Tag Archives: Ski Patrolling

Gearing up for Ski Season



Last week, the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol conducted our yearly pre-season training. For a job that requires plenty of outside activity, the rigors of training include sitting inside when the first snowfall of the season has blanketed the base area and the surrounding peaks are finally pasted in snow. It wasn’t always easy to pay attention inside when the scenery outside was calling. But we managed.

Chair Evacuation Practice

Towards the end of the week, we got outside and practiced evacuating chairs and other rescue scenarios. Fortunately, the weather held for a crisp and sunny first day on “the slopes”.

Higher up on the mountain, the snow-making system has already started pasting glorious base-building snow across the top

It's snowing in Green Valley

of Green Valley. In the evenings after training, my husband and I rode the gondola to check out the progress. After only ten hours

Green Valley gets plastered

of “blowing snow” the top of Greenback is already pasted with two feet of bullet proof base. John plans to open Crystal for skiing as soon as possible. And by as soon as possible, he means about 16 inches of snow.

Looking ahead at the forecast, that 16 inches could happen sooner than later. Take a look at the Extended GFS 12km models from University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences page below for two weather systems moving in this weekend. It shouldn’t be long now. Be sure to follow this page for updates.

Friday into Saturday

Saturday into Sunday

Official Trailer: The Next 15 Minutes


Book trailers are all the rage. Everybody’s doing them. So of course, I jumped on the bandwagon. Thanks to my videographer friend Burt Traub, who put this little ditty together. What do you think?

What Haters Can Teach Us


One day late last winter, while leaving the Summit House to head out onto the hill, I noticed a pair of skis stuck in the snow next to mine. They were covered in stickers, but the one that stuck out the most read “I Haters”.

Why would anyone love haters? I wondered as I skied away. Perhaps it was a joke. Or maybe the owner of the skis was a hater himself (or herself, whichever the case may be). According to Urban Dictionary, a hater is, Read the rest of this entry

How to Beg Forgiveness from a Ski Patroller

Ski Patroller, Crystal Mountain

He's a pretty nice guy, as long as he doesn't find you in a closed area.*

If you’ve ever spent a season in a ski town, you know what I’m talking about. Somewhere, somehow you’ve pissed off a ski patroller. I’m not saying we’re a difficult lot to get along with. We’re usually fairly nice people. Like you, we’ve chosen this lifestyle not for the fame, or the glory, or the fabulous accommodations. Like you, we’re here to ski.

But sometimes we butt heads. Sometimes your enthusiasm and proprietariness gets the better of you. You know those voices in your head? The ones that tell you you’re special, you’re different, the closures are to keep out the schmoes. And you, certainly are not a schmo. You’re a local and you practically own this place. Dang, the ski area should put you on their freeride team, hook you up with free gear and early ups. The ski area should be glad you chose to park your van here, to slice perfect lemon wedges down its pristine slopes, to grace it with your turns at the shot ski.

There’s dream world and there’s reality, and that’s just about when you spot the red parka with the white cross and you know the gig is up.

I’m not saying it’s okay to find yourself on the wrong side of the ropeline. I’ve written ad nauseum on this topic, trying to spell it out from my side. A ropeline is a ropeline. We’ve been over all that.


See? We smile. Sometimes.

But invariably, I’ve found some of you in closed areas. I’ve taken your passes and listened to your sob stories. I’ve watched you spit in your beer at the local bar, as you drunkenly tried to explain how you’re different from the schmoes. How you didn’t see the ropeline. How you thought the closure was for someone else.

Like anything, there’s a right way to beg forgiveness from a ski patroller. So here it is. If you find yourself in need of a little begging, take it from me. There’s a right way and a wrong way.

Wrong Way

  • Getting angry. This never works. Nor does getting all uppity about how long you’ve been skiing at this ski area. Just because you’ve been skiing Crystal for 20 years (which, is the most-often quoted number of all complainers) means very little.
  • Asking to speak to my supervisor. Maybe this works on some patrollers, but not on me. My supervisor will side with me. However, if the offender really wants to take it to the next level, I ask him (always a him, I’ve never had to say this to a woman) if he’d like to speak to the owner of the ski area. I even offer to accompany him to my husband’s office to chat about the situation. No one has ever taken me up on that offer, however.
  • Telling me that he “went in” the way he “always goes in”, which means by ducking the rope. Reading between the lines I know this means he thought the gates were open and he’d just avoid the crowds, duck the rope in his own spot and get first tracks. This doesn’t win me over, either. Gates are the only access points. No crying about that.

