I didn't set out to write a blog about female ski patrollers, but it came out of a place of wanting to write about one of the most niche departments at Big Sky Resort. I caught up with Carolyn Wilson, Julie Hanen, and Amy Kollmann to chat about Big Sky Resort, favorite aspects to patrolling, and what it's like being a woman on ski patrol.
How old are you and how long have you been patrolling? Patrolling at Big Sky Resort?
Carolyn Wilson: I am 26 years old and this is my third year patrolling. I patrolled at Moonlight for one season before the integration, and this is my second year as a part of Big Sky Ski Patrol.
Julie Hanen: I have been patrolling for six seasons, all of them on Lone Peak. I started patrolling at Moonlight Basin and became a Big Sky Patroller in 2013 when we combined forces.
Amy Kollmann: Well, I have the mind of a four year old, my heart is as good as a fifteen year old, the skin below my goggles looks about thirty, I'm starting to think about using sun screen, and my knees feel like they are about 47. *laughs
If you average all of that you come to my actual age which is 24. This is my second year on the pro patrol here at Big Sky and I was also a volunteer for a year while I was finishing up college.
How did you get into ski patrolling? And how'd you get into patrolling at Big Sky?
AK: I became a volunteer patroller when I was in college. I had a bunch of friends that enjoyed it and the season pass didn't sound bad either. I got hired onto the professional patrol after one of the ladies on the pro patrol told me I would be a great fit and that more ladies were needed.
CW: I was a lift operator at Moonlight for two seasons before becoming a patroller. I got to know the patrollers there by talking to them at the lifts and skiing the Headwaters a lot. The first winter I was a lift op I took an Avalanche Level 1 class from Merik Morgan and a couple of other Moonlight patrollers, which also piqued my interest in working with them. My second season as a lift op, I took an EMT class, shadowed patrollers one day a week for the last six weeks of the season, and got a job the next year.
JH: I was basically coerced into it by a friend. I was born and raised in Bozeman and grew up skiing Bridger Bowl and Big Sky. When I was in college, I had a backcountry ski partner that patrolled and kept telling me to consider it as a career. At the time I was restless and wanted to travel so, after graduating, I took a job as an adventure guide in Central and South America. After living out of a backpack for six years, I decided it was time to come back to Montana and base myself out of the Rockies again. The friend I mentioned earlier was working at Moonlight at the time and kept coaxing me to come try it out. The next season, I did one year on the volunteer patrol and the next year accepted a position as a pro. Six years later, it feels like I could be here a long time.
All of you basically got into patrolling because of friends and female influences. That said, patrol seems to be one of the departments where everyone is great friends and everyone has a nickname, any you'd like to share?
JH: Jules or spelled J-e-w-e-l-s. I've also been called Julio quite a bit. This is actually the masculine-latino version of my name and comes from spending a lot of time in Latin America.
CW: Usually just my first or last name, but sometimes by my radio number if they're trying to be funny.
AK: More often than not we call each other by last names so I go by Kollmann most of the time. Since I share a name with the camping gear a few jokes come from that. We all joke around with silly nicknames as we are just a fun and dysfunctional family. We love each other all the same.
JH: My favorite run definitely changes depending upon which way the wind blows. I would say Jack/Rock Creek, Second Fork through the Elbow Room, and the North Summit Snowfield.
AK: My favorite by far is whatever is skiing the best that day. With the winds up here the good snow can be anywhere, but I do find that I have had some of my best turns of the year in Marx.
What traits make you stand out as a patroller? AKA: What specifically do you bring to the team that others might not?
CW: As a third year patroller I am still in the process of getting good at everything, including medical, avalanche mitigation, technical rescue, and understanding the flow of operating such a huge mountain. At this point my strongest contribution is coming to work stoked every day and trying to learn as much as I can.\
JH: I smile a lot and am generally a happy person. I like to work hard and try to inspire others to stay positive and work hard as well. I'm also a very compassionate person and this comes out when I am training new staff or caring for injured guests. I work hard to help my patients feel as comfortable as possible and I hope that trait helps put their mind at ease when we show up to rescue them off the mountain as this can be a very scary moment for people.
