This is a story about a woman who found her place in the world, written to bring the reader on the line next to her for an average Saturday night at one of the busiest restaurants in her town.
Cooking a steak to perfect medium-rare is a simple task, once learned. I think anyone is capable of doing it. Now let’s throw a few more things into the mix. Not only do I have to nail one perfect medium-rare rib-eye, but two more rib-eyes, four filet mignons, three New York steaks, eight burgers, two salmon filets, and 15 chicken skewers, all while running two deep fryers, and listening to a waitress cuss out the expediter and two other cooks argue over which plate had the sauce on the side. Of course all these aren’t put on the grill at once, but at different times, so I have to remember which ones were put on when, what temp (“temps” referring to rare, medium, etc.) they were ordered, and if the burgers were beef patties or bison (they look exactly the same by the way). Oh, and also different sections on the grill run hotter than others, so I have to take that into account too. And the ticket printer, letting off new orders with a robotic screeching type of sound, won’t. Stop. Printing.
. . .
Earlier that summer, I decided I wanted to go to the busiest restaurant in town, get a job there, and find out if I really wanted to cook for a living. So here I found myself, behind the grill, on Saturday at 7:19 pm, wondering how I got here, and why I EVER thought that would be a good idea. Like an adrenaline junkie looking for the next cliff to BASE jump off of, I had surveyed the streets of my little mountain town, trying to find a place where I could get my ass handed to me every day and truly push my own limits. There was one place, a casual-but-not-too-casual American restaurant, on the corner of the main intersection in town, which fit the bill.
“Yeah, I can handle the line. I can totally handle the line. I thrive off the rush. I was born ready for it. Molded by it. I am the Zen master. That’s why I want to work here. It’s always busy.”
“Well you’ll definitely get that here,” he said, “and you need to be able to stay on top.”
We talked for a few more minutes. I somehow managed to dodge having to confess that I couldn’t cook a steak to order to save my life, or that I’d never been to culinary school and had barely been working at restaurants for one summer, or that I had absolutely no clue what “mirepoix” or “the five mother sauces” were. People had told me I was a damn good home cook though, so I had that going for me.
“Can you start on Friday?”
I showed up on Friday, eager to work and learn the long menu of everything from burgers, to fish tacos, to seared ahi with citrus beurre blanc sauce, to orzo primavera. This place was a huge step-up from the itsy-bitsy lobster shack I had come from. It had multiple walk-in fridges and freezers (plenty of room to go in and cry on a Saturday night), two separate kitchens, and three to seven cooks on at a time. Most things, like sauces, pizza dough, and salsas, were made from scratch, and meat was butchered in-house.
“Are you a busser? Food runner? Prep cook?” Said the current dishwasher, upon seeing the fresh, new hire.
“No, she will be on the line, next to me,” replied the chef who was training me that day.
A wide, intrigued grin went across her face.
“Goooood luuuuuuck!” She laughed, like I was getting up off the bench for the underdog team going up against the world champion.
At 11, we opened for the day. I thought I’d begin on prep or just watching, but I was thrown straight to the wolves on the line. One order turned into three, turned into seven. I felt like I had dyslexia as soon as we had more than three orders at once. I just had no idea where anything was or what goes with what, or heck – even how to organize the tickets on the rail. One of the other cooks, without saying a word, kept giving me this look, which said,
“What is this, your first day?!”
I had no idea who did what or what’s going on or where anything was and a server was telling me the bison burger for table 32 comes with aioli on the side but I snapped back “that wasn’t on the ticket”, and she shows me the ticket and yes, it did say aioli on the side, so I ate humble pie and re-made the whole thing. Only a few hours in, I began to wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea to leave the comfort of my old job – where I had every menu item on point and knew that kitchen better than my home kitchen (where few things actually have a place).
We wore actual chef coats at this job. By the end of that shift, I felt as if I didn’t even deserve to wear one. The “Imposter Syndrome” hit hard, or maybe for chefs they call it “im-pasta syndrome”. I thought I had just talked myself up at the interview big time, using state-of-the-art trickery to make them believe that I, an inexperienced, quiet, young woman with zero culinary school and little experience could hold her own on the line at the busiest restaurant in town. What was I thinking?
“It’s so hot here,” complains a waiter on the other side of the window, as he fans himself with his notepad. I’m reaching over the grill and can feel the sweat dripping down the back of my neck. I look him dead in the eyes through the flames rising from the grill, inches from my hand, while the fryers steam behind me.
“Okay, I’ll shut up, it’s not hot here,” he says.
