“Every day is a learning experience”
By Kendra Walker
The Crested Butte ski patrol makes our winter wonderland go round at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. CBMR’s ski patrol includes more than 50 full- and part-time employees this winter season, including four dog handlers. And this winter, the ski patrol team has helped open up 98 percent of the mountain, 1,499 acres and all extreme limits terrain with the exception of Teocalli 2 Bowl.
“It’s a different situation every year, and it’s a different situation every storm,” says director of mountain operations Mark Voegeli. Among those varying situations is a new one CBMR had never encountered before this season: its first female ski patrol director.
“I just couldn’t say no,” recalls Tessa Dawson about taking the senior position here, coming from 10 years patrolling at Park City. “It meant coming back to what felt like a real small mountain town. The terrain is pretty fantastic and that was appealing, and I’d always heard great things about this patrol and the avalanche mitigation here.”
Dawson had never skied Crested Butte until this season, and admits that getting familiar with the terrain was a challenge. “Every day is a learning experience. There are three times as many names as on the terrain map.” But, she says, “I’m lucky that the team is as strong as they are. I joined a team that knew what they were doing, was incredibly talented and was really welcoming.”
“I have been very pleased with the leadership, experience and new perspectives Tessa has brought to the Crested Butte Ski Patrol,” says CBMR vice president and general manager Tim Baker. “Her calm demeanor and confidence stands out as she bolsters what is already a very strong team of tenured professionals. She has been a great addition to the CBMR team.”
Dawson says that patrol has been able to do more overall terrain mitigation this season, due to a larger staff. “I don’t think High Lift and NFL have ever opened at the same time like this year,” she says. “It worked out really well that we could do that.” Opening up terrain is also her favorite part of the job. “You drop those gates, and you hear those hoots and hollers and bring that joy to everybody.”
Opening terrain though, is an ever-revolving process, she says. Patrol works toward initial openings once the snow begins to fly with monitoring the snowpack. Next comes avalanche mitigation work, followed by the possibility of bootpacking to help consolidate the snow. Typically, once mitigation has occurred and there’s confidence in the snowpack, ski patrol begins setting up signs and rope lines.
“We start in October when we first get snow, and start tracking what’s happening with the weather every day,” says Dawson. “A lot of it has to do with coverage, making sure we have enough snow on the ground to cover rocks and trees so that when skiers go through we still have snow on the ground. Also we need to make sure there’s enough snow so that patrollers can safely respond to that area.”
As the season progresses, the team works on getting boundary ropes and signs up, using the bootpacker program to get steeper slope ready and going in periodically with explosives.
Explosives, Dawson says, are one of the perks of the job but also the most stressful. Patrollers must all have explosive handling permits with the state, as well as go through background checks. Patrollers are also required to be certified EMTs and receive additional training in rescue and snow safety. They conduct a variety of training scenarios each month and in the fall, patrol practices lift evacuation training and conducts medical refreshers.
Dawson enjoys a job that’s constantly brushing up her skills and bringing new challenges daily. “Every day we’re doing some form of training, beacon practice, high angle rescue. We’re actually practicing those skills each and every day,” she says. “I love this job because every day is a little different and you never know what’s going to come up.”
As the season progresses, Dawson feels comfortable going into next season having learned the team and the terrain this year. And she wears her female director hat with pride. “I’m really proud of being the first female director of ski patrol,” she says. “I’m excited to get to represent this patrol as the first female director and work with some amazing women in some of our leadership roles.”
She also encourages people to stop by the patrol office and meet with her and the team before the season ends. Perhaps you can even ski one of her favorite lines with her, which includes taking the High Lift to Teocalli Bowl or the Summit Hike. “Basically I like to get as much vert as I can,” she laughs. “I want to do as much from the top to the bottom and get a little bit of everything on the way down.”
As for once the snow melts, Dawson plans to spend as much time outside as possible on the local trails. She enjoys mountain biking and is training to run the Bryce Canyon 50k in May. But she’ll probably also be dreaming of the snow flying once again.