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Ski Patrol is for Girls

Cracking the glass ceiling in ski country

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By Martinique Davis

“It’s a boys’ club, you know,” my stepfather cautioned me when, at age 22, I tried out for the Telluride Ski Patrol.

He spoke the truth. For every female on the roster, there are eight guys—a pitiable ratio even by ski-industry standards. In the 15 years since accepting the position, I’ve learned some things about being a girl in a guy’s world. Like how to pee through a PVC tube stuck in the wall at patrol headquarters.

In a male-dominated profession where muscle and machismo are essentially written into the job description,
being a girl is an anomaly. The sport itself is weighted heavily on the testosterone side of the spectrum, with men outnumbering women by about a 60-to-40 ratio. So it stands to reason that most people expect a male patroller to come to their rescue. When two of us ladies show up, I feel compelled to announce that we are, indeed, the A-Team.

Women in the profession have to work harder to prove they belong. Like when you and your rookie partner are on an avy-control route and he’s certain he knows better than you how to affix a 25-pound bag of ANFO to the sled you’re about to dangle 100 feet downhill to try to initiate a slide, and you just let him bungle through knots and keep the igniters in your pocket until it’s time for you to do it right.

In its 40-year history, the Telluride Ski Patrol hadn’t had a woman in a leadership position until I became a supervisor in 2013. But women have quietly been running the show for years, like TSP legend Mona “Auntie Mo” Wilcox. Barely 100 pounds in ski boots, the woman spent 20-plus years straightening bamboo, fixing rope lines, hauling wrecks, and ensuring that no patrol station ever ran out of butter for “Sweep Corn” (popcorn heavily doused with butter and eaten in great quantities by patrollers prior to sweeping the mountain).

Is being a female ski patroller different from infiltrating the ranks of other male-dominated fields, like, say, the executive echelons of Wall Street? Well, for one thing, I don’t get to wear pretty shoes to work, and when the shit hits the fan, lives are at stake.

The mountains are a great equalizer, boys’ club or not. Skill and smarts win over brute strength every time. Not to knock the guys—of course they’re smart and capable. But they’re also gruff and ski too fast and have ice boogers dangling off their beards.

Women patrollers possess grace with, yes, some attitude. To gracefully infiltrate the boys’ club: Don’t act like a boy. Rock the bejeweled goggles, drink rosé, work and ski like a girl, and own what you say.

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