A Surge of Women in Ski Patrols, Once Nearly All Men

They endured the outrage of being addressed in their uniforms as “he” or “sir” at first sight and sometimes also as sexism when injured skiers oppose a woman who is responsible for taking them down the mountain on a luge bring.

But as the number of women on ski patrols increases, so too does acceptance that the service, a network of volunteer and professional associations that has been male-dominated nationwide for decades, is finally up to date.

Kari Brandt, 33, a Nevada ski patrol, recalled a recent rescue of a 250-pound wounded man who took a double shot on arrival but made no complaint as she steered his transport down a mountain toboggan .

“There I said to the other patrols: ‘I’ll take this toboggan run. ‘They nodded and said,’ Yes, you are, ‘said Brandt, the head of ski patrol at Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village, Nevada and founder of a group that aims to increase the number of women in the industry to increase. “None of the guests were against it. They didn’t fight back because they could tell that I was in charge. “

Taylor Parsons, 29, joined the Diamond Peak patrol this season, also for hearing awards about Brandt.

“It empowers other women to join when the highest person is a woman,” Parsons said. “I’m confident about Kari. She tears up her skis and knows exactly what she’s doing in the medical field. It’s inspiring. It definitely makes me want to get better and move on. “

Parsons, a snowboarder, was working on the mountain recently when she was stopped by a father who was skiing with his young daughter.

“He said,” I just want to tell you that my daughter wants to switch to snowboarding now after she saw you. “Parsons said her father told her. ‘She thinks it’s so cool that a girl can snowboard and ski patrol too.’ That makes you want to go on just to inspire other little girls. “

Skiers, who are considered the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, are not just rescue workers who sometimes treat and transport seriously injured people. Their duties may also include pulling and placing heavy materials such as fences, signs and equipment for elevator towers, as well as using explosives to reduce avalanche hazards. Larger resorts employ dozens of paid patrol members, but thousands serve as volunteers.

In both cases, men have dominated the ranks, but the number of women, who now make up 23 percent of 31,027 patrols across the country, has increased from 19 percent in 2007, according to membership polls and registration with the National Ski Patrol, the organization, who trains most employees in service.

“There are high expectations for the ski patrol, whether it’s physical or mental resilience, emotional intelligence or on-site problem solving,” said Addy McCord, director of ski patrol at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado. “Having women on such a team gives the job an important voice and perspective. I can say that women on patrol keep everyone in touch. Men work their way through the job and women do it with finesse. “

One of the oldest professional patrols in the business, 64-year-old McCord has been with the Beaver Creek Patrol for 40 years. When she started in 1981 there were only two other women. Women now make up almost a third of their team made up of more than 60 patrols.

“There is no doubt that this trend will continue,” said McCord. “It is important for women to see themselves represented on patrol and in leadership positions on the mountain. Not only women, but also different perspectives have increased the entire team. “

When Julie Rust began patrolling the nearby Vail ski resort in 1985, there was a similar shortage of women on the roster. When she became patrol director in 2001, she and McCord immediately bonded and made progress together as leaders.

“The fact that there were two of us in the room meant we could lean on each other,” said Rust, recalling her early days at regional directors’ meetings.

“You and I saw things from a different perspective than anyone else in the industry,” she added. “We quietly rerouted the meetings to make sure all the time was well spent. We were on the periphery, but on the way there we were in the middle of the group. “

The female skiers in leadership positions said they encourage greater communication, creative approaches to physical tasks, and improved teamwork. They said they were looking for alternatives to berating flawed skiers, like adopting a quiet, talkative tone instead of yelling.

Although they are as thorough as men in directing training, they want to be more patient and accommodate newcomers.

“A range of learning styles will make anyone the most skilled patrolman,” said Shannon Maguire, assistant patrol director at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. “Holding women helps keep additional women.”

Linda Barthel, 59, a 30-year-old Mt. Brighton volunteer patrol and former National Ski Patrol Women’s Program Advisor, agreed.

“It was an absolute inspiration to take a senior Mughal clinic from an instructor who was also 5-foot-2. I was ready to follow her anywhere on the mountain, ”said Barthel. “As a patrol, we are expected to transport injured guests of all sizes on a toboggan. During one of my toboggan reviews, I watched a candidate – the only other woman in the group – negotiate the loaded sled in a different way than the boys, working smarter, not harder. I saw and said, “I can do that,” and I did. “

30-year-old Kolina Coe recalls her first day on patrol 12 years ago at the Northstar Resort in California at the age of 18. She said she was nervous about the physical demands of the job and “being surrounded by strong men a foot taller. ”

She went up the elevator with another equally panicked beginner. By the time they got to the top, they had shaken off their reservations and started building fences and tower pads.

Coe is now the assistant patrol director at Northstar and the liaison for the National Ski Patrol’s women’s program. Despite her long braid, she is often referred to as “sir” by injured skiers and is met with suspicion by some of the patients she has to transport down the mountain. Still, she says, the gender barriers in the industry are undoubtedly breaking down.

“As our culture continues to push the needle for social norms, women empower one another and men stand up for their female counterparts,” Coe said. “Whether on ski patrol or in the White House, we will see more and more glass ceilings break when this perspective changes. There was a wake up call that women are as strong and capable as men. “

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