Being Mrs. Crystal

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Last season, while sitting in the gondola and enjoying the close eavesdropping that the new cabins allow, I tried to hold my tongue. Those that know me can attest to how difficult this is. They talked about the plans of Crystal, questioning the future the old Chair 1, now that it was out of service. Sitting in my ski patrol uniform, I might be considered an authority on the subject. So I spoke up.

“Actually,” I injected. “They’re taking the chair down this summer.” I decided to use the collective “they” pronoun this time. Sometimes I say “we” and at other times I use “they”, depending upon how much anonymity I want to maintain.

The other riders looked at me and smiled. One of them, a local that knows me, smiled too. “Well you would know,” he said. Then he looked at the others. “She’s Mrs. Crystal.”

I laughed. “Not really,” I said. Sometimes it’s easier to just be a ski patroller than the wife of the owner.

John and Kim Kircher, Crystal Mountain, The Next 15 Minutes

Mr. and Mrs. Crystal

I walk the fine filament between ski patroller, ski journalist and the wife of a ski area owner, and while these hats don’t usually clash, sometimes they don’t overlap.

Recently my post about mandatory helmet laws was picked up over at Teton Gravity Research and sparked a bit of a debate. A link to a post I’d written at Mountain Riders Alliance added fuel to the fire. A few of the commenters wanted to discredit my opinions because I was married to the owner of a “corporate” ski area. Since MRA is “creating sustainable mountain playgrounds,” using low-impact, privately owned guidelines, the commenter suggested that my association with Boyne Resorts discredited my opinion. Obviously, I disagree. In fact, I think my unique position in the industry—at once an employee, a journalist and an owner—gives me a valuable perspective.

When I first met John, I had been working as a ski patroller for almost 15 years. I didn’t have a cell phone, nor did I even own a purse. Instead, I spent the summers living out of the back of my truck, working for Outward Bound and the winters at my parents cabin at Crystal.

People often ask me how I met John, but what they really want to know is how he fell in love with someone like me.

Obviously, I can’t answer that.

John and Kim Kircher, Big Sky

John and Kim at Big Sky

I can say that we’re right for each other. Even before we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, John was diagnosed with a rare cancer, hoping for a liver transplant to save his life. Since cancer patients are not usually candidates for transplantation, this posed a real problem. That catch-22 acted as a crucible, simmering our relationship into something solid and golden.

My book touches on this, demonstrating how our lives in the mountains gave us the strength to get through our ordeal. Our adventures were dress rehearsals for the real thing, and when he got sick, I relied on them to buoy me.

Currently, I am writing magazine articles that incorporate both sides of my life–the hard-working ski patroller and the hostess to the mountain. They aren’t all that different really. Sometimes I see myself as merely the most enthusiastic and invested employee at Crystal. Other times I gladly don the role of Mrs. Crystal, showcasing this mountain that has been my teacher and my shelter.

You see, it’s a little complicated.

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16 responses »

  1. Keep doing what you are doing because you represent what is the best of Crystal. Your articles are greatly appreciated and keep my going until that first snowflake falls.

  2. Beautiful post, Kim. We have so many hats for all our vast array life experiences and positions. Finding a graceful amalgamation between these can be challenging and, as you say so eloquently, complicated. 🙂 Congrats on keeping your head held high and heart grounded. You serve as inspiration that it’s possible to find a way to weave them all together in a beautiful and meaningful life.

  3. Pingback: Being Mrs. Crystal | Kim Kircher

  4. Every post offers another level of insight into the snowsports industry, the lives of those who embrace it with passion, and an uncommon humanity to process it all. Keep em’ coming Kim. U R one of a kind.

  5. I can think of a few more ‘hats’ you wear…and you wear them all well. High five to your awesomeness Mrs. C 🙂

  6. Pingback: Becoming a Ski Patroller: An unlikely path « Kim Kircher

  7. Kim,

    Sorry for commenting on such an old post but as a curious Crystal mountain employee, I had to read what I could to learn more about the owner of my home resort. Indeed we all wear many hats, and often we can have on more than one at a time.

    I guess, putting on my sociologist hat, my question for you would be, how has your ski patrol background effected your relationship with John? Are there things you disagree on because of your different backgrounds? If so, do you ever feel like you have to stick up for patrollers or other employees against his management perspective?

    As someone currently living in their car to save money up here, I find it interesting that you lived in you truck before meeting john, and I thouvht, hey, this woman has a unique opportunity to shed some light on what it’s like to be a low paid hourly worker (I guess I’m assuming that patrollers are hourly as well, which might be wrong), and maybe get john to pay us a living wage. I mean, compared to the houses you and John live in, the employee housing at this mountain is like a Brazilian favela, and I’m just left wondering whether or not John knows that and what your perspective, from the standpoints of all your hats, is.

    Thanks,
    A dude

    • Dude,
      Yes John definitely understands the issues with employee housing. This is one of the issues he’d like to address. After three bad seasons we are hoping that this season allows us to make some more improvement up here. Employee housing is on the list. One of the obstacles is forest service regulations. But believe me when I say that John worries about the state of employee housing. It’s a major hurdle that he hopes to jump over as soon as possible.

      As for your first question, John is a very regular guy–probably more so than me. He’s always open to conversation, and he’s a good listener. Feel free to reach out to him personally with your concerns. But I will say that he does know what it’s like to be a low paid worker, he cares very much about his employees.

      Also, what kind of houses do you think we live in? We have a small apartment in employee housing that’s very modest and also have a house in town. It beats living in your truck *wink*, but it’s not the Taj Mahal or anything. As for differences between patrol and management, there honestly aren’t any that I’m aware of. The crew I work with is happy to have a GM that’s part of the social fabric. Certainly there are times when I can elucidate the patrol perspective and John is always willing to listen.

      I hope that helps. It’s my understanding that most of the employees are Crystal are psyched to have John as the GM. I hope that’s true with you as well.

      Kind regards,
      Kim

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