Ski patrols, still 80 percent male, have long had a reputation for being boys’ clubs. These women are starting to change that.
Note: This issue, we took a special look at women in snowsports. For more about that, head here.
Peg Doheney served as Jay Peak’s ski patrol director for over 30 years, until she retired in May 2018. She still patrols part-time and sits on the Governor’s Council for Search and Rescue. Kaitlyn Fowle has been patrolling for 13 years, the last three as head of Bolton Valley Resort’s ski patrol. Stowe Mountain Resort, home to the oldest ski patrol in North America, hired its first female patrol director, Karen Wagner, in 2019. And in 2017, National Ski Patrol, the industry’s professional organization, hired Meegan Moszynski, a Middlebury College grad, to serve as its first female executive director. How are they seeing ski patrolling change?
Why are patrols still only 20 percent women?
Peg: I think it’s still a male-dominated industry, but each patrol unit can have a very different culture. For us at Jay Peak, it helped having a woman as a director early on. I started in the 1980s during a period when we were expanding, and we’ve had a lot of women on patrol since that time. Once you get that culture going, people are really supportive. We’ve had sisters, daughters and mothers on patrol together. We’ve had our share of patrol marriages too.
Karen: I think we’ve had a different experience here at Stowe, Peg. Women have
been members of our patrol unit since the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that a woman passed a toboggan test here. That baffles me. I think it speaks to the machismo that prevailed back then. When I started here in 1993, I was one of two women on patrol. Now, there are 8 or 9 of us—and those women are amazing patrollers. I look at the national numbers and hope we will surpass that 25 percent mark at Stowe soon.
Meegan: National leadership and division leadership in ski patrol is definitely still male dominated. We have had women on the national board before, but when I started in this role two years ago, there were no women. This year, there are three. That said, I’ve never encountered a biased attitude against women. The low numbers are something we’d like to figure out.
Kaitlyn: I’ve not really encountered any bias from fellow patrollers, either here at Bolton or when I patrolled at Smuggs. But I do still get that from skiers. I had one injured guy who refused to get in my sled when I arrived on the scene. He kept asking, ‘But who’s going to help me get down?’ and wanting to wait for a man. I finally told him if he didn’t go down with me, he was going to have to walk down.
What does it take to be a ski patroller?
Peg: At Jay, we like to joke that patrol is like a big dysfunctional family. People come from all walks of life and the relationships you form as a unit are really important. I like to think my best quality as a leader was letting people do what they do best—recognizing diverse skill sets and not forcing them into roles they didn’t want or excel at. Bottom line: Patrolling is a hard job. You’re on a mountain in all kinds of weather, and it’s a lot of work and training for not a lot of money. You’ve got to be able to help people laugh sometimes.
Kaitlyn: I think people are starting to recognize that women can bring valuable leadership skills to a team, and in patrols that’s critical.
Is there a “glass ceiling” in the ski patrol world or at ski areas?
Karen: I don’t believe there is. Women have gone all the way in our industry. At Vail Resorts, the head of our Mountain Division is a woman, Pat Campbell.
Peg: I agree. At so many of our mountains in Vermont, there isn’t a lot of upward mobility regardless of gender. At Jay Peak—our heads of grooming, mountain operations and lift operations have been there almost as long as I have. I think young women certainly feel they can do anything they want to do. I want to believe that.
Meegan: There isn’t a lot of turnover in this industry, and if you look at the statistics, it has historically been male-dominated. Despite that, this is an industry that is welcoming toward women and relishes more women in leadership. I want the message to be to women: come join us.
What’s changing at your ski areas?
Karen: I am actually the regional rep for Vail Resorts’ POWDER Initiative (see “How Vail Resorts is Changing Ski Industry Leadership“). As a staff, we just participated in a company-wide seminar on unconscious bias at Okemo this fall, and I’d like to host one here at Stowe. We used the Harvard Implicit Bias Test. The hope is that down the road, when there is some critical choice to be made or words to be said, that somebody will recognize their bias and not allow it to cloud their judgement.
But the endgame is recruiting and promoting women through the leadership journey. We are having conversations we’ve never had at Stowe—I hear coworkers and leadership talking about flexibility in the workplace, helping people of all genders with childcare needs. The train has left the station.
For more about Vail Resorts’ POWDER Initiative, head here.
Kaitlyn: I really don’t see any bias now at Bolton Valley and it’s great to have a leader like Lindsay DesLauriers at the top.
Featured Photo: Peg Doheny served as Jay Peak’s first woman patrol director for more than 30 years. During that time, she built a legacy of women in leadership on the squad and revolutionized their approach to searching for missing skiers. Photo courtesy Peg Doheny.