Having a blast on the mountain
Marti Irish and crew spent summers at the ski area going through pounds of explosives
January 5, 2013
From the very beginning, Marti Irish and David Crisler had a little extra kaboom in their relationship.
Crisler was in charge of the blasting crew on Mount Werner in 1979, when Irish, itching to ditch her desk job, signed on to the original Beaver Crew of seven women who spent their summers clearing the ski trails of brush.
As Steamboat Ski Area celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, Irish and Crisler are looking forward to their 25th wedding anniversary this summer. Irish spent 14 years blowing things up at the ski area, and Crisler has worked in the slope maintenance department for 43 years. He currently is director of slope maintenance.
Crisler and Irish aren't the only long-tenured ski mountain couple; current Director of Lift Operations Deb Werner has been with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. for 40 years, and her husband, Loris "Bugs" Werner, is the former ski school director, mountain manager and vice president of operations.
In the late 1980s, the Beaver Crew members roamed the ski slopes preventing chokecherry bushes and aspen saplings from reclaiming groomed intermediate ski trails.
"It was a physical outdoor job," Irish recalled.
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In the meantime, Crisler ran a crew that specialized in blowing up rocks. When he decided to transition into another role, Irish — a native of Brunswick, Maine — asked her boss if she could go to blasting school.
"Davey was the blaster, but he didn't want to do that," Irish said. So, off she went to Issaquah, Wash., to apprentice at the side of legendary explosives expert Albert Taeller. There, she learned to execute complex electric shots that set off explosives in controlled sequences that manipulated the direction of an explosion.
"You learned to (create explosions) in increments and under more control," she said.
Loris Werner would tell you that it takes more than a few explosions to make a family friendly ski area.
When Irish returned to Steamboat, she was ready to supervise a crew that included Wes Richey and Thane Anderson as they blew up boulders to make it easier to groom ski trails, blasted holes for new chairlift towers, and cleared rocks in order to form new snowmaking pipelines.
In the 1980s, the crew went through thousands of pounds of explosives every summer. In the winters, Irish drove snowcats grooming the slopes at night, worked with the Billy Kidd racing camp on the mountain, and was a longtime Nordic ski coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
Crisler began working at the ski area in June 1969, and by the time ski season rolled around, he was cleaning bathrooms and parking cars. It wasn't long before he joined the ski patrol, based in the A-frame. In summer, he worked on the trail crews and is proud to say that as foreman, he helped cut trails like Burgess Creek lift line, Whiteout, Hurricane and Buddy's Run.
Today, as director of slope maintenance, he still gets out of the office every day to check on snow conditions and plan where to make snow next.
"I could ride a snowmobile, but I don't really like them," Crisler said. "I go out on skis."
When Irish launched her career as a blaster, she imagined it might last five years, but the Northwest Colorado Ski Corp. had ambitious expansion plans, and the large amount of rock work needed to build the Sanctuary residential subdivision along Fish Creek extended her career.
Irish and her mates were fortunate to have long careers with explosives and an unblemished safety record. But she said that as private homes were built closer to the slopes and more hikers and bicyclists turned to the ski mountain for summer recreation, the role of explosives in shaping the ski area began to change.
Today, she works in physical therapy at the Justin Andrew DeSorrento Sports Medicine Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center and continues to pursue the mountain lifestyle.
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