Tom Ross: ‘The few, the proud, the frozen’
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. snowmakers ready to bring on the suffering
October 4, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. held its annual job fair at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel on Friday afternoon, in a festive room with candy strewn on interview tables and posters of happy, smiling people.
Everywhere, that is, except at the table reserved for snowmaking applicants.
While other departments were intent on putting a good face on their job openings, the snowmakers were scaring people stiff. At least they were sincere about it.
Hanging from the edge of their table was a large photograph of six people standing with their arms wrapped tightly around each other. Encased in snow, they resembled polar explorers wearing hard hats. However, it was plain from the photograph that they were a tightly bonded team.
The lettering on the poster read: “The few, the proud, the frozen.”
“We need people who like a little bit of danger and a lot of action,” snowmaking technician Corey Peterson said. “People who thrive under high pressure, high voltage and low temperatures in the middle of the night.”
Recommended Stories For You
Hey, sign me up.
Ski Corp. Vice President of Human Resources Trish Sullivan said the company still needs to hire a couple hundred people to fill out the 1,700 seasonal workers it needs this winter, including a few intrepid snowmakers. The company can house about 400 workers at Walton Pond Apartments, and that property is wait-listed, she added.
There are two kinds of people in the world, as far as Assistant Snowmaking Manager Tim Ficke is concerned: those who thrive on the snowmaking crew and those who can’t handle it.
“Yeah, some people show up for one shift and walk out saying, ‘I’m gone. You guys are nuts,'” Peterson said with a grin.
“It happens more than you know,” Ficke nodded.
Peterson has worked in the snowmaking department for five years, and Ficke is a veteran of 17 years. They’ve been hardened by many frigid nights spent in a freezing mist. Their boss, Snowmaking Manager Steve West, describes the job in much more reassuring terms.
“There have been times when we’ve had guys come in from outside, and we’ve had to hit them with broom handles to break the ice so they can take their coats off,” West said with a straight face.
He might have been testing me, but I can’t say for certain.
Why would the snowmaking crew be so blunt about the working conditions they’ve come to love? Probably because they know that when they get the right group of people together, they become a close-knit team and the work is truly gratifying.
The job pays $9.40 per hour to start, and snowmaking hours are unpredictable. Once weather conditions permit, however, the crews split into two shifts, one from midnight to noon and the second from noon to midnight, so that they can pump snow 24/7.
Crew members are provided with rugged clothing, helmets and ear protection. However, they are urged to purchase their own, rigid, mountaineering boots so that they can remain upright on the steep ski trails.
West sends every applicant for the snowmaking crew a letter describing the challenges of the job and the satisfaction that can result.
“Snowmaking is a physically demanding job performed under difficult conditions,” West wrote. “The terrain is often steep and slippery, and weather conditions can be extremely inhospitable. Snow guns, when operating, can be very loud.
“As you might imagine, snowmaking is not for everyone,” the letter continues. “We can say, however, that those who do succeed as snowmakers return year after year. They enjoy the challenges of the job and can take great pride in being part of an exceptional group of individuals.”
Yeah, but what’s the job really like?
Peterson relishes the pace of the work.
“A 12-hour shift goes by really fast,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of time to look at the clock.”
Ficke said the snowmakers at Steamboat are trained to constantly monitor their computer screens. They must track ever-changing weather conditions that may dictate adjustments to each and every snowmaking nozzle on the mountain.
“We’re constantly on the guns,” Ficke said. “Everything changes, and there are so many factors – if you don’t stay on top of them, you end up with a mess.”
In this case, a mess is bad snow. And we all know what that can mean.
What makes men and women work so hard for $9.40 an hour? In addition to the satisfaction they take from the work, they know that each season, they will work only about 400 hours. A season pass comes with the job and, unlike some other jobs on the mountain, snowmakers don’t have to work all winter to keep their passes valid.
By the time mid-January rolls around, the snowmaking crewmembers are free to ski their frozen brains out.
Perhaps you’re wondering whether snowmaking is right for you. I’ll let West have the last word.
“You’ve got to thrive on punishment and not just the physical challenges,” West said. “The colder, the nastier, the harder it is, the more satisfaction you take from it.”
If you can’t wait to sign up, go to, http://www.steamboat.com/jobs. If you’re lucky, you may become one of the few, the proud and the frozen.