It’s the end of February and I’ve officially been working as a lifty for almost three months. At first, I thought I’d only be up on the mountain three to four days a week. Right at the beginning of training, our manager said to us: “If you’re here for the money or the pass, it probably won’t work out for you.”
Oh shit, I thought. Obviously, I was there for the pass! I already knew the money was crap, so I kind of figured I’d find myself in a different employment situation within a couple of months. I was scheduled for three days a week at first, but then the three days turned into four, then five… and all of a sudden I found myself living the full-blown “lifty life” up on the mountain. It’s fucking awesome.
Physically, it’s been by far the most demanding job I’ve ever had. We’re constantly shoveling, raking, lifting, hiking, pushing, pulling – you name it. Of course, in addition to all that, I’m snowboarding. All. The. Time. We get an hour (or more, depending on who’s in charge) long “ride break” every day, so if you add that to the riding we do to/from the lifts, during bathroom breaks, etc., it’s a LOT of riding around. Naturally, all this has led to noticeable improvement – I feel more confident out there than ever before, and it’s a blast to ride around with “shred crews.”
Some people working up there just started riding or skiing this year, which is awesome, props to them, but it’s kind of crazy to work there if you don’t already shred or want to learn how. Obviously I love snowboarding, otherwise I would not be up there, but I’m not trying to be the next Jamie Anderson or anything like that (if you don’t know who she is then check her out, she’s the bomb). I just like having fun. Lots of people take it waaaaay too seriously, and taking ANYTHING too seriously in my eyes leads to discontentment… so it’s really about finding balance, literally and figuratively.
Fun fact: I am now a human garbage disposal. Thanks to the combination of lack of funds and constant physical exertion, pretty much anything that tastes good or fills me up a bit is welcome into my tummy. Hey, are you gonna eat that? Cool, thanks, nom nom nom. Whose soup is this? Are these for anyone to eat? Do you have any chocolate? Wait, .25 cent tacos? Sign me up! You don’t know where this beef came from? I don’t give a shit.
That being said… wow, I feel awesome. I’ve definitely lost a little weight from all the movement and likely the altitude, so putting on those tights after work feels better than ever. I mean, snowboarding is basically like doing squats all day. All of us lady liftys have been relishing in the fact that our butts look pretty killer right now. It feels good to feel good, right?
Besides all the physical benefits, the real reason I’ve found myself living the lifty lifestyle is because of the people. There’s just something different about the mentality working there – as my manager mentioned, we are NOT there for the money, and that’s been tough in some ways, but honestly, I feel so rich. As Bob Marley once said – “Possessions make you rich? I don’t have that type of richness. My richness is life.”
For real though. There’s a term up there called “mountain therapy”, which is spot-on. Spending my days outside breathing the cold, fresh air, raising my vibrations with the volcano, laughing and fooling around with friends who’ve become family, it’s all mountain therapy, and given me something far more valuable than any money could offer. I feel a web of support, community, and shared stoke with those around me.
My fondness for unbarred ridiculousness has definitely been beneficial – there’s lots of room to mess around and have a good time up there. The other day it started to “R-word” (which is code for rain), so we were all pretty bored hanging around in the lift shack. One of my co-workers broke into this crazy character named “Dale the Stairbuilder”, an old, mentally inept man with a southern drawl and serious commitment to building snow stairs around the resort. He went on and on for a solid 30 minutes in this hilarious accent about the stairs that needed to be built for guests and how people’s lives depended on them. I pretty much died laughing as he went on to call our top operator and continue in this ridiculous accent for a while. I’m still cracking up just sitting here typing it.
