Employee Training

Category: Operations Blog

Working Together Across Both Mountains

Special Training & the Largest Team Ever
  • Ski patrol is just one of the interdependent teams that work to get the mountain open each day
  • We employ over 2,600 staff, the largest team in our history
  • Team leaders from across mountain operations departments at both mountains have been engaging in dedicated leadership cross-training with Karakoram Group, comprised of former leaders from every level of our nation’s elite special operations units. Leaders from the lift operations, lift maintenance, grooming, ski patrol and snowmaking departments at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows have been working with Karakoram Group throughout the summer and into the winter season to identify ways in which they can optimize their operations and develop culture and collaboration across teams.
What Does This Type of Training Look Like?

Basically it's a leadership training and coaching group. These are a bunch of ex-military guys, and they've come in and assessed our operations team and they're here to help coach us and ways that we can improve. Whether it's communicating more, or leading in certain ways, or fostering ideas from the ground up. So far, I think it's been really great for our team, and I support it a lot. It's refreshing to have an outside group come in. One of the big things that hit me with this group, and Will and I had already been working on this as far as communication, but bringing it together as a team, they're so supportive of team dynamics, which is hugely important, whether you're on the battlefield or working at a ski area.

As told by Will Paden & Ken Bokelund, Director's of Ski Patrol at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

It's nice to bring a bunch of people together and talk about the hard questions, and say "what can we do to improve?". Sometimes that's uncomfortable, and if you don't get everybody in the room and talk about that, where are you at? To me, this is the core of it: working together as a group. It's not just ski patrol. Ski patrol is nothing. It's fun, but as a team, trying to run a huge business, with everybody involved, it's just been ... It's been really great working with these guys. It's been eye opening and a lot of fun."

- Ken Bokelund

Fast Facts
  • More than a millennium of combined professional patrol experience at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
  • Nearly 2/3 of our ski patrollers have over 10 years of patrol experience
  • Over 1/3 of our ski patrol has more than 20 years of professional patrol experience
  • There are up to 52 avalanche control routes between the two mountains on a given snow safety day, controlled by teams of two to four patrollers. Each route can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours to control, depending on many variables including the terrain, weather, and equipment being use
  • We employ 2,600 staff, the largest team in our history
  • We have the largest lift mechanic team out of all 14 Lake Tahoe ski resorts

Team Dynamics

It Takes a Village

We sat down with Ken and Will, our Director's of Ski Patrol to talk about the need for all departments to work together to achieve a common goal: opening the mountain as safely and efficiently as possible.

Question: We've invested a lot in new training, new equipment, new tools in the tool shed, but that's not what it's all about for you. It goes back to the basics, which is the human element, right?

Will Paden: You're exactly right. These are all just tools in the tool shed, and I think that these tools are going to help keep patrollers, employees, and guests safer. But at the end of the day, to open up the mountain, we need all the departments, especially the mountain ops teams, as a team to work together. We need to be able to get up the mountain and ride the lifts. It's not just patrol doing avalanche control. Don't you think, Ken?

Ken Bokelund: Absolutely. Ski patrol is just a tiny part of it. The infrastructure, how a business works in a ski area, as far as opening, is mountain operations. We couldn't do anything without lift ops, lift maintenance, vehicle maintenance, you name it. Anything that has to do with building stuff, repairing it, making it work. Our job starts with them. 

Question: As far as the hierarchy here, everybody is on board 100%, you're all over the mountain responding to calls, even at the director level?

Will: We are, and even the first year people are getting the chance to do avalanche control as well. We rely on the whole staff to contribute. So we're all out there, every day, giving 110%, boots on the ground, trying to make it happen.

Ken:  I think that's important. That makes a good team, when they see everyone is pitching in as much as they possibly can. Will and I came up from very humble backgrounds in the ski patrol industry. That's how we started. We started at ground level. We didn't come into this as the big dogs. There's no program that says you graduate from this and all of a sudden you're management.

Question: So everybody still pulls up lift tower pads and fixes the signage.

Ken: All of us. You have to lead from example in that respect.

Question: Our guests expect timely openings and we try to bring it to them. Especially when we are talking about the safety of not only our guests but our fellow co-workers, but there's a lot on the line here. This is probably the single most important department at the mountain. Certainly behind the scenes.

Will: I think Ken and I both disagree on that. I might speak for Ken here, but we're not the most important department. There's lift operations, and lift maintenance, and grooming...we're all a big team.

Ken: It's funny, 'cause when we talk about these things, and Will and I have had many discussions about this, when you think of "how do we get to where we need to be?", we ride chair lifts. And if we can't ride chair lifts, we ride in vehicles. So who is dealing with that? Lift maintenance is making sure those lifts spin, and the vehicles department, they're making sure we can jump in and so groomers can get to where we need to be. It's more about the communication between all those departments, and we feel absolutely 100% on this, that all those departments are just the same as us.

I'm truly excited about upcoming season and how we all work together as a team. There's good things coming down the pipe here, for sure.

- Ken Bokelund