The evolution of this story began almost a year ago as I was preparing for a media tour in New York City. A portion of my job is dedicated to telling North Lake Tahoe’s stories and crafting travel content with journalists. I pitched the Women of Winter concept to several top-tier publications, but soon thereafter our world turned upside down and our media focus completely shifted. While I would love to have national attention shine on the women in this piece, I’m honored to have been the one to conduct the interviews and highlight their work here in our community paper.

My conversations with these women were powerful. Their motivation to carve out space in each respective industry was not passed down or inherently given. They’ve worked tirelessly to own the titles and credentials next to their name. Michelle Parker is a professional skier, photographer, musician, and advocate. Kari Brandt is forming global connections among female ski patrollers; Deirdra Walsh is one of eight women leading Vail’s portfolio of 37 resorts; and Jen Gurecki … well, Jen deserves her own category of awesome. What stood out to me is that these ladies are in no way seasonal in their impact. They are year-round forces who are blazing forward with unwavering Sierra resilience.

CARVING LIFE LINES: The “mountains raised” Michelle Parker, but as a young female skier she never imagined they could provide her a career, too. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

Michelle Parker

Professional skier
Connect: @myshellparker

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The mountains are clearly in your blood. How has growing up in the Sierra shaped the person you are today?

I grew up in Squaw Valley and was influenced by supportive parents, ski coaches, and various relationships that formed as a result of constantly being outside. The mountains raised me by structuring my community and mindset. I’m still close with the same individuals who helped develop my confidence and the desire to improve my skillset as an athlete. I am acutely aware of how that foundation translates into my broader life and business approach; the mountains established an openness to learning and they have become a reflection of who I am.

You’ve shared that the idea of being a professional skier was not even in your realm of possibility when you were younger. What changed that mindset and how?

I wasn’t exposed to other females in this sport; there were not a lot of role models for me to look up to and the path wasn’t clearly paved. While I viewed skiing as my greatest passion and watched guy friends excel into the professional world, it didn’t occur to me that I, too, could make a career out of what I loved the most. When I was approached by a sponsor at Squaw Valley who didn’t realize at first that I was a woman, that’s when things started to shift. I became part of the conversation and from there it all started to unfold. Younger women should know that anything is possible.

What’s your message to the next generation of female athletes?

The message I want to portray throughout my career is that if you believe it, you can do it. I have experienced a number of firsts: I participated in the first women’s X Games, competed in slopestyle and halfpipe at the US Open, and have started my own short movies with Red Bull. My number one message would be to speak up. Sometimes women don’t feel comfortable taking the initiative and asking for what they deserve. Own the space! You are worth it. You are valuable.

If you were to identify your most powerful mountain adventure, what would it be and why?

I was invited on a trip to the Kichatna Spires (deep in the Alaska Range) with Chris Davenport and Jim Morrison. They are extremely knowledgeable athletes — the best at what they do and super dialed in as a team — and it was at that moment that I realized I was able to hold my own in that type of terrain where a multitude of skillsets come into play. Christian Pondella documented the expedition and captured the steepest lines I’ve ever skied, the most exposed I’ve ever felt. And I was 100% confident. During that trip I realized my skill set. The power of the mountains is real and the experience made me reevaluate the risks I was willing to take. I pushed myself physically and mentally, reconciling my space. I also discovered that I can have equally as much fun with my mom and dad making turns at our local resort as I do pushing myself in those challenging moments.

What are you reading? What are you listening to?

Reading: Breath, Braiding Sweetgrass, Americanah, Between the World and Me

Playlist: Lately a lot of jazz-funk. I spend a decent amount of time in Portland, Oregon, and I’m missing live music so much. Others include: Khruangbin, Gold Fir, Leon Bridges, The Barr Brothers, Sturgil Simpson, Colter Wall, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.

A LIFT TO THE TOP: Deirdra Walsh has worked hard to get to the top of the mountain at Northstar, and she attributes an assist on her career journey to another female in the industry who took a chance on her: “She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

Deirdra Walsh

Vice president, general manager at Northstar California
Connect: @northstar_california

You accepted your position at Northstar California in spring of 2019; can you tell us about what brought you to this role and what it means to you to lead one of North Tahoe’s most prominent resorts?

Prior to coming to Northstar, I spent 10 years at Park City Mountain Resort as the senior director of food and beverage. I was part of the resort’s leadership team that led the transformation of what was at the time two resorts (Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons) into one resort, which is now the largest ski resort in the U.S. That experience inspired me to want to be part of impacting and influencing at the next level. When the former GM at Northstar was promoted to Beaver Creek, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity of running a resort known for exceptional guest service, unique traditions, and passionate employees.

