Sign In:

×

Last Step!

Please enter your public display name and a secure password.

Plan to post in the forums? Change your default forum handle here!

×
×

The Women Of Squaw Valley Ski Patrol Made A Calendar

Editor's Note: For almost three decades, Keoki Flagg has been creating images of and for Lake Tahoe, donating his time and artwork to various charities and foundations. Last year, the women of Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows ski patrol were fortunate to be one of them. The photos shown here are examples of what's in the calendar; those remain a surprise.

"Ski patrolling appears glamorous from the outside, but the daily rigors of the job are demanding, both mentally and physically." - Lori Gundersen. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

Growing up, I never once—not even for a microsecond—thought I’d be a ski patroller. I did think I’d like to share spaghetti with one à la Lady and the Tramp, but be one, heck no. I thought the criteria to patrol came down to having a beard bushy enough to house a colony of birds. I thought wrong.

Instead, I thought becoming an adult meant slotting yourself into some city’s tech scene. But after three miserable years beneath fluorescent lighting, I gave my boss the shaka and beelined it for the Tahoe Sierra. I had no salary and was driving on ‘E,’ and I felt more fucking alive than ever.

Keoki shot nearly fifteen thousand frames of us, saying, "Our Ski patrollers endure Mother Nature’s challenges, keep it real, and personify power and commitment. Theirs is a labor of love, and an example to inspire us all to live deeply now." Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

Unshackled from a job that was sucking the very marrow out of my life, I decided to challenge my preconceptions. I met with Squaw Valley’s patrol director. Medical-wise, I’d done little more than patch the odd knee, but I’d recently survived a course in Outdoor Emergency Care, and that was all patrol needed. The league of my alma mater didn’t matter, nor did my number of LinkedIn connections. What did? My ability to sled the injured down to higher care sans face-planting.

My first year on patrol was wilder than I ever envisioned.

"Overall, we hope the calendar will be able to provide people with avalanche education scholarships, portray what our job entails, and inspire young and old women to follow their dreams." Crystal Winn. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

87% of Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows professional ski patrol is male, but this doesn’t faze us females. With a little less bicep to work with, we rely on finesse, and just as we ladies like it we’re given no handicaps.

Day two on the job, I was told to use the snowmobile, and that I did, but only after cruising into a tree, bogging it down and tipping it over. Immediately after, my supervisor encouraged me to work on my "skills" by spending the afternoon snowmobiling up challenging terrain. I was shitting bricks and mentally firing off swear words I didn't know I knew, and then I was hooked.    

"It takes a unique individual, male or female, to weather the demands of the job...In my opinion, we currently have the strongest group of women ever in my twenty-seven seasons." Lori Gundersen . Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

Week two, I was told to fill my pack with bombs and climb an icy ladder, skis-in-tow, atop a band of cliffs to do avalanche control work. The baller thing about that first AC route wasn’t that I got to ribbon down blower pow before the resort opened, but that Lel Tone lead it. Lel’s one of the world’s best heli-ski guides, as well as an avalanche forecaster and educator. She is also a killer griller of all the meats.

I can speak similarly of all 13 women on Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows patrol. They are all insanely skilled at what they do, and they are why I love my job.

"I loved that the calendar provided an excuse to climb on top of the tram...This job draws people who love adventure and adrenaline." Robin McElroy. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

A few spicy margaritas deep in Lel's living room one ladies' night last February, we patrollers decided to make a women-only patrol calendar. We tossed around ideas—patrol-themed bikini shots may or may not have been mentioned—and made a napkin plan that later became a fancy Google Doc, and, ultimately, a business proposal. We singled out a cause, avalanche education, and contacted award-winning, local photographer Keoki Flagg.

Spoiler alert: no bikinis feature. Keoki shot us doing what we do best: working on the mountain. 

To question a woman's ability to patrol is to doubt that putting on warm underwear fresh from the dryer isn't the best sensation on earth. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

Lori Gundersen, who’s been paving the way for us female patrollers since 1989, was photographed rappelling off the Ice Goddess, and another, Marielle Russack, is sending it on telemark skis. Me? I’m recharging in the KT22 shack post-avalanche control. As per usual, I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.

The camera and I have a dicey relationship. To put it in perspective, there were moments during shooting I would rather have been watching a horse drop a deuce in slow motion. But Keoki's a wizard behind the lens, and I found myself cracking up, with just a little bit of breaking out in hives. We bonded over unkempt hair. He appreciated that mine hadn’t seen a hairbrush in five days, at best.

On being photographed by Keoki, Taylor Wood says, "It is surprisingly hard to 'look natural'!" When you're in your element, surrounded by falling snow, it all falls into place. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

Our individual shots are stellar, but the group one is where the money is; when you mix a visionary photographer with fearless subjects, you can’t help but go all out. Hundreds of feet above the highest tree, we piled on top (i.e., on the fricken outside) of Squaw’s iconic tram and made our best “yeah-I’m-totally-chill” faces.

Keoki snapped away from the opposing tram, his thumbs up the whole time. He was glowing. 

