All Work and Snow Play- Career Advice From Utah’s Seasoned Ski Bums

It’s a ski bum’s tragic reality: when livin’ the dream takes
a backseat to a “real” job, and the art of powder chasing becomes the curse of
pencil pushing. But for this dedicated crew of people, a simple wintertime
hobby has turned into a lifelong job, whether intentionally or not. The result:
a successful combination of skills and passion that can’t be captured on a
one-page resume. Meet the professional ski bums of Utah.

 

 

Van Edgette

Alta, Lift Department
Director, 38 years

 

There’s no reason to question anything that Van Edgette
tells you. After all, he’s devoted the last 38 years to Alta and knows the ins
and outs of the mountain – and its ski-only policies – better than you. So when
he told me to bring my snowboard and meet him at the resort’s Sunnyside lift on
a recent winter’s morning, I obliged.

 

As director of Alta’s lift department, Edgette can, to some
degree, do what he wants to do. Like, for instance, bringing a journalist up Alta’s
lifts on a snowboard. Dumbstruck by my once-in-a-lifetime fortune, I ask Edgette
if he often has the power to make new rules at Alta. “Nah,” he responds as we
skate past the confused lifties. “I don’t make the rules. I break them.”

 

Fortunately, Alta’s slow pace works in his favor. Most of
the lifts may have been swapped out and upgraded throughout his lift department
tenure, but the laid-back, carefree vibe remains the same. “You gotta screw up
pretty bad to get kicked out of Alta,” he says after an unsuccessful attempt to
sneak me on another lift. “I hope I didn’t do that today.”

 

Edgette, who wasn’t a skier at the time, moved to Alta in
the mid-70s simply to hang out. Of course, he quickly learned how to ski during
his first season as a liftie, which required at least some basic skill to get
down from Albion lift, and he hasn’t missed a winter since. But even then,
skiing wasn’t his only priority. “I used to bring my guitar to the lift, and a
few of us used to jam all the time. In the buckhorn, at the top of the lift…
Ron, [a former ski patroller and Edgette’s old fiddle-playing friend], even
dropped by last month, and we jammed out like we did back then.”

 

No matter how many upgrades are made or high-speed,
detachable lifts are installed, it’s clear that Alta, and Edgette’s enthusiasm,
is rooted in a longevity that transcends any ski trend. “The scene is pretty
much the same,” reflects Edgette. “It’s the old school mentality here. People
come to Alta to ski. Not for the service or the food. The people here just like
to have a good time. It’s like any big family, where everyone knows everyone.”

 

 

Peter “Mongo” Schory

Snowbird, Winter
Mountain Operations Director, 40 years

Peter “Mongo” Schory has amassed a long resume of mountain
jobs since growing up in Aspen, but for the past 40 years, he’s called Snowbird
home. Quite literally, too. In the last seven months, Mongo, a longstanding
employee housing resident, can count the number of times he’s driven down
Little Cottonwood on one hand. “My job is to be here,” he explains to me from the
resort’s ski patrol shack atop Hidden Peak.

 

True, he’s got a few responsibilities being Snowbird’s
director of winter operations who oversees a couple hundred employees, but he’s
taken it upon himself to be more of a paternal role model than an iron-fisted
boss. “Everyone loves me,” he says jokingly, before explaining his rationale. “I
try to manage, mentor, coach and be a historian. I’d be disappointed if all of
[my employees] didn’t believe in me.”

 

When he first started at Snowbird, Mongo, whose typical
work-ski-party-ski-work-ski routine could have been the premise for any cult
classic ski movie, was working his way up the ski patrol ranks and wasn’t so
concerned with taking such a humanitarian approach. “We were a bunch of skiers
that wanted to throw bombs and ski pow,” he recalls. But while that’s still a
perk for the rookie and veteran patrollers every year, Mongo notes that the
role of a ski patroller has certainly evolved. “People can’t do stupid things
and get away with it anymore. You have to be more accountable. At any time,
this mountain can take you out.”

 

As former director of the snow safety and ski patrol
departments, Mongo and his red coat brethren do all they can to help skiers and
riders – including themselves – avoid the wrath of Ma Nature. With a few dozen howitzers,
avalaunchers and hand charge routes in Snowbird’s possession, the
responsibility to keep people safe comes with some serious power. “It’s a tough
game. Lots of liability and machinery. But it’s a great lifestyle,” he says.

