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“You’re Nothing Until They See You Ski:” Life as a Female Ski Patroller

Kim Kircher shreds some deep Pacific Northwest powder in her patrol uniform. Chris Morin photo.

Crystal Mountain’s incoming patrol director, Kim Kircher, is the classic Pacific Northwest badass woman: humble, accomplished, unafraid, and sick of proving everyone wrong about her gender. Starting as volunteer patrol at Crystal when she was 18 years old, she rose to the ranks of pro patrol in 1996, a time when women pro patrollers were rare and women patrol directors were so unheard of that it wasn’t even in her sights as a career goal until she saw the opportunity present itself this year— nearly 27 years later.

Kircher said the mentality of the patrol has changed in the last three decades, when she entered the patrol she was accepted but also expected to leave all femininity out of the job.

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“I didn’t feel like there was any sexism but I did feel like I was one of the guys, like I needed to be one of the guys. Put your head down and just work hard, and do not complain, and do not cry. There’s a lot of rules, learn them, and you don’t show any weakness. That’s how I felt,” Kircher said.

Even as being a woman patroller has become a fairly standard thing within the patroller community, Kircher still struggles with the reaction she receives from skiers on the mountain while she’s out doing her job.

Kim Kircher with the Crystal Mountain patrol shack reflected in her goggles. Chris Morin photo.

There was a time where Kircher was on patrol and a man hurt himself, she was called in with the sled and set up a rappel system to bring him down a steep section. Visibly uncomfortable that a woman was now running his rescue, he asked hopefully if she was part of a team. Fairly used to this reaction, she reassured him that she knew what she was doing and let it pass. No less than a few minutes later he was hitting on her, and later that week sent her flowers and a card.

It’s like they think you’re nothing or they think your hot, there’s really no in-between.

Kircher added that the reaction was fairly similar towards women in the ski industry by the ski industry itself. 

"They look at you like your nothing and then they see you ski," she said.

Still, these reactions do not make Kircher want to hide her femininity.

“When I first started as a patroller at Crystal I was always mistaken for a guy… I started wearing my hair in braids simply so I could have it out front. I’ve actually tried to look more feminine because I’m proud of the fact that I’m a woman,” Kircher said.

Kircher will be the first woman patrol director in Crystal’s history, and one of only a few nationally. She said that she has found her emotional intelligence to be an advantage in many crisis scenarios such as dealing with a family who has lost a loved one in a ski accident, and she said this “feminine” trait will be an asset to her as patrol director.

Kircher also has an impressive outdoor resume including ski mountaineering peaks like Ranier, trekking through Bhutan, climbing Kilimanjaro, instructing for Outward Bound, guiding whitewater kayaking (I told you she’s a badass) and working for years on Crystal’s snow safety and various patrol positions. She attributes her successful career to her own fortitude and to Crystal’s long-standing tradition of hiring women which was put in place by outgoing director, Paul Baugher.

“Paul has always been really into hiring women. Back in the '80s, other ski directors would tease him asking why he would ever hire a chick, but he thinks women make good patrollers because they’re generally safer and have good emotional intelligence. I don’t think they’d be hiring me if Paul hadn’t put that culture of hiring women in place,” Kircher said.

About The Author

stash member Maya Hunger

Journalist by training, dirtbag by bank account, environmentalist by passion, sea kayak guide & road bike guide in the summer, skier at heart.

Kim is an absolute legend…great article.

Hey Maya,

I really appreciate your writing and that you put effort into it. Thanks — this woman sounds like an inspiring lady!