Season one patrolling was a trip. My first patient required heli transport for a head injury, and my second’s wrist was hanging on by not a healthy amount, following an intimate encounter with a ski. Then came the radio call requesting an ambulance for my very own dad. Topped off with the calendar, I reckon that warrants a beer, or several.

Do I regret giving up my 401k? Hell no. Am I returning for round two? I’d be nuts to not. Yes, there’s a mountain to patrol, but there’s also a group of rad ladies I need to get back to. The proceeds from our calendar will provide scholarships for avalanche education, and I want to be around to see that happen. 

We patrollers like to say our job's better than most people's vacations. Here's proof. Photo by Keoki Flagg courtesy of GalleryKeoki.com.

If you are in the Tahoe area from 6-8pm November 26th, be sure to stop by Gallery Keoki in the Village at Squaw Valley for the calendar release party. There, we will be sharing stories of our shoot during the killer 2015-2016 Winter Season. 

Get your 2016-2017 Calendar nowor in stores throughout Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. (By purchasing our calendar, you can help make the community safer, and you can help show your daughters, sisters, wives, lady cousins, aunts, nieces and girlfriends they can be anything. Anything!)

From The Column: Women in the Mountains

Stoked! I’ll be there if I can.

Hell yeah Hannah Clayton!!!

Woahwoahwoah! Nice pics and I get what you’re trying to do and all BUT to say Squaw Valley’s is the first all-female ski patrol calendar would be a disservice to a woman who gave her life one white-out Christmas morning while doing an avalanche route wearing the cross. Exactly 20 years ago this year a young lady was doing route on a howling snow globe of a ridge (and the explosives procedures were way less rigorous then they are now) so when she went to re-light a fuse she thought didn’t take, the shot detonated between her feet.

I worked with some of the same people last year that she did, and there’s still a great understanding that even though her life may have been taken, she made the industry and all of our jobs a lot safer through her sacrifice. Now it’s customary to have two fuses to ignite, and then to throw the shot away from you in a set amount of time regardless of whether the fuses lit or not.

A scholarship fund was created in her name and can be put toward avalanche safety or search and rescue training. The women of Big Sky Ski Patrol created a calendar as a fundraiser for the Erika Pankow scholarship fund three or four years ago, and are just about to come out with a new one from last season as well! We did choose to get bikini-top clad (snow pants on bottom) to celebrate our femininity and strength (plus it’s exhilarating! I highly recommend it and it’s going to become a mandatory seasonal ritual for me :) giggles will automatically ensue and you won’t be able to help but smile as you pull up to your friends and get a chill from the snow you kick up)

Hope your calendars sell well and good job repping women in ski patrol, but give your sisters pushing the male-dominated mold at other mountains a little credit too!

    Thank you for the information about Erika Pankow. I researched your fund, and I’m raising a toast to all of you, and mostly her. Tenacious doesn’t cut it; Erika clearly meant so much to so many. She’s one to look up to, and one I’ll forever keep in mind.

    Your bikini shots are also rad. Get it, girls!

Play
READ THE STORY
The Skiers Who Are Hand Carving a Backcountry Paradise in Central Vermont
Up Next Ski

The Skiers Who Are Hand Carving a Backcountry Paradise in Central Vermont

The Skiers Who Are Hand Carving a Backcountry Paradise in Central Vermont

If you asked a group of Vermonters where to spend a few days skiing while passing through the Green Mountain State, there are a handful of towns and resorts you would likely hear . Stowe, Killington, Sugarbush and Jay Peak would all likely be represented en masse in the responses while other spots like Mad River and Okemo and Smug's may also be peppered in. One spot you're not likely to hear? The town of Rochester, Vermont. But a group of resourceful backcountry advocates is trying to

Play
READ THE STORY
From Switzerland to the Tetons: How Nicole Ludwig Forged a Search and Rescue Career
Up Next Culture

From Switzerland to the Tetons: How Nicole Ludwig Forged a Search and Rescue Career

From Switzerland to the Tetons: How Nicole Ludwig Forged a Search and Rescue Career

Nicole Ludwig has my dream job. Well, she has the job I wanted when I was 10. My uncle flew helicopters in the Vietnam War. When I was a kid he gave me an aviation hat and from then on out I wanted to be just like him. Obviously, things didn’t go as planned because here I am sitting at my computer writing this story instead of taking off for a morning spin in a Bell 407. But when I heard about Nicole Ludwig—a firefighting helicopter pilot by summer and the primary pilot for Teton County

Play
READ THE STORY
Go Behind the Lens of TGR’s ‘Far Out’ with Dutch Simpson
Up Next Culture

Go Behind the Lens of TGR’s ‘Far Out’ with Dutch Simpson

Go Behind the Lens of TGR’s ‘Far Out’ with Dutch Simpson

They said go to Canada. They said film a ski movie. They said do it in tents, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the storm. It will be great they said. TGR cameraman Dutch Simpson just returned from the Canadian woods, where he was filming a segment for Teton Gravity Research's upcoming film,. The team was flown out of Kaslo, British Columbia, by Stellar Heli, dropped with all their gear for 10 days of camping and skiing pillow lines in the Purcell mountain range. The conditions for