Right Way

  • Being contrite. As a ski patroller, finding someone on the wrong side of the rope sucks. If you make it easier on us, by saying that yes, you did wrong and are really, really sorry, it goes a long way. You will still get your pass pulled, but maybe for a shorter duration.
  • Find us later. Tell us again how sorry you are.
  • Bring a case of beer with a friendly note and leave it in the patrol room: “Just a little note to say how sorry I am for breaking your closure. Hope we can still be friends. Sincerely, Joe Schmoe”.
  • Offer to tune our skis. A friend of mine recently told me about how he once tuned 30 pairs of skis in a weekend, begging forgiveness. That’s a lot of tuning. I hated to ask what he’d done, and since it wasn’t at Crystal, I just let that one slide.
  • Don’t give us the cold shoulder. We’re human. We’re doing our job. We’re trying to live the dream, just like you are. Respect that.
  • Get the word out. The best thing you can do is warn your friends. “Dude, the patrol around here is no joke. Don’t go under the ropes if you want to keep your pass. Just don’t do it.” We hear you’ve put that message out there and it scores you big points. Huge.

More than anything ski patrollers want respect. You give us that and you’ll be on our good side. Without it, you’re doomed.

I recently read Powder Magazine’s latest edition. In the ski test section, members of the team each shared their dream trip. Derek Taylor, editor at Powder, said his dream trip was more like a dream job. He wrote that if he had to do it all over again, he’s “always been intrigued with ski patrolling.” See? We’re not so bad.

*And as long as you don’t post photos of him on the internet. Oops.

Being Mrs. Crystal


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.

Blind Faith


I recently asked Regan Teat to post about his decision to move to a ski town. He and his fiance are in the midst of that choice and the results are still pending. I, for one, am rooting for them.

When Kim asked me to post as a guest on her blog about packing up and moving to a ski town I racked my brain trying to think of where to even start. Blind faith is what I’ve come up with so far.

The truth is, we haven’t yet been successful in this endeavor. Close though, and on the right path, but close and on the right path doesn’t get you first tracks after the last storm cycle.

The idea first surfaced, well, first surfaced with any sort of realism, last summer. I have come to refer to that period of time in my own conscious as the “Imperfect Storm”. I’ve told the story several times, each time it seems to present itself clearer than the last, to me anyway. We lived in Traverse City, MI. My job had an expiration date, Shannon was bar tending, so amid this new found freedom we playfully toyed with the idea of moving somewhere else. Nowhere in particular. We each made a list based on a some predetermined prerequisites; mountains, water, green landscapes. Seattle appeared on both lists.

Seattle it is.

Tragically, right in the middle of our planning. Shannon’s Mom was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer and two months later with Shannon at her bedside Gwen lost her battle.

From this point forward we were going through the motions of life, barely. Our belongings were in a storage barn in the middle of a hay field in Lake City, MI and we were living in her Mom’s condo. Suddenly, instead of one condo of stuff to thin out and secure into storage we had two, plus the affairs of her Mom’s Estate. Both leases were up. Shannon is an only child and Gwen was not married. I have no idea where her strength came from during that time.

It then dawned on us that Shannon, our two dogs and I were homeless. Wow! It feels weird to say that, but its the truth. We had to make moves. In January we had a little bit of money in the bank and we fit what we could in our Jeep and in the middle of a massive snow storm we started driving with no place to go but West.

It all happened really fast. 4 months. In retrospect, we were making phone calls and arranging our departure, but it was like we were watching it happen from a distance. I’m not sure who was actually behind the wheel…

So here we are, present day. Two underemployed state college educated love birds in a small apartment near Edmonds, WA. Shannon is bar tending again. I am STILL unemployed but keeping busy with some projects and am optimistic about the future, and our sights are dead set on living in a small ski town. We are seeking solace, a sense of community, and first tracks.

2 hours before Gwen passed she made me promise to take care of Shannon. An hour after that I proposed and we’ll be married this October.

Gwen’s final wishes were to live life according to the virtue instilled in the words Live, Laugh, and Love.

I suppose this advice is what has dictated the rearranging of our priorities. We have honestly just let go of the wheel. We’ve let our will be in charge of our physical lives.