AK: I believe that I have a knack for patient care and helping patients feel comfortable when they are in an unfortunate situation. As a lady I find that we can be a little more calming then some of our burly dudes and some patriots need that not all but some.
Women make up 20% of ski patrol staffs nationwide, how do you feel this statistic could be combated by Big Sky patrollers OR do you think it should be?
AK: On our patrol we are a little low for the national average with about 15% females on the patrol and I don't think that it has to be combated necessarily. I think that this is a tough job that requires a tough skin and certain personality to put up with the stresses of the job. From complicated wrecks to avalanche control you have to be able to do it all to be a successful patroller and not as many women seem to be interested in those things. I know we joke about how patrol is a lot of drinking coffee and skiing powder, but it is also physically demanding and being a girl can make that a little harder. We always welcome more ladies to come hang with our awesome group of gals.
JH: It would be great to have more women on patrol, but I believe there are less women who apply for such a position as it is a very physically demanding job. That being said, the women I work with on patrol are some of the strongest, most adaptable and resilient women I've ever met and we all share an uncanny ability to understand and tolerate the male sense of humor. We are very active in our roles on the mountain and maintain a respected disposition. As is true the world over we have to work hard to earn and maintain this respect but we are lucky to work with a team that supports us and allows us to grow and succeed.
Photo: Erik Morrison
Dave Benes and Julie Hanen with Big Sky Ski Patrol.
Big Sky Resort won onthesnow.com's Best Resort Terrain Award in 2014, and for good reason. Not only does Big Sky have diverse terrain for every skill level, both alpine and sub-alpine, but it boasts skiing more than 300 degrees around iconic Lone Peak.
I love the run length Liberty and Dakota Bowls offer, taking me from powder fields to trees back to fields a half a dozen times in one run. But I also love the expansiveness of the terrain off the very top. Feeling adventurous? Check out the North Summit Snowfield or the Big Couloir. Feeling a day of tram laps? Don't miss the Gullies. Want to get into the backcountry? Check out easily accessible Dakota Bowl. The possibilities from Lone Peak are nearly inexhaustible, and the diversity of terrain means great snow no matter what month in the winter it is. Here's a sampling of shredding those 300 degrees around Lone Peak:
1. North Summit Snowfield. Start on the North side with one of the longest runs with epic views the entire way down to Six Shooter Lift.
2. Liberty Bowl. Neighboring Dakota Bowl, Liberty is a must shred for any skier. It's long, powder-filled, and fun.
3. Marx. This double black diamond takes you to the Dirtbag Wall, but has its own right to be skied top to bottom without any stops. Marx is just over from Lenin, but often has completely different snow. The wind is Marx's friend.
4. Dirtbag Wall. These short and steep chutes are a blast. Try ‘em all!
5. The Gullies. Just above The Bowl, The Gullies are a great and fast run down the northeast side of Lone Peak.
6. The Big Couloir. A bucket list line for experienced skiers. It's technical and fun. Being in eyesight of The Tram is what intimidates riders, but sometimes I ski better when people are watching (except for the times I don't).
Photo: Chris Kamman
I started snowboarding in 2003, but my love for the sport developed in 2006 when I got my hands on David Benedek's 16mm film 91 Words for Snow.
My world revolved around urban and park riding, inspired by the likes of Darrell Mathes, Justin Bennee, and Nicolas Muller. I craved every moment that my board was touching a fresh groomed pipe or sliding down a rail. I hurt inside knowing that the nearest ski hill was at least five hours away from my home in central Illinois, and that the "fun" hills were even further into Wisconsin or Minnesota; the passion was real, the fire burned inside.
