Lift Maintenance: Because Ski Patrol Needs Heroes Too!
Have you ever been at a Ski Resort, and noticed the "Men in Black?" Stoic, usually bearded, helmeted, clad in radios and Scarpa Ski workboots; you may at first mistake these guys for Security. But, take another look, or better yet; go up and introduce yourself to one and shake their hand. These "Men in Black" are your Resort's Lift Maintenance crew, and they are solely responsible for the upkeep, maintenance, safety and security of those chairlifts that take you up and down during your ski day. Many people are familiar with who these guys are and what they do, but many are not. The common misconception is that it is ONLY Ski Patrol and Lift Operators who clear the mountain and run the chairlifts for public. But, as we like to say on the mountain..."Ski Patrol Needs Heroes Too."
In order to honor these elusive, behind-the-scenes purveyors of mountain-magic makers; we've sat down for a face-to-face interview with one! We're presenting Casey Jovani, former Senior Lift Maintenance Mechanic at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, CA. We've asked him a few questions to help all of you out there better understand the behind-the-scenes magic that these "Men in Black" create!
How long have you worked for Kirkwood Mountain Resort, and how long have you been working in Lift Maintenance as a Chairlift Mechanic? What has led you up to this point; and where are you going from here?
"Hi! I've worked for Kirkwood since July 5th, 2012, but I have been doing Lift Maintenance for 14 years and working in the Ski Industry for 16 years. I first started out when I was 15 years old at a small resort in Lake Geneva, WI, called "Grand Geneva" where I worked as a Ski Rental Tech. Now, this industry has turned into my life, my passion, and my career and it has really become home to me. It's going to be a sad day when I no longer come out to Kirkwood, but I've recently accepted an offer with a Chairlift Construction Company based out of Utah called "SkyTrac." I'll be travelling all over North America installing, building, and engineering ski lifts. It's like a dream come true!"
Why/How is Lift Maintenance different from any other department on the mountain, such as Ski School or Ski Patrol?
"Every department on the Mountain has a very important role in making sure every guest has a great and safe experience when they come. Other than exact job duties, one of the many things that makes Lift Maintenance different is that most people don't even realize that there is a Lift Maintenance Department. I'd say that most people think we're Security! (Haha)."
Why Kirkwood? What is it about Kirkwood that makes it stand out from other resorts in the Tahoe Basin? Kirkwood is known as a pretty serious skiier's mountain with steep lines and deep powder. How does that affect your position with Lift Maintenance?
"Why Kirkwood? Well honestly, it was the only resort in Tahoe that had an opening at the time in their Lift Maintenance Department. I had never been there until the day of my interview. It's easy to fall in love with this mountain; every day is an adventure. Kirkwood is the only mountain in the Basin that's a Class-A Avalanche area. That's what sets it apart from other ski areas around!"
So many people aren't aware that Lift Mechanics even exist-I worked on the mountain seasonally for years and used to be one of them! Many believe that Ski Patrol is in charge of opening the mountain to public. Can you tell me more about this and how Lift Mechanics are the "Unsung Heroes" of the Mountain Resorts?
"Patrol does have a huge part in opening the resort; in fact every department at any resort has a huge role in the successful operation of the mountain. What Lift Maintenance does is make sure that every single guest and employee has a safe ride when on a ski lift. Contrary to what many may think; we are actually on the mountain and opening the lifts for Ski Patrol and Lift Operations every morning. We're the first ones up there, every single morning. Someone has to open the lifts for the Patrollers! We've been known to be called "unsung heroes" but really we all just love what we do; we don't need a pat on the back. We just need to see the lifts keep spinning to put a smile on our faces!"
What is the most important aspect of your job? What does a typical day in the life of a Lift Mechanic look like?
"Hands down, the most important aspect of this job is making sure that everyone and anyone that uses a chairlift gets a safe and non-stop ride to the top. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes in the morning, everyday, at night, and all Summer long to make sure that happens."
What are some of the Risks/Dangers of this job? What have been some of the most harrowing experiences you've had on the mountain while employed with Kirkwood? Which, as we now know, is a Class-A Avalanche Area?
"There are many risks and dangers to this job, wish I could list them all but I'll just take on one. De-icing the Chairlift Towers is one of the most fun/dangerous things we do in the Winter, and we have to do this when the towers freeze up and the "shives" (wheels on the towers) won't spin. We'll harness up, and climb the frozen towers and clear all the ice off by smacking every shive with a bar, then we'll stay on top of the tower while another mechanic starts the lift just to confirm that everything is running properly.
One event comes to mind when I think of "harrowing experiences" at Kirkwood, the first one that comes to mind was from last season when we were experiencing record-breaking historic snowfall. We were in the middle of a huge storm cycle, and I drove to Kirkwood at 5:30am. Once I got to the shop, we heard that the road getting to Kirkwood (Carson Pass) was going to close due to avalanche danger; it was my "Friday" that day and my boss knew I had plans to leave town the next day so he let me leave early so I could make it home before the pass closed. So, I drove as quickly as I could to make it back down over Carson Pass. Once I got there, I was relieved to see the road still open, and as I'm making my way down the pass around 6am, pitch black, whiteout conditions, I suddenly felt a huge JOLT and realized I had just driven into an avalanche that had just come down, covering the entire road. Luckily, I had put new snow tires on my truck the day before, so after a few minutes rocking back and forth, I was able to get my truck out. Unfortunately, my only exit was driving in reverse back the way I came. The way that story ends, is that I ended up getting stuck at Kirkwood for the rest of that storm cycle for the next 35 hours!"
..."Because Ski Patrol needs Heroes Too...."