Along with “mountain therapy”, an arsenal of new vocabulary has infiltrated my brain. Never before have the words “shred” and “gaper” been uttered from my lips with such frequency. See Urban Dictionary (with my own additions):
gaper (adj., noun): a skier or snowboarder who is completely clueless. Usually distinguished by their bright colored clothes/jeans, and a “gaper gap” (the space between a person’s goggles and their helmet/hat). If riding the chairlift, tends to sit on one side and fuck up the chair balance. Does not heed posted signs, falls off the lifts, tends to ask which chair lift they are riding, etc. Also known for clipping riders below them, sitting underneath jumps and cliffs, etc. See also: Jerry (of East Coast origin)
^That description is not entirely accurate. I’ve actually noticed that some of the gaper-est looking folks (coveralls, mismatching bright clothing, onesies) are the shreddiest shredders. Some actual gapers tend to be all dressed up and trying way too hard to look good. Thanks to some experience actually working on the mountain and constantly being around the culture, I think I’m less of a gaper now than ever before. Possibly not a gaper at all? It’s hard to say. I don’t mind looking like a total idiot sometimes in order to have fun.
I’ve also become Eskimo-like in diverse usage of words for snow. Who knew there were so many versions?! Pow, powder, piste, cheddar, chunder, mashed potatoes, cream cheese, groom… so many different ways to say it. I also like to make fun of some of the snow-bros.. the dudes who are like “I GOT FIRST CHAIR ON HRM TODAY BRO” or “yeah man, I just wanna shred the gnar, man.”
Don’t worry, I’m totally guilty of bragging about catching the “freshies” up there, too. The cool thing about the mountain is that we all share the same goal of having a great time, getting outside, and enjoying the moment – so I’m never actually serious ragging on folks. Just like everyone else, I’m only doing my best.
Have I mentioned how amazing the chicks in Lift Ops are? Because, um, holy crap, these ladies are awesome. Of course they are! I’ve never met so many rad chicas with similar mentalities as me (besides abroad in hostels). Most of us are outrageously supportive of each other mentally, physically, and spiritually. I’m pretty sure all our cycles are linking up with the full moon as well, so that’s pretty badass. However, I have to mention something – the mountain has a Girl Problem.
What do I mean by Girl Problem? Well, first off, there aren’t as many chicks up there, which is a bummer, and there especially aren’t enough chicks who go hard. I recently came across this article about how we teach girls “it’s cute to be scared” – that parents are more likely to shame their daughters for doing something physically risky than their sons. This is especially visible up on the mountain, where I’d say 65 percent of skiers and snowboarders are dudes. This number greatly increases the closer you get to intimidating terrain or park features.
Most resorts have a “park crew” that maintains all the parks so they are safe(ish) and fun to hit. I recently discovered that out of 18 or so people in our resort’s park crew, only TWO are female. There’s something wrong with that. It’s not like it’s anyone’s fault in particular – it’s just the outcome of a societal attitude when it comes to females and risk.
Especially when it comes to extreme sports – it’s not that we ladies are less capable of hitting the hard stuff. Women are just taught to avoid scary situations, whereas men are taught to embrace them. Fear is something that plays out almost every single day in women’s lives professionally, physically, and mentally, and it’s something that we must work to transcend. Luckily, when it comes to skiing/snowboarding there are female “ride days” and organizations working to get more women out on the slopes. I can only hope that in 10 years I’ll see far more chicks out there just merking on some guys in the park, or that the staffing in all the mountain departments becomes more equal male to female. But we have to encourage this.
For now, I just hope to inspire females everywhere to get out and DO what you want! Even if it’s scary, even if you’re not sure you’re cut out for it, especially if you’ve never done it before. I’d say there are about eight weeks left in my first season up on Mt. Hood, and I’m super grateful for my experience so far. The journey continues…
About the author:
Kelsey Rains is a writer, editor, world traveler, and entrepreneur mostly based out of Portland, Oregon. Kelsey’s first ventures into writing and traveling started in college when she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for five months. The experience left her speechless (for once) and she vowed to continue journeying through her 20’s. Kelsey has worked all sorts of jobs, but her main passion is writing and creating. She hopes to encourage others to fearlessly follow their passions and live fully in each moment. Like “Kelsey Rains” on Facebook, or check out her writing here: www.kelseycreating.com