollers don’t talk about their jobs. Ever. We hardly talk amongst ourselves. And if we do, it’s understated and humble and under the radar. As if we are getting away with something and if we declare it out loud it might dissolve.
But now that I’ve started sharing, I can’t stop. It’s as if a subterranean channel has been dug, and now it flows all the way to the ocean. The channel cannot be undug. Just like you can’t squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Now I look forward to blogging, posting stories about my life in the mountains. My memoir, about ski patrolling and how it saved me when my husband got sick, will debut in a few months. I’ve come to celebrate it. Because a lesson I learned during my husband’s illness is to celebrate each moment. Even when there’s an unspoken rule about remaining coy and humble.
So here goes. I’m stepping into unfamiliar territory. It’s a little scary, but it’s thrilling too. And haven’t I always sought out adventure?