Kim Kircher has logged over 600 hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure, Ski Washington Magazine and Ski Patrol Magazine, among others. Her memoir, The Next 15 Minutes, shares the lessons she’s learned on the slopes. She blogs at www.kimkircher.com.
What made you want to become a ski patroller? How long have you been working as a ski patroller?
I started as a volunteer my freshman year of college as a way to get a season’s pass and also commit to being in the mountains more often. After seven years, I left my job as a high school English teacher, thinking I would patrol full-time and ski bum for a year before finding a new career path. I knew within the first few weeks that I had found my calling. I loved the mountains and the job immediately. That was fifteen years ago, and I’m still going strong.
What is the wildest thing you’ve seen on the mountain on duty?
I once saw a huge avalanche rip out old timber, throw a three-story powder cloud into the air and create an entirely new avalanche path. I just wish I had been carrying a video camera. In general the wildest part of the job is avalanche control. We use explosives to start avalanches, and it can be physically demanding and awe-inspiring all at once.
What has been your favorite mountain you’ve ever skied?
Verbier, Switzerland. It has an amazing lift system, killer backcountry and it is huge. You could fit several American ski areas within the boundaries of Verbier. I just love the Alps, where skiing is a part of the culture.
What gear do you not leave home without?
My transceiver. I wear it everyday, even if I plan to be in the frontcountry. You never know when you might need it, and batteries are very cheap. I’ve been on far too many recoveries that would have had better outcomes if the victims had been wearing transceivers.
Your book, The Next 15 Minutes, was recently published. What inspired you to write your book?
When my husband needed a liver transplant, I used the lessons I’d learned on the slopes as a ski patroller to get through the ordeal, breaking time down into smaller increments. I knew that if looked too far down the line, I would play the what if game. What if the cancer spreads? What if they don’t find a donor in time? What if he doesn’t make it? Instead, I chose to just tackle the present moment. I told myself, and my husband, to get through it just 15 minutes at a time. A few months after my husband got his transplant, I sat down to write about the lessons I’d learned. The book started from there, and took on a mind of its own.
Did expressing your thoughts in this book change your point of view about anything in your life?
I used to think that it was okay to die doing what you loved. Whenever there was a tragedy at the ski area, we could tell ourselves, “at least he died doing what he loved.” Now I think that’s foolish. Death is still death, no matter how you go. It is still awful and cold and permanent. I probably take fewer chances now and I am much more humble. You learn to be humble as a ski patroller, especially when doing avalanche control. Before I’d written the book, I hadn’t thought too much about the tragic side of my job. Having brushed up so close to death–felt its cold breath on my husband’s cheek–I’ve learned how much I want both of us to live.
In what ways has your life changed since your book was published?
My friends and family members never really understood my job. After reading my book, many people have shown a new respect for ski patrolling. Very few true accounts about this job exist. We are a tight-lipped and tight-knit group. Ski patrollers don’t often share their experiences with others, preferring a mysterious and humble facade. I suppose I’ve broken the silence, and I’m okay with that.
What do you hope to accomplish as a ski patroller and author in the future?
I’ve had many positions on the patrol, including supervisor, avalanche dog handler and assistant snow safety director. I’m currently just a lineman (aka regular joe patroller), and I’m happy to stay here.
I’m at work on a novel that takes place at a ski area, and I’m freelancing for ski-related magazines.