Women on ski patrol: Q&A with Kolina Coe

The words “ski patrol” likely draw to mind different images for different people. For some, perhaps it’s the organization that polices the mountain, for others a bad ski movie from the early ‘90s, and still for others, the men in the red jackets that don the ski patrol patch, seen skiing all around the mountain.

Nonetheless, the truth is that the members of ski patrol are arguably the most important personnel of a ski resort. And that couldn’t be truer than at Northstar California, where ski patrol isn’t just the “men in the red jackets,” but rather an elite team of women in the red jackets, responsible for the safety and well-being of all guests.

While many people may associate ski patrollers as patrolman, at Northstar, they are skilled, brave, ambitious women who you’ll find patrolling the mountain, assessing the terrain, and keeping skiers and riders safe. Ski patrol isn’t merely a job, but a way of life, requiring a 24/7 staff, many of whom have been doing it for years. At Northstar, some women have been patrollers for as long as 15 years.

So during the course of the 2017-2018 Lake Tahoe winter ski season, we’ll be profiling the women on ski patrol at Northstar California, spotlighting a different team member each month.

We’re kicking off the first month of ski season by patrolling one of Northstar’s ski patrol veterans, Kolina Coe. A California native, Kolina, is Northstar’s ski patrol lead and co-founder of he Northstar Avalanche Rescue Dog program, entering her 9th year as a patroller at Northstar.

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Read my Q&A with Kolina below.

 What inspired you to become a ski patroller?

The first time I had the urge to become a ski patroller was when I was 15 years old, working as a cashier in the North Base Lodge at Mountain High Ski Resort. It was a tiny part of the Southern California resort that did more tubing than skiing. However, I’d hear the two patrollers that manned the North Side frequently talk about how awesome their day was, while I was stuck behind the cash register, dreaming about getting paid to ski. Three years later I moved to Lake Tahoe to attend Sierra Nevada College, where the first and only winter job I applied for was ski patrol at Northstar California. Nine years later and I am an over-educated patroller with no regrets.

What's it like having such strong female representation on Northstar's ski patrol team in an often male-dominated industry?

Having females on a patrol team, both in leadership and the front line, brings good balance to a team’s dynamics. For me, it took years to develop my voice as a strong female without being off-putting or crass.  I learned to stop trying to be “one of the boys,” and understand that I don’t have to be the loudest to be the most heard.

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What would be your advice to other women who aspire to become ski patrollers?

When I was offered my first promotion, a mentor of mine gave me some advice that still rings true today: “Females will never be held back in our industry. We just have to work harder, be smarter, and never make excuses for physical ability.”

What are some misconceptions guests may have about ski patrol?

That ski patrollers are “snow pigs.” My least favorite part of the job is disciplining skiers and riders who are violating the Skier Responsibility Code. The reason I take the time to talk to people in the wrong is because we see what happens when things go south. Last year alone, Northstar Ski Patrol conducted 16 search and rescues after hours for guests who knowingly skied out of bounds. We uphold the code because we want to keep our guests safe.

What's one of the most rewarding parts about being a part of Northstar's ski patrol team?

Working with my avalanche rescue dog, Ruckus, is the most rewarding experience of my life. Fellow ski patroller, Cory, and I are her handlers, and together we founded the Northstar Avalanche Rescue Dogs in 2012 as a non-profit to raise money for avalanche education for dogs and patrollers. The first avalanche dog program at Northstar, it's now grown to four members: Micah, Yuma, Bandit, and Ruckus. While there is so much for us to learn as a young program, I’m constantly being challenged and learning from the dogs and the amazing patrol community we have around the lake.

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"Working with my avalanche rescue dog, Ruckus, is the most rewarding experience of my life."

Lake Tahoe is arguably one of the top places to live, work, and play in America. Why do you think that is?

When I wake up on my Sunday morning, which is usually Tuesday, the hardest decision I have to make is what to do for fun. I have so many options just steps from my back door. Do I go on the boat, paddleboard, hike Mt. Rose, longboard, ride my motorcycle around the lake, cross-country ski, bike the Tyrol, lay on the beach, or raft the Truckee? There are so many amazing outdoor activities available to us at the lake, that there is never a wasted day. 

What's your one tip for someone visiting Lake Tahoe for the first time?

This is your “Tahoe Time.” That means slow down, take it all in, and breathe the fresh area. The best part of being at the lake is that you are away from the fast-paced city life. Safeway is going to have long lines, and the snow is going to make your drive longer. But don’t rush to get anywhere, and remember that every moment in the mountains is an experience to be enjoyed. It’s not about where you are going, but the journey you have getting there.

Insider Tip: Use Northstar's perimeter trails to avoid crowds in the "gut".

Have any secrets or insider tips to Northstar that you’re willing to divulge?

My Northstar secret would be to use the perimeter trails to avoid the crowds in the “gut".  That means when you are ready to get down to the Village, ski Pioneer to Home Run or Logger’s Loop to The Woods (all of which are blue runs) to have long beautiful trails to yourself.

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Southern born and bred, Spencer was bitten by the travel bug at a young age, flying on a plane for the first time at age five and by himself for the first time at seven. While he continues to travel around the world in search for the best whiskey, Spencer now calls Reno home, where his search is for the best cocktail (and first tracks, naturally). He has written about travel, food, and drinks for a number of publications that have included the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and Travel + Leisure, just to name a few. See a more candid version of Spencer on his website, whiskeytangoglobetrot.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.