My entire shift so far has been an absolute scramble right from the get-go. I arrived at 3 pm and had exactly two hours until dinner service to get my mise en place (chef-an-ese for: get my shit together). It’s a Saturday, so there’s no separation from the lunch rush and the dinner rush. I knew the dinner menu began at 5, ready or not, but I had such a long list of things to do, while simultaneously helping the lunch crew on the line, that I lost track of time. Next thing I knew, I had orders coming in with dinner entree items and I realized I hadn’t even mashed the potatoes yet. Just in the nick of time, I was able to get the potatoes finished by 5:15 and jump straight into the madness of a Saturday dinner service, and that’s where I’ve been for the last two hours.
What’s that, another order? It’s for sliders – thin little things that burn easily. Better keep my eye on those. All 12 of them. After dropping three orders of fish and chips and six battered jalapeno poppers in the fryer, I watch a waiter come back to the kitchen holding food. That’s never good. He said the guy at table 12 ordered the ahi tuna entree, and didn’t expect it to be “so rare”. I find some room on the grill and cover it, and I better remember it because there’s no ticket for this. What’s that, something’s on fire? I definitely did not forget about that medium-rare rib-eye, a fatty cut of meat which when on the grill, drips oil and can set the whole thing ablaze. Luckily it’s still rare inside, so I make sure I remember to take it off in just a minute or two. A thin steak on the hot part of the grill might give a 30-second window between temps, and it’s not like there aren’t other things going on to distract me from a perfect medium-rare.
. . .
"If someone thinks that by telling a woman to get back to the kitchen is saying she’s weak and can’t amount to anything else, I dare them to find the busiest restaurant in their city on a day where the line is out the door, peek into the kitchen and watch. "
I’ve seen too many “feminist” ads and videos pop up in my social media feed putting down being in the kitchen, defending themselves against people who use “get back to the kitchen” as an insult, and I just want to get this straight. Can we get rid of this telling-women-they-shouldn’t-belong-in-the-kitchen nonsense? As if a woman being in the kitchen is some kind of mark of weakness and a slap in the face to ‘real’ feminists? Like cooking is an easy task for some kind of domesticated, patriarchy-supporting pansy? Neo-feminists will try to distance themselves, wearing their inability to cook like a badge of honor. “Look at me, I’m a real feminist because I can’t cook or clean! Look at me, I burnt water!” Want a difficult, male-dominated, high-pressure environment that creates tough people? Look no further than the commercial kitchen.
If someone thinks that by telling a woman to get back to the kitchen is saying she’s weak and can’t amount to anything else, I dare them to find the busiest restaurant in their city on a day where the line is out the door, peek into the kitchen and watch. They might not even see any women, and if they do see one, they better believe she’s tough as nails.
It’s 8:07. The manager and head chef walk into the kitchen. They are telling me that I have passed the 15-minute ticket time on table 57’s order. Like way passed. They want to know why. They’re nice people, good bosses, really, but are probably reflecting some of the anger coming from the hungry diners waiting behind those swinging doors. The other seven plates are in the window (dying under heat lamps), and I’m dragging a medium New York steak. I try to explain that the steak is still rare, and they ordered medium, and there’s little I can do, but they’re not having it. Meanwhile the sauté cook is yelling at me because he said I never told him about said New York steak, and now he has to scramble to make the sides that accompany it. The line cook up front pulls a string of new tickets from the printer and begins calling out even more items I need to start - and remember.
Few people can cook nowadays, let alone want to hold down the line at the busiest restaurant in town for a living. There’s just so much more easy money out there.
Only a few weeks into the new job, they began trusting me to work the grill. Remember how I couldn’t cook a steak to save my life? They eventually found this out, but it wasn’t a problem because they knew it was a skill I could learn, and they taught me. So there I was - me and one other guy holding down the entire kitchen while the July 4th week crowds flocked to our area by the tens of thousands like an angry mob. Restaurants aren’t always staffed-up to meet the demands. It’s a transient industry in a seasonal town, and turnover is high. Few people can cook nowadays, let alone want to hold down the line at the busiest restaurant in town for a living. There’s just so much more easy money out there. Whether there’s two cooks or four, when that dining room fills up, I still better put out perfect food. Every time. Every order. I’ve heard too many restaurant workers say things like,
“People can’t tell the difference between med-rare and med-well anyway. Just put more sauce on it.”
“Most people want their fish overcooked.”
I call B.S.
