Trust takes you further | Fernie Ski Patrol
For most of my youth, I was convinced that I didn’t want to be a ski patroller because… it was an “old boys club” and they don’t let women throw explosives.
First tracks every day. Ski 7 days a week. Live in an idyllic ski town. The life of a ski patroller sounds like paradise. But the reality of ski patrol life isn’t so simple. Professional ski patrollers rise before the sun, spend powder days monitoring the mountain, and work long days doing challenging tasks.
In some circles, the ski industry is known as an old boys club, especially the ski patrol. But the landscape is changing. More and more women are taking on careers as professional ski patrollers.
The profession attracts a certain type of person. The type of person who likes to challenge themselves and push their limits. The type of women who push boundaries, who think of others as well as their own self-improvement. The type of women like Megan and Justine of the Fernie Ski Patrol.
Justine, a rookie ski patroller, student of wildlife biology, ex-ski racer, and ski coach, has experience with pushing her limits and following her dreams. Yet still, she was hesitant to pursue a career as a ski patroller. Eventually, she pushed past her own preconceived notions and found a community within the Fernie Ski Patrol. She describes her experience below.
A controlled slide in Fernie
“As a new member of the Fernie Ski Patrol, I feel that my greatest professional accomplishment so far has just been the accomplishment of getting hired. For most of my youth, I was convinced that I didn’t want to be a ski patroller because someone told me I would have a career flipping signs and making sign lines because it was an “old boys club” and they don’t let women throw explosives. Despite my love for skiing, for Fernie, and my interest in avalanche control, I suppressed my dream of being a ski patroller and I pursued a degree in biology. After graduation, I realized I wasn’t happy and moved back to Fernie to bum it out and ski. I networked with some patrollers through the shop I was working in and made the decision to attend the hiring clinic that season, just to check it out, and had the most wholesome experience. It was clear to me that my notions about patrol were wrong and that these were “my people”. Long story short, I made a good impression and joined patrol the following season. I experienced some pushback from people I had met around town who were maybe surprised that I was hired. I got a few ‘you’ve never patrolled before, they never hire people like that’ or ‘It usually takes years to get on with Fernie Patrol, I’ve been trying for years’ and other things like that, and I definitely got a bit of imposter syndrome and wondered whether or not I was qualified enough for the job. However, as time progressed through the season I realized just how much work I put into becoming the person I am and developing many skills, lots of them soft skills, that are incredibly important for this job. I know why I was hired, I know the work I put into it and I know how big of a professional accomplishment that is for me. I feel like I proved all those people wrong and I can’t wait to continue to push myself further in this profession and in my career with the Fernie Ski Patrol.” -Justine
Justine, Fernie Ski Patrol
Building a Community
When Justine joined the Fernie Ski Patrol, she was welcomed by Megan, Patrol Director and rescue dog handler. As an experienced leader, Megan prioritizes taking care of her mental and physical health. By doing so, she can be strong enough to help others:
“By building my resilience to failure. I believe in having healthy mental hygiene. Talking to friends or a professional if I experience a tough situation at work or home. I try to get lots of rest and I spend a lot of time in nature. I think volunteering or helping others achieve their goals helps me fill up my tank.” – Megan
Justine also trains herself mentally and physically as a contributing member to her summer community. Her work as a firefighter keeps her strong and present:
“During the off-season, I work for the BC Wildfire Service where I do lots of fitness and physical work which keeps me in physical shape, both for fire season and for ski season. I prepare mentally through lots of reflection on the past season and by focusing on being fully present and engaged in the “now”. I tend to find myself putting too many expectations on my future and I miss what is in the present. I think by being more practiced at being content in the now I have more success at achieving my further whenever the time is right. I want it to be an organic process, nothing forced.” – Justine
The Motivation, The Passion, The Growth
Pushing boundaries isn’t easy, but it can be fulfilling. What motivates these ski patrollers to find their further? In Megan’s words:
“I believe growth is crucial to having a fulfilling life. Maybe it’s a cool mountain further or maybe it’s going back to school to complete a degree. Or a big life change like a new job. But pushing boundaries and building resiliency makes life very interesting and can teach you about your true self. I think if we become more in touch with ourselves and needs, we can be better humans to others.”
For Justine, a passion for skiing motivates her daily. By aligning her profession with her love of skiing, she finds her further. Pushing past the challenges and enjoying the sport that you love, that’s the reason behind it all.
“Overall, I’ve accomplished many furthers just by spending time in the mountains. I count the small accomplishments and the big ones. I believe that any day spent outside on skis is an accomplishment and if you are living in the present and enjoying yourself you can achieve your further every time you are out. Maybe it’s all about perspective… in my experience, the actual process of going further and really going beyond your limits can be really quite uncomfortable. When you push yourself physically to achieve more, your body hurts, when you push yourself mentally to overcome something, you often experience some anxiety and fear. I think if you are truly pushing yourself beyond your limits you are experiencing both at the same time and all in all it’s an uncomfortable experience, but when you are properly motivated and you push yourself through that discomfort you are met with the most rewarding feeling. And I never remember the discomfort or the hard bits, I always remember how awesome I felt after pushing myself to achieve further and it is the memory of that feeling that pushes me to continue to push myself to go further. – Justine
I never remember the discomfort or the hard bits, I always remember how awesome I felt after pushing myself to achieve further and it is the memory of that feeling that pushes me to continue to push
Learning from Past Challenges
For super-achievers like Megan and Justine, it’s natural to push forward, to fight to the finish line. But in the world of mountain safety, the most challenging thing is learning when to say no. For these professionals, there’s been a time when this challenge was front and center:
“I have been turned away from big objectives in the past. For example, when I was in university my group planned a month-long ski expedition to Mt. Logan. We spent so much time route planning, food planning, training, and then driving all the way to the Yukon. In the end, we had to cancel the trip after waiting up at the airstrip for weeks because the weather was not cooperating. Some members of the trip were very upset. I was all disappointed but I learned at that moment that you cannot push an objective or trip if the weather is not on your side. Having to conquer failure seems scary, but I realized that it was a gift to have to be a good leader in the decision to cancel our trip. In the end, I may have learned more about leadership, conflict resolution, and group dynamics in failing to achieve the objective than I would have if the trip wasn’t cancelled”
“I focus a lot of time and energy on continuing my education and personal growth to improve my situational awareness and safety, in the mountains and in the workplace. I believe accidents happen largely in part by human error or personal bias and a general lack of education. I do everything I can to better understand myself and my biases and how those impact my interactions with the people around me and how they influence my decisions in the mountains. I also make mistakes and, when I do, I critically think about what went wrong and learn from that mistake. And in general, I give things time. I want to achieve my further but I know things take time, practice, and experience. Rushing into something before I’m ready isn’t the safest choice.”
Trust in your Gear
Both Justine and Megan rely on professional-grade gear to stay warm and dry on the mountain. With long days and intense work, their clothing needs to work with them, not against them. When we asked them about the role of their gear, Justine said:
“Well, without my gear I’m just a naked human standing in the snow freezing my toes off, so it goes without saying that gear is pretty important for mountain activities. That being said, average gear will only get you so far. I really value good gear that I can rely on and trust when I’m pushing myself beyond my limits. I need strong skis whose limits I can’t find (nice stiff strong ski) and boots that don’t bend like cooked noodles. I also want to be comfortable, warm and dry in my clothing and outerwear. Nothing wrecks a good ski day like being too cold or wet because your equipment failed you.”
We second that opinion. Stay warm and dry on the mountain.
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