By Mikaela Ruland
19 year old Maddy Pierce’s alarm goes off at 4:50 on winter weekend mornings. She’s at Copper Mountain by 6am, where she checks in with the night crew, swaps radios and then heads up the mountain on a snowmobile.
Maddy is on the snowmaking crew at Copper Mountain when she’s not studying ski operations at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in Leadville. For Maddy, skiing is life. She started volunteering at her local ski area in upstate New York at age 11 as a junior ski instructor. There, she grew up doing a little bit of everything.
One day, towards the end of her senior year in highschool, she was sitting with the owner of the ski area, who at this point had become a good friend.
“Maddy,” he said, “You know that there are places where you could do this for a living. Where there are a hundred snow groomers. Where it’s more than just me and you.”
She had never thought about it before, but by that fall, she was attending CMC.
She fell in love with the Colorado Rockies, Leadville and Copper Mountain. She loves Copper because it still has that smaller feel. It hasn’t lost touch with the ski industry and become all about the resort industry, which she’s seen happen at many bigger ski areas.
What many of us on the slopes don’t realize is what goes into making the base we ski and board on. The snow guns run 24/7 from September through early December with a crew of dedicated snowmakers ensuring the snow is perfect around the clock.
There are three main components to creating snow: water, air and power. By taking account of the ambient air temperature and humidity and adjusting the levels, the Copper snowmaking crew is able to create the dry powder we love to ski.
On Maddy and her crew’s first run down the mountain, they adjust the guns. When it’s colder, they turn the water up. When it’s warmer, they turn the water down. They make sure the guns are aimed properly so they don’t bury themselves or spray the incoming skiers and boarders.
Maddy stands under the spray of snow from the gun as her partner works the controls. She watches as the snow cascades down onto her black uniform. Their goal is dry snow, so she’s looking for the flakes to bounce off her jacket. If they don’t, she gives them a quick brush to see if they come off. If the snow is sticking to her, she signals to her partner to adjust the controls: it’s too wet.
After their first run, the sun begins to rise, rapidly warming the earth. Maddy and her crew have to quickly adjust the guns, as the temperature has changed, changing the equation for perfect snow. Her twelve hour shift is spent reading the changes in the world around her to keep the snow just right.
During her twelve hours on the mountain, she watches the sun come up and then set again. “It’s beautiful,” she says. “When the sun is coming up, it’s dead quiet up there. It’s the coolest thing.”
While her co-workers on the night crew might argue that they have the harder shift, Maddy disagrees. The day crew has so many things to watch. People, she admits, are the hardest part of snowmaking. They are constantly adjusting, moving and sometimes even turning off guns to ensure that guests don’t get a face full of snow.
Maddy is the only woman on the crew of 40+ plus snowmakers. There’s only one other woman in her track at CMC. She barely notices. Her co-workers are open and welcoming to anyone who is willing to work hard, whether they are old, young, male or female.
“I don’t feel the need to prove myself around the boys because I don’t have any reason to,” Maddy says. “I do what I do because I love it, no other reason. I am not trying to prove my value, because hopefully my drive to do what I’m doing is enough. Everyone that I work with with respects passion for what you’re doing over everything else.”
It’s hard work, Maddy admits. Working with heavy equipment doesn’t draw a lot of women. It beats you up. When she applied for the job at Copper, Maddy was nervous. Why would they hire an 18-year-old woman for snow crew? Now that she’s been on the crew for two seasons, she has a different outlook. She believes that anyone who’s interested and passionate about ski operations should give it a try. In her words it’s “crazy awesome.”
Maddy’s story may be unique, but she sees it as a story of hard work and dedication. When asked what advice she had for other young women wanting to pursue their passions in traditionally male-dominated industries, she made it clear that her advice was for anyone looking to pursue their passions, being a woman had nothing to do with it.
“Just do it. Don’t do it to prove an agenda. Don’t do it to prove a point. Your gender doesn’t matter. Your age doesn’t matter. Do it for love and that passion will be respected.”
What’s next for Maddy now that the snowmaking season is over? She starts cat crew, grooming the slopes from midnight to 9am, this month. One day, she hopes to own and operate her own small town ski area. With her grit and determination, there’s little doubt she will.