Jax n’ Lance here for a very special feature on Jackson Hole Ski Patrol featuring Jen Calder who is the assistant director.
Last March, Jen “broke ski patrol’s ice ceiling” by becoming the first woman ever in JHMR’s 50 years to assume a management position under the newly appointed Drew Kneeland. Drew was previously the assistant director. Tom Bartlett (30 years on ski patrol) rounds out the management team as the other assistant director. It is a new crop of leaders bringing on innovation and change that the patrol is really excited about. For Jen, “it is a true honor.” And for this little girl asking for an autograph, Jen is her hero!
So where do we even start with a group as special as the JHSP and Jen who is rocking her 19th year on board. The Ski Patrol are an extremely special breed. They are swift, silent, and zoom around all day long protecting us as we enjoy our ski days.
The group of 82 (57 full time, 25 part time) have tenures that range from rookies to 40 years experience on board. They are a family that would do anything for each other and in any case, have each others back. A unit that runs so smooth that you don’t even notice that they are there. Although, we should take a moment and give them a big high 5 for all of their hard work!
When you walk into a ski patrol room, especially that at the “Big Top” (top of the tram), you feel like you just entered a sacred room with so many memories, keepsakes and bonds that you almost feel intimidated to take a seat. Yet, with open arms, they will welcome you in to share a laugh and some stories.
Their unit runs like a machine. Each member has marching orders and their efficiency and attention detail is incredible. Beyond their normal daily routines, there are many additional patrol responsibilities that are very important for morale that include but are not limited to the syrup boss, popcorn boss, beer boss, uniform boss, party boss and even fashion police. No joke!
Their season starts and finishes well beyond the “ski season at JHMR.” As early as October they are in a multitude of training seminars and advanced sessions worldwide to stay dialed.
One thing that was amazing for us to see was that as terrain opens since the Gondi in 1997, the same number of patrollers get the job done like a charm. With each new lift, new patrol zones must come to play. New hazards appear, new barriers and new routes to clear every morning. The split is currently 50 people in a day with 35 off of the tram and 15 up white spider.
Flat out, they are heroes of the mountain. Working tirelessly to keep us safe.
Jen grew up in New England and started skiing at 4 years old. Ever since those first turns the dream began to find her way to a life at a ski resort. While attending CU Boulder for college, her version of a Spring Break trip her senior year was going to Jackson Hole. The minute she set foot in the Tetons her mind was made up. Jen graduated, packed her car up, and headed to Jackson. Jen did everything under the sun to make ends meet to live the ski bum life. Jobs included but were not limited to day care, cleaning houses, serving at the Calico and The Moose, as well as gardening. She even worked a season at the old ski shop that was in the Casper Lodge one year for a pass. Her first job coaching gymnastics at the old Wilson school in the early 90’s sealed the deal. With gymnastics, they would pack up and go to many schools, and she became close with the community right off of the bat. Then her dream came true and she gained a slot on ski patrol. Today it still stands as her “dream job and she wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Jen is a proud mom of Bode (10 years old) and her husband Joe. He is just as tough as the assistant director of ski patrol for the last 10 years at Grand Targhee Resort. Being on ski patrol for 19 years means that as a wee baby Bode was on the way to the resort as well for many years. Other ski patrol moms would find ways to hire out day care before the mountain day care started to ensure they were in the MOB on time. This meant very early mornings over the pass to get to work on time.
An interesting story of Jen is how she met her husband. Low and behold in 1999, Joe hurt his knee at the resort and Jen was the first responder to the accident. It was a magical moment, yet they were in other relationships. A couple years later they were both single and a fellow patroller Kathryn Miller re-introduced them at a ski patrol party. They have been together every since. Kathryn and Jen were extremely close beyond Kathryn’s matchmaking skills. 7 years ago they were very sad to lose Kathryn in a recon mission in Spacewalk in an accident where she experienced head trauma and passed away. The patrol honors her daily with stickers and other memorabilia.
Jen’s favorite runs of all are the early am runs or pm sweeps. We were honored to catch her in that moment as we followed along a few mornings ago with Jen and Frosty for an avy control run. Bliss and a huge grin from ear to ear as the mountain was silent and 4 skiers enjoyed first tracks down what would become a big powder day for the public. She also loves backcountry skiing in Targhee and Jenson Canyon. You can also find her swapping out powder skis for a day cross country skiing.
In the summer, Jen owns a landscaping business in Teton County. She can also be found biking (road or mountain), fishing and enjoying river trips.
Jen’s favorite part of ski patrol continues to be the comradery. There are so many moments in time that occur creating social intimate bonds where they are reliant on each other in life and death situations. Jen explains it as “intensity creates intense relationships.” It is a department where you are dealing with injuries, fatalities and really hard stuff.
Yet as much work as it is, it is all smiles when it snows.
In the end, we were curious to look at a day in the life of Jen on Ski Patrol as they are known to be “first on, last off” and pull 10 hour days consistently. It looks something like this:
A Day In The Life Of JHMR Ski Patrol: “Best Job In The World”
RPK ratings: This is the snow and wind deposits expected for the following day. Ranges from RPK 1 to RPK 3.
5-5:20am: RPK 2 or 3 arrival for some patrollers.
6am: Up Gondi, begin route 4 skin.
On a RPK 1 day: Jen Calder*
Place a rescue or responding to an accident at any point in time.
6am: Breakfast at home, make sure Bode (10-year-old son) is all set for the day, head out the door to get over the pass, parked and in the MOB by 7.
7am: In the MOB (RPK 1). Meetings immediately commence with Sparky (avalanche hazard reduction leader), avalanche crew, and guides (some days up to 15 of them). Weather and the day’s snow conditions and avalanche hazards are discussed.
7:00am: Some are up on the tram to prep for higher start zones and 2 dispatchers are already at their station up top.
7:30am: Last tram up. Morning Patrol meeting takes place and everyone disseminates information. Everyone deploys schedules and 4 duty stations.
7:40: Preparation at the “Big Top” and everyone is out on their routes.
7:45am-8:00: Out in various groups and zones doing an explosive run in a system on top of the mountain working the way down ensuring the safety of all of our lives.
8-9: Big am set up continues.
9am: Resort opens and ski patrol has a quick moment to catch their breath and have a 2nd breakfast. A rule in ski patrol is to never get below your lunch. The philosophy for the entire day is Ski boots on – hungry, Ski boots off – thirsty.
9:15: Maintenance work begins to “keep the mountain standing tall” with pads, signs, and hazards. Then clearing out toboggans, and first aid gear. Wind, snow etc. all effect ropes, and signs. There is a base patroller constantly checking the base for any issues or hazards. It becomes an ebon flow all day long of checking every section of the mountain.
11’ish: Sparky is ensuring that all avalanche hazard reduction routes are covered with staff for the next day: It is a magical system of filling in any weaknesses from folks that are off due to injury, or on special projects.
12’ish: Lunch. Jen’s selection of the day was soup, salad, fruit and always having a granola bar in hand. Some days it is very healthy to off set the amazing waffles next door.
2pm: Headwall closes with a headwall sweep.
4pm: Sweep commences top down in the same format as the morning.
5pm: Take a load off with other patrollers in the “Boom Boom Room”
7pm: Home with family
*If there is any down time, they continuously keeping all of their skills fresh with various drills all over the resort to be prepared and on top of any situation that might come into play.
So the next time you spot one of the members of ski patrol, please give them a huge token of gratitude. It is because of them that all of our powder turns are possible.
Thank you Jen! And thank you to your incredible team!
And in honor of Jen, GO PATRIOTS!