Dec. 16, 2009 - Issue #739: Melissa AdM
You lift me up
Being liftie for a day at Marmot Basin
The sun was nowhere near its daily rise when I made my way out into the Sawridge Inn parking lot to scrape the windows on my van. The fabulous down-filled quilt at the Sawridge was one of my many accommodation perks that my co-workers for the day did not share. It was 7 am and I was about to make the early morning drive from Jasper to Marmot Basin, much earlier than my normal routine but on this day I was meeting up with the lift operations crew to tag along and get a feel for the daily life of a Rocky Mountain lift operator.
At 7:45 am I was awaiting their arrival in the lower parking lot. The yellow bus soon arrived and I hopped aboard for the short ride up to the maintenance shack that houses the boot room. Darren Grab was the driver but that's only a sideline to his real position as the lift operations supervisor. It was a Thursday and, because the hill was expecting a slow day, there were only 25 lifties aboard but with an additional 13 other staff along for the ride, the bus was packed.
By 7:55 am we were in the boot room changing into our ski and snowboard apparel. Within seconds, a few things became quite apparent. Lifties are primarily boarders—Grab and I were the only ones putting on ski boots—nearly everyone speaks with an obvious Down Under accent and the room reeks worse than any hockey dressing room I've ever been in. The morning banter centers mostly around the previous night's 25-cent-wing Wednesday at the Sawridge Inn. One guy had consumed 47 wings for supper yet appeared no worse for wear.
Soon Grab silences the room with his daily morning news and assignments. Unlike many other resorts, Marmot lifties rotate through the many lift stations on a daily basis. A pretty good strategy in case illness and injury hobble the crew. I also discover that the new Canadian Rockies Express Quad would forever be known as the CRE. The full name is just way too long to be used repetitively. A few words of encouragement—"Smile and most of all be friendly"—and we head out to our skis.
Our first task was at the base lifts where everyone was needed to reset the line-up maze that gets dismantled once a week for groomers to glide in and do their thing. Within minutes 25 lifties with shovels, picks and rakes were busily digging and hacking new holes for the aluminum gate bases. By 9 am, the lifts were rolling and guests soon started heading up the hill. I shadowed Grab and soon we were off with Nicola, a new Kiwi trainee, on a familiarization tour.
The new CRE lift is an impressive, state-of-the-art masterpiece. Touring the top drive building gave me a better understanding of the mechanical operation and safety features. It's mostly computer controlled and lifties need only depress re-start buttons from time to time. Like on all lifts, there's the big red emergency kill switch.
We continue our tour up the Eagle Ridge Quad, across to the triple and then up to the Knob. There is a common thread at every stop. Lifties are busy shovelling snow off the lift areas and in some cases on to them to smooth the grooves. The main goal is to maintain safe unloading and takeoff platforms.
After a few more stops, Grab takes the new trainee down to the base to fill out paperwork and I am free to tour and talk to lifties.
This year, Marmot Basin is employing 46 lifties. Of these, 36 are from Australia and New Zealand, one is from England and the rest are from across Canada. This year there was a high turnover because only six veterans returned to the team. I asked a number of them what the attraction was and unanimously the answer was the snow, the great outdoors and a chance to meet young people from other countries.
I caught up to Matthew Borromeo while he was scraping the snow at the top of the CRE chair. Borromeo was a personal trainer in Sydney and left his job to come over here with his girlfriend to spend the winter working on the slopes and go boarding as much as possible. He and all the others picked a great year to make the move because snow conditions at Marmot are the best I've seen in 20 years.
How do internationals find out about this job? Megan Gibson from the sales and marketing department heads Down Under in the summer to take part in a job fair hosted by a number of Rocky Mountain resorts. After holding interviews in a number of cities, jobs are offered and decisions are required quite quickly.
Gibson can only offer a wage of $9 an hour for the lifties, but the perks include a free season pass, meal and living discounts and a free rental jacket. Most of the staff resides behind the Sawridge Inn at the Cavell Apartments. For $12 each per day, they double up in cozy accommodations containing two single beds in a 43-square-metre bachelor suite. Grab tells me the most important qualifications for the job are a friendly demeanour and a positive attitude. These qualifications are definitely possessed by all that I meet during the day.
I did not spend the night partying with them and thus I did not have the complete 24-hour experience but I did spend the final two hours cruising the amazing powdery slopes like they would on their days off. It brought the whole day into perspective.
Now I get why they abandon Bondi Beach to be here for the winter. V
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