As time went on I became more aware of big mountain riding and became increasingly aware of the people pushing the sport to new limits. This was what I needed, to explore these most majestic, most improbable mountainous landscapes with a board under my feet. It would be all too perfect to experience. But the idea of ever riding on real snow, on a real mountain larger than 300 feet, could not exist in my mind, no matter how badly I wanted them to exist.
My dreams were to only be further repressed: finding out my family would be relocated to the state of Kansas. It wasn't until I came to Bozeman in the fall of 2009 to see Montana State University that I began to allow my dreams to grow. The idea that I could explore the snow-covered high peaks was now not only a possibility - I would make it my reality.
Over the last few years here in Montana, I have realized my dreams through Lone Peak starting with Moonlight Basin and now Big Sky Resort. Lone Peak has been a place for me to learn, and to shed my skin and transform from a Midwest park rat into a big mountain snowboarder.
Even as I skin up the peaks in Hyalite Canyon, Beehive Basin, or Cooke City, I continually return to the resort as a place for personal progression. Lone Peak grounds me in my quest to climb higher, and ride more challenging terrain. For me, the true essence of riding at the resort means giving 100 percent, something you can do regardless of how hard the terrain that you ride is. Some of the most inspiring skiers and riders I know project the same run over and over until they have mastered it. They might not be skiing the steepest, most technical lines, but their motivation is pure and they love what they're doing. In the end, it's all about having a good time with your friends, being in a beautiful place, and doing a little riding.
Photo: Erik Morrison
Photo: Chris Kamman
When my officemate Michel and friend Candis asked me to go snowshoeing I was skeptical. What I knew about snowshoeing came from National Geographic Alaska TV specials and Jack London novels. What I didn't know, or expect, was how much I would learn about Lone Mountain, the Spanish Peaks and snowshoeing from our Basecamp guide Bea.
Bea taught us about the flora and fauna around Big Sky, such as the Indian Paint Brush wildflower grows at different colors at different elevations or that the Spanish Peaks are one of the only ranges in the Rocky Mountains that run east to west and are the oldest peaks in the Madison Range. Bea was a wealth of knowledge, keeping us on our snowshoe toes with funny quick-fire quizzes of what we'd learned so far.
We hiked up Moose Tracks, the trees near Middle Road, and then went even a little further to an open area with spectacular views of Lone Peak and the Spanish Peaks, the tallest of which, Gallatin Peak, stood prominently out overlooking both Madison and Gallatin Counties.
Breaking our own trail from time-to-time, I found snowshoeing essentially to be winter hiking. I love hiking and had no idea what I had been missing out on all these winters by not taking up snowshoeing.
Not only is snowshoeing great exercise, but it put me out into nature in a different way than skiing does. I don't stop to look around enough while I'm skiing because I'm continually in search for that great line, but snowshoeing forced me to pause and listen to the beauty that surrounds me every day.
For more information on snowshoe tours at Big Sky Resort check out bigskyresort.com/activities
Video: Michael Jezak
Like many people around here, I moved west in search of big mountains and deep, cold, soft snow; when I moved to Montana five years ago from Kansas I had never skied on a real mountain, or real snow for that matter, and my transition from a Midwest park-rat to a big mountain rider had quite the steep learning curve. Today, I live to ride Headwaters, Big Couloir, or back in Beehive Basin, so it should come as no surprise that I tended to get frustrated when the Tram, Triple or Shedhorn would be on wind hold. That is until the other day, when my buddy Jonathan called me up and wanted to just cruise around and ski all the terrain lower on the mountain that we always pass over on our way to the peak. Something clicked in my head that day that reminded me why I do this: because it's fun, because friends are awesome, and because life shouldn't be taken too seriously.
Old man winter brings us great snow year in and year out, I am thankful for what we have each season, remember not to take it too seriously, and remember that it could always be worse, trying to ski ice covered mole-hills back in Kansas.
Photo: Patrick Larson
Photo: Erik Morrison
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