 

So great, in fact, that it’s hard for him to trump his own
skiing accomplishments, personally and professionally, when he chooses to bow
out of the ski business. “When I leave here, I’ll probably never ski again,” he
says. “Once you’ve tasted the good stuff, everything else is crud. I’ve always
been based out of here. Sure, I’ve skied all over the world, but I come back
here. It’s a great home base.”

 

 

Jared Bradley

Snowbasin, Assistant
Ski Patrol Director, 15 years

Jared Bradley might have a few more years to rack up before earning
veteran status, but it’s all relative given Snowbasin’s fairly young history.
Though the mountain began operating its first ski tow in 1939, its current
ownership dates back only 28 years, making Bradley’s 15-year tenure at the
mountain sit on the longer side of the spectrum.

 

At 18, Bradley, who grew up skiing the Ogden-area mountains,
shuffled around various jobs at Snowbasin before joining the ranks of ski
patrol at the start of his third season. And while he’s held the title as
assistant ski patrol director for the past two years, it’s evident that he’s
seen the resort evolve since his rookie year on the team. “It was like the
military when we started,” he says. “There was a chain of command, and you
didn’t talk out of order. Those old ski patrol guys followed protocol. If we
ever center-punched a run, we’d get an automatic unpaid two-week vacation. I
once had to wash the dishes because I laughed at something the patrol director
said.”

 

That same year, the mountain had seen a few other dramatic changes
in preparation for the 2002 Olympics. The addition of two gondolas, a
high-speed quad and a tram in a single year meant doubling the size of the
original 18-person crew and moving their headquarters into portable trailers while
the base area was expanding. And with a slew of young twenty-somethings,
including Bradley, all starting at the same time, Snowbasin’s patrol team adopted
a more energetic attitude that’s characteristic of today’s red coat squad. Anymore,
says Bradley, “It’s like a second family. There’s lots of teasing,” and notes
that this interview will likely cost him a six-pack donation to the patrol
shack’s fridge. “Ski patrol and beer go hand in hand,” he continues, adding
that he doesn’t drink. “But no one complains when I bring root beer.”

 

At any rate, he’s here to ski. That’s apparent as I watch
him spin a few 180s on the groomers and lead me down a closed run filled with
old but untracked, buttery snow. “I’m lucky if I get 10 runs in a day,” he
says, perhaps somewhat disappointed in the total. But he’s quick to add that
he’s also lucky that his job involves doing something he loves, especially for the
last 15 years (and counting).

 

 

Dave Smith

Deer Valley, Lead
Groomer, 33 years

 

His office might be small, but Dave Smith doesn’t mind the
tradeoff. Because as one of Deer Valley’s lead groomers, Smith undoubtedly has
the best view on the mountain. His office, a three-passenger, 25,000-pound
snowcat that sits on a 500 horsepower engine, is purring as we’re crawling to
the top of Bald Mountain. And from what I can tell, he’s buzzing with just as
much energy.  “I’m hooked on these cats,”
he suddenly says, as if reading my mind. “The power is intoxicating.”

 

Smith, who was raised in the Salt Lake valley, was an Alta
kid growing up, but found himself burnt out on the Cottonwood scene toward the
end of his teenage year. In 1977, he moved to Park City for the skiing, when
Deer Valley was still a pipedream. But that didn’t stop him from hassling the
emerging resort into giving him a job. “I wanted to work at a resort, though I
had no idea why,” he says. “I was just a punk kid at the time.” With some
persistence, Smith landed a spot on Deer Valley’s summer trail crew in 1980 and
was tasked with building ski runs and glading what he now believes to be the
best tree skiing in Utah. “The first day on the job, we were clearing some
trees and a 500-pound boulder comes down the slope, barely missing us,” he
recalls. “I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”

 

Those initial doubts blew away as quickly as the first storm
of the 1981-82 winter, the same season Deer Valley began cranking its lifts for
the first time. Once his summer gig ended, Smith transitioned into the grooming
department and took the controls of a Thiokol 3700 snowcat. “It was love at
first sight with the cats,” he remembers. “Been hooked on ‘em ever since.”

 

Now in his 33rd year, Smith joins a crew of 25-30
other employees who continue to tally up another winter at Deer Valley since
the resort’s inaugural season. Throughout his tenure, he’s watched the resort
grow up from its original five-lift layout and bring bigger talent to the
mountain. “This place changed after the Olympics. And once they started
building out Empire, that added more challenge.”

 

As for a new challenge of his own? “I’d like to work
somewhere else. See what’s on the other side,” he contemplates, before quickly
changing his mind. “Maybe not. I’m in it for the long haul. Some of us, we’re
gonna be walking to our cats with walkers. What else am I gonna do? I’m in too
deep.”

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