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Cool Jobs Q&A: Ski Patroller

Maclean’s Cool Jobs series: Marcus Waring, a ski patroller at Whistler-Blackcomb, explains how he climbed to the peak to get his current gig


 

MARCUS WARING, 29

  • Ski Patroller, Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort, Whistler, B.C.
  • Education and training: University of Anchorage, two-year kinesiology program; Helicopter ski guide in Valdez, Alaska; Rope-access technician; Paramedic certificate, Justice Institute of British Columbia; Certified blaster, WorkSafe B.C. (in-house training at Whistler Blackcomb, followed by a one- to three-year apprenticeship and a final exam); Avalanche operations and skills courses accredited by the Canadian Avalanche Association
  • Average yearly income: $13,440-$25,920 (November to May)
  • Years on the job: 7

How did you get into this field?

I was working in Alaska as a ski guide, and I came back to visit my family and a friend. I shadowed him while he was ski patrolling for a day or two. I really liked the job and had the opportunity to apply.

Describe a typical day.

We wake up early and do the avalanche-control work. That’s where we use explosives to try to minimize the hazard to the public of avalanches inside the resort.  Then we come back down and do a trail check. We make sure there are no unforeseen hazards on any of the open terrain. Then we record all the avalanche occurrences in a large database. We may do some first aid and some trail marking.

How do you decide what you need to blow up?

Avalanche science is a bit of a soft science. There are a couple of basic rules of thumb. We know what types of terrain are capable of producing avalanches. We take the weather into consideration and look at snow loads and snow distribution, and at historical data.

What skills do you need to do this job well?

You need excellent decision-making skills under pressure. And you need to be a keen and confident skier. We work in some very adverse conditions; a lot of the terrain just isn’t accessible any other way. You need to be very fit.

What are the pros and cons of this role?

I love to ski, so by default I love this job. The environment is beautiful. We have the best office in the world and we work in really tight teams with great teamwork. The downside is that it takes up the majority of my winter. Everyone’s got to find a summer job as soon as the season ends. In the summer, I work as a paramedic.

What’s the most challenging part?

It’s making decisions under pressure that have consequences. You’re responsible for people who are going to be skiing on the terrain right after you declare it open.

Most memorable moment on the job?

Any day when we wake up and we’ve got great skiing with a little bit of visibility, and we get to run around the mountain with explosives and go skiing with friends, it’s a great day.

Is it dangerous?

I suppose, relative to other jobs, it could be considered dangerous. The mountain doesn’t want to broadcast that it’s even a possibility for an avalanche to happen inside [the resort], but we’re constantly training for that scenario. Fortunately, we have a great safety record.

Advice for aspiring ski patrollers?

Only consider this as an option if you love the mountains and have a good source of summer income. Make sure that your priority is having a lifestyle in the mountains.


 
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