What has motivated you throughout your career? Have there been any pivotal moments that paved the path for where you are today?

Ultimately I am motivated to bring out the best in others, and therefore I am always focused on doing my best work. I love working with people and seeing guests and employees come together through skiing and snowboarding at Northstar. There are so many moments that create memories that will last a lifetime for our guests, and being a small part of that inspires me.

There was a critical moment early in my career at Park City when a leadership role became available and my boss at the time asked if I would apply. I was so hesitant. I was young and felt I wasn’t qualified in the “traditional” way; but she didn’t give up. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That was a micro-moment that I may not have realized at the time, but now I utilize to serve as a constant reminder as a leader: to help people see their capabilities and potential even when they may not.

What’s the best career advice you have received … and given?

Vail Resorts recently held a virtual Leadership Summit and one of the guest speakers was Nadia Rawlinson, the Chief People Officer of Slack. She really blew me away overall, and her advice around a question of finding balance between work and home really resonated with me in this current moment. She said, “There is no ‘balance.’ In all things in life there are negotiations and trade-offs. You have a choice. You decide how that’s working for you.” 

When giving career advice I seek to listen to understand. Everyone naturally experiences fear or perceived barriers that may be holding them back. I want to help them see what they can control and how they can bring their best and whole selves into whatever it is they do.

What are you reading? What are you listening to? What’s on your winter playlist?

I am reading The Book of Awakening, inspired after a Zoom call with a group of women in Truckee. I also have FYI – Learning Agility and A Little Life on my bedside table. Since my two young kids and my husband often control the playlist in our house these days, I have to include their song choices too. My son just discovered Coldplay so that makes the cut, my daughter loves Lizzo, my husband is an eternal Grateful Dead fan, and I like to throw in some ’90s hip hop whenever I can. 

BLOWING BY GENDER BOXES: “Our process is collaborative, and we believe that the recipe for making a kick-ass product has nothing to do with what’s between your legs, but in fact, what’s between your ears and in your heart,” says Jen Gurecki. Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

Jen Gurecki

CEO, Coalition Snow
Connect: @yogurecki | @coalitionsnow | @sisumagazine

The mission of Coalition Snow is simple: to build women’s skis and snowboards that don’t suck. What was the final straw that led you to starting your own company?

I don’t think there was a final straw as much as there was an opportunity. I was curious about what would happen, how consumers and the industry as a whole would respond. Would they value our products? Accept them? Would we be successful? As someone who has snowboarded and skied for many years, I knew women’s equipment was subpar to men’s. My curiosity and willingness to challenge the norm was what motivated me.

Coalition Snow is revolutionary in that it builds women’s skis and snowboards, but your commitment to sustainability and inclusivity is an equally important pillar of your brand. Tell us about your multi-faceted business approach and how you have successfully integrated cultural conversations into your work.

From a business standpoint you have to create something that isn’t there, or solve a problem, fill a void that doesn’t currently exist. We thought about what Coalition could do in the snow sports industry and I didn’t have any desire to do more of the same. The idea of a podcast, magazine, and newsletter was derived from wanting to create content that spoke to people the way we wanted to be spoken to and address issues that we deem important. I couldn’t just do skiing; that wasn’t going to be enough. I have a deeply intellectual side and this business is reflective of my values and who I am as a person. I’m committed to making an impact.

As women, we are uniquely aware of what it means to move in the world. Men haven’t been forced to think about how they move [around]. Traditionally, when we talk about sustainability it’s ecological and environmental. No one is exploring the social side of sustainability, and I don’t believe that you can separate human beings from that conversation. At Coalition, we work to uniquely address the social side of sustainability and social change. I think we do this well and we aren’t seeing other people in the industry approach the topic, which makes it all the more important.

If there was one message you could send this winter, what would it be?

I’ve been following the discourse in Tahoe [about] parking, trailheads, tourism. My message would be to locals specifically, and that’s to think about others. It’s incredible that people want to be outside and equally sad that it took a pandemic to spark that interest. The outdoors belong to everyone. Just because you’re a Tahoe local doesn’t mean there is [an inherently] deserved access to the land. Technically, we’re all on stolen land from the Washoe people. We’re going to continue seeing people want to access the outdoors, and if we move into an ‘us vs. them’ or ‘better than’ mentality, that will erode any sort of progress we’ve made in terms of inclusivity and diversity in the outdoors. Everyone deserves these experiences.

