Balancing a ski career with a full-time nursing career can be a tough thing to pull off, but Atomic’s Lucy Sackbauer has it all figured out.
Working as a travel nurse through Montana, Idaho and Utah offers her to opportunity to ski huge backcountry lines on her days off in some of the best zones in the country. In the summer, Lucy shines as a multi-sport athlete, spending time bike racing and testing bikes for TGR. We caught up with her just as Idaho got its first big dump of the season, and she told us some secrets about the best ways to balance work and play.
TGR: You work full-time as a nurse, how do you do it? What’s the secret for balancing a full-time job with a ski career?
Lucy: I’ll start with a quick backstory here. So I went to nursing school in Bozeman, Montana and immediately got the ski schedule that everyone else did. You work or have class three days a week, and try to ski two days a week. After Bozeman, I went to Billings for my upper division courses. At that point I was doing freeski/big mountain tele comps. That year they had a circuit, kind of like a small version of the FWT, and I was balancing that with school. I would ski a half day and bring my textbook to the lodge and get my work done. It wasn’t ideal but I would at least get a few powder runs in the morning and then I’d go and cram some studying afterwards.
That’s kind of why I wanted to do nursing in the first place, because it was such a good work-life balance. Nurses, for the most part, work three 12-hour shifts, and then you have four to six days off. I didn't want to work five days a week and only get to ski on the weekends, so that was a big part in choosing nursing other than the fact that I do genuinely love taking care of people.
Having long stretches of off-days built into her schedule allows Sackbauer plenty of time to explore the ranges she calls home. Like Lucy's hat? Shop this Link. Photo: Courtesy of Ray Gadd
Sounds like the ultimate ski bum lifestyle.
Yes, but it gets even better! After graduating, I was in Salt Lake City for a bit, where I got a job at the Alta medical clinic right at the base of the mountain.
I was in the city one day a week at the cardiac ICU, and then three to four days at the clinic. The beauty of the clinic is that it’s also a really good work-life balance. My supervisor encourages the nurses to go skiing if there are no patients. So I get to take a patrol radio and go skiing until I get called in. I can kind hear what’s going on at the mountain as far as injuries, but more importantly I can also hear patrol calling the openings. So that’s crucial!
I did that for the three years at the clinic, but what I’m actually doing right now is travel nursing. You work in one place for three months and then you can just choose the next place. So with doing that, I can take time off in between. I’m finished in December and probably won’t pick up another assignment until May, so that I can ski! It’s good money, kind of like a job on a commercial fishing boat for the summer so you have money to save for the winter.
Best of all, I also have a career to fall back in case of injury or skiing just not working out.
It's generally frowned upon for nurses to drink before going into work, but champagne powder is a notable exception. Photo: Courtesy of Jay Dash
Alta was incredible last season, what was it like living up there?
I scored a house up at Alta, which was the best season of my life, I want to say! Utah was all-time, I could walk to work and ski home. I skied Keyhole home, which is one of those runs where you wait for the opening, and when the gate opens its usually one of the best powder runs of your life. So that was my commute home. There were a couple of really great interlodge days, where people got stuck down canyon, and my friend Mali and I would go open up the clinic real quick, grab a radio, and be out powder skiing until everyone else showed up!
It looked like you got into some more ski mountaineering style stuff last year, what motivated that?
Last winter, Mali and I wanted to be independent in the backcountry, we wanted to not have to worry about an experienced boy taking us up mountains, we wanted to be able to do it ourselves. So we took a Level 2 Avalanche course last December, skied at Alta all winter, and then started doing some bigger peaks in the Wasatch. There’s one line in Alta at Devil’s Castle that we really wanted to ski, but you needed a rope to get in and we were frustrated that we didn’t have those skills.
So, we decided to take a ski mountaineering course in the Sawtooths in the spring: The Sawtooths that time of year normally have a lot less snow, so ski mountaineering and rope skills are more necessary just to access big lines. A couple of the routes have mandatory rappels in the middle, but last season was so good that everything was filled in.
It might seem like a lot to balance but when you're skiing lines like this, who's going to complain? Photo: Courtesy of Wray Sinclair
How helpful was that ropework class, did you go into it with no experience?
It’s funny because I really don’t like rock climbing at all. I would say I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but as soon as ropes are involved, I get so scared. So I have never really done it. Mostly, I just wanted to know how to safely build an anchor and then rappel from it. I would say that kind of basic skills course is an awesome way to approach learning about this stuff.
Any big plans for more of that this year?
I don’t have any plans yet, and as far as ski mountaineering goes, I would say I am more of a big mountain skier that likes big lines. I wouldn’t prefer to do an objective that has rappels, but if it is a short rap into a big line that you can ski top-to-bottom, then I’m in. But going out to tackle a couloir that has three mandatory rappels? That’s not really my thing. I want to be able to use it to access lines I want to ski aggressively in a cool area.
I do have a list of peaks I want to do, in Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. Hopefully I’ll get some of those checked off the list!
Outside of helping skiers stay safe, Sackbauer moonlights as a mountain bike tester. Photo: Courtesy of Ray Gadd
It’s a long list! In Idaho, I would love to get on the Sickle Couloir on Horstmann Peak in the Sawtooths, which I actually bailed off twice last year because of conditions. Then there’s the Devil’s Bedstead in the Pioneer Range, the Cross Couloir on Mt. Holy Cross in Colorado and the Pfeifferhorn in the Wasatch. There’s a few for sure.
So with your new opportunity at Atomic, what’s next?
My ultimate dream since I was 12 and saw my first Warren Miller movie is filming, so I’m looking forward to pursuing that opportunity with my new friends at Atomic. They are also doing some exciting things in the women’s ski world, so I am stoked to be involved with that in the future too!