Why move to a ski town? Because like ET phoning home it’s where our hearts are taking us. I try not to ask too many questions of the matter. So “just because” will suffice for now.

Granted, there is some leg work to be done. We have to feed ourselves, our dogs, we have to re-educate ourselves to become employable in a small, industry specific town or it’s “suburbs”.

Shannon and I have reflected on our last decade and have reinvested in the next. Since moving to Washington I have completed 80 hours of Wilderness First Responder courses and CPR. I will use my natural ability to connect with people and my skills on skis to help those in need. This season I will continue my education to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Following that, Snow Science and Search and Rescue. Ski Patrol is my goal. I will live the remainder of my life as a first responder on skis.

This new path is so obviously right to us. We have found life in death. We have let go of the wheel. We know that everything will work out how its supposed to. We have blind faith.

So, Kim asked me to write about our decision to move to a ski town and live the lifestyle. Next to Shannon, skiing is my life. As I reflect though, it’s not skiing that is taking us to a ski town, it’s living our lives how they are meant to be lived. For me, skiing is just the byproduct of that enlightenment and gives me confidence of knowing that I am on the right path.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes, slightly modified:

He who follows the crowd will usually end up no further than the crowd, he who goes off on his own finds himself…and first tracks 🙂

Find out more about Regan at: www.LoHInspiredClothing.com

The Greatness of Dogs


Rocket Circa 2003

My good friend Lisa asked me to dog-sit this week. Of course I jumped at the chance. Her dog, Ari, is the spitting image of the late, great Rocket, my ski patrolling partner and companion that passed away five years ago. They are both small black labs, with jet-black noses and big hearts.

While hiking with Ari yesterday at Crystal, I was reminded why I miss my dog so much. I loved the way he would run ahead a few yards and look back at me, his pink tongue glistening against his teeth. Being an avalanche rescue dog just like Rocket, Ari doesn’t stray too far from the trail either.

They are alike in other ways. Just like Rock, Ari has an on/off switch. Enthusiastic one minute, he knows how to listen and sit and stay when necessary. When he finds a patch of snow, he rubs his nose against it, rolls on his back and slides down like a skier. He walks so close to me that I mistake him for my shadow. And when he looks at me and cocks his head, shakes his tail back and forth in a long, slow wag, it almost breaks my heart.

Ari hiking near Crystal Mountain, August 2011

I’m not ready for another dog. Rocket ruined me. Not once in his 8 years did he ever do anything wrong. Well, there was that one time when he jumped on the counter and devoured an entire loaf of bread. I was dumbfounded when I got home. How could he do such a thing? The dog hardly breathed without permission. It was just a few months before he died, and I realized later that this erratic behavior was the build-up to the inevitable.

Besides that, he was the perfect avalanche dog. (I even sang to him and for those of you following along, “Who’s the best dog in the United States? It’s you Rocket-dog. It’s you.”)

But I digress.

When training him, I often expected that he would someday be a hero. He would find a person buried in the snow, bark and dig in just the right spot so I knew where to search. The victim would emerge whole and alive.

But that’s not how it happened in real life.

When Rocket did find his victim, the man was already dead. He’d been swept through trees at a tremendous speed. As the group of patrollers that collected around the body waited for the toboggan, not one of us looked at him. We avoided eye contact and focused on our ski boots, gathered emergency gear and disconnected the probes and shovels.

But not Rocket.

He stared at the body. I couldn’t divert his attention. I brought out the toy used only when he found a victim, something he loved more than anything else in the world, and he looked at me with a pitiable look. He seemed to say, “This is serious. This is not play time.”

He watched the body until the toboggan arrived, and I did too. It seemed the right thing to do.

The best lessons I’ve ever learned I got from my dog. He loved snow more than anything else, he said hello with enthusiasm and hardly acknowledged goodbyes, and most importantly, he knew when to play and when to be serious.

Having Ari here is a little blessing—a reminder about the greatness of dogs.

Part of this post is excerpted from my forthcoming memoir The Next 15 Minutes.

My Tender Side is not a Weakness


Thanks to BookTrib.com (All the News that’s Fit to Link) for posting my article “My Tender Side is not a Weakness”.

Just saying that out loud is a confession of sorts for a woman making her way in the world of big mountains and bigger egos. You don’t always have to be tough to be strong.

My dad taught me how.

Check out the article here.