What’s next for Coalition Snow?

I’m always looking for the next thing, that’s my personality. Coalition Snow is growing — we’re doing the things we’ve always done, but we’re also entering new spaces. We recently launched the Coalition Clubhouse, an intentional community centered around our values and the impacts we want to create. It’s open to women, non-binary, and other under-represented genders, and we also have a group specifically for BIPOC snow sports enthusiasts created and run by two of our BIPOC Ambassadors.

What’s your favorite mountain to ski in North Lake Tahoe and what are you riding and wearing this winter?

Shredding: My favorite mountain shifts, historically it was Alpine Meadows but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time at Mount Rose. It’s pretty relaxed and has the highest elevation at the lake. I’m the lone snowboarder on the Coalition team so I’ll be riding my Myth and playing on our Shred Sled.

Wearing: Trew Gear bibs. The company is based in Portland, they are super cozy, and the bum zips out.

PATROL PIONEER: Kari Brandt, ski patrol director at Diamond Peak, recognizes the power of women supporting each other in her field, which led to the creation of Women of Patrol: “My goal is to continue promoting women in the industry and show that ski patrol is not just a job for men; it is a job well within their reach.” Photo by Wade Snider/Moonshine Ink

Kari Brandt

Director of ski patrol, Diamond Peak
Connect: @womenofpatrol

You found a combined passion for emergency medicine and outdoor adventure. How did you decide to trust yourself early on and turn these passions into a career?

I took a NOLS Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course that helped me identify an interest in emergency medicine. I enrolled to become a hiking and backpacking guide for the Yosemite Mountaineering School, and halfway through the WFR course, I enrolled in an EMT program with a new goal of becoming a ski patroller to help pay my way through a master’s degree program.

In my second season of patrol at Snow Valley California, I was promoted to supervisor. My patrol director saw something in me I hadn’t yet seen in myself. I was encouraged to pursue certification through the Association of Professional Patrollers (APP), and it was after that second season that I became determined to make a career in the ski industry. I had an extremely quick progression to the top; the following season I was promoted to patrol director. Although it took a bachelor’s degree in math, teaching credentials in math and P.E., and a master’s degree in integrated STEM education to realize where I wanted to spend my professional career, I am so glad for the journey and where I am today.

The ski patrol community is a tight-knit group that often finds themselves in extremely challenging circumstances. How does your “office” culture differ from most?

I have the best office in the world; if you have skied at Diamond Peak, you know exactly what I am talking about. Although my position still requires office work, I get to sit at my desk with ski boots on every day. A patrol becomes a super close-knit team. Partially because we end up in small shacks across the mountain together but also because many of us share the same passions and we truly work together as a team when the job gets difficult. It isn’t always high stress, but there are moments that are extremely challenging. A close-knit team helps in these situations.

You’re going into your second winter season leading Diamond Peak’s ski patrol. What are some of your key takeaways from the past year and how are you approaching this winter?

One of the biggest takeaways from last season is the importance of support in a work environment. My manager and the rest of the mountain operations management team at Diamond Peak are world-class. They are some of the best in the industry, and having their unconditional support through last season made a huge difference in my job performance. I was excited about coming to work every single day. Because of this teamwork and support, I have the ability to further develop training programs for my patrol team this season and dedicate more time to helping my staff — both as a team and as individuals.

One of your many certifications and accolades was the creation of Women of Patrol, a platform for women ski patrollers to meet up, support each other, and participate in specialty clinics. Tell us about your motivation to start that and why.

After participating in two women-focused clinics, I saw firsthand the power of women training together and the importance of talking through our challenges in this field of work. From there, I knew I wanted to do something more to highlight the amazing women I was meeting and learning from. I started with an Instagram account titled Women of Patrol. The response was amazing and way bigger than I anticipated it would be. Female patrollers from across the world share their photos and I have been able to make some really amazing connections through the platform. My goal is to continue promoting women in the industry and show that ski patrol is not just a job for men; it is a job well within their reach. Having a diverse group of people on any team only makes it better. I’m committed to helping with the growth and development of female patrollers and am expanding Women of Patrol into a nonprofit organization.

What are you most looking forward to this winter season?

As in any season, I am most looking forward to skiing! I am excited every day that I have found a career where I get to ski for work. And living in this incredible area, I also ski (or snowblade of course) on my days off!

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