If you’ve ever paid for food at a restaurant that wasn’t up to par, I am sorry, and I really mean that. I’m not just screwing up your dinner. I’m screwing up your anniversary date night you saved up every penny for, your graduation party, or your night out with the guys. To me, it’s more than food.
I am not a perfectionist in most areas of my life, but if a customer orders a medium steak you better believe I want it to be perfect. This particular night, we were so swamped and understaffed, I was sending out some things that made me embarrassed to leave the kitchen in uniform, in case someone put two-and-two together and muttered,
“Hey look, there’s the unqualified schmuck who messed up our dinner!”
Slightly burnt but passable sliders, burgers ordered medium that were a solid med-well, and charred burger buns left the kitchen while one member of a party of eight watched their group eat and sat without food because the kitchen misread their ticket. To top the night off, the manager came back in and slapped down a cut-in-half filet mignon I had just sent out.
“They ordered this medium.”
With no defense, I slunk my way back to the grill and put the steak back on. If Gordon Ramsey were there, he would have yelled,
“It’s RAAAAAWWWWW you Donkey!! Now where’s the Lamb SAUCE?!”
If you’ve ever paid for food at a restaurant that wasn’t up to par, I am sorry, and I really mean that.
The next day I’m back at work. The entire town is ramping up each day as we near the 4th of July. I begin prepping for service – cutting and roasting parsnips, reducing demi-glace sauces, and saying my final prayers that I would keep my sanity before the hungry masses arrived. Somehow, I ended up on grill again. Things seem to be running smoothly, until a server comes back to the kitchen and says, with a hint of disappointment in his voice,
“Hey, who’s cooking steaks tonight?”
The whole kitchen went quiet and all eyes were on me. My heart sank as I tried to hide the fact that I was standing by the grill, tongs in hand. I was 100% sure he’d say that they were all going out wrong. Very wrong.
“The guy from table 11 who ordered the med-rare filet mignon told me to go to the chef right away and tell them he just had the best steak he’s ever had in his life!”
I blushed, or maybe I was just red from the heat of the kitchen, standing next to the grill for five hours. Or both. I had the biggest smile for the rest of my shift, as the four of us continued to work in harmony and encourage each other while we crushed the rest of dinner service. I encourage everyone to give their compliments to the chef if the food was great. Maybe they’ll just stroke an ego. Or maybe, there's a struggling line cook out there, desperate for a sign that they are in the right profession.
"I encourage everyone to give their compliments to the chef if the food was great. Maybe they’ll just stroke an ego. Or maybe, there's a struggling line cook out there, desperate for a sign that they are in the right profession.
I need to pee but I can’t leave the line with a rail full of tickets. It’s 9:14 pm and there’s no signs of the rush slowing down. Of course I’m also keeping track of all the modifications the diners have made, because one does not simply order menu items as they come. One rib-eye orderer wants it medium-rare with no mashed potatoes and the demi glace sauce on the side. Another rib-eye orderer wants medium, but no asparagus. One of the medium-rare bison burger eaters wants no bun and no onions, and another wants medium-well with no bacon and aioli on the side. I try to keep my flow while bending my brain around which order has which temp and which modification, but it’s not easy.
I finish plating up the ticket’s final bison burger at the same time the guy on sauté carefully brings over his salmon entree, trying not to disrupt the perfectly squeeze-bottled dots of pomegranate reduction and basil oil on the plate. Let me tell you there are few feelings as satisfying as slapping that plate down in the pass and handing the expediter that completed ticket for a table of eight. But I can’t revel in that moment for even a second, because that filet mignon ordered rare ain’t gonna be rare for much longer. Oh, and the ahi tuna is ready too... And my sliders are burning.
. . .
When one of the brunch cooks called in sick one Saturday morning, I figured it could be my time to shine, so I stepped up and said I’d work his sauté/egg poaching/fryer/waffle station. I’d never run that station before, so I took five minutes to learn how the waffle maker worked, had a quick hollandaise sauce making lesson from the chef, and began service.
I was almost waiting for the moment I’d be overwhelmed and have to ask one of the more experienced guys to step in and take over my station. I was running 12 stove burners, four waffle makers, and two deep fryers all on my own, but as the tickets kept rolling in, I was able to stay on top. Every order was going out on time and nothing was being sent back.
“Nice work, boys!” Said one of the waiters as he picks up the food for his table.
Without skipping a beat, the head chef, who’s on the line next to the rest of us, says,
“You’re going to have to start saying ‘nice work boys and girls’ now!”
That was one of the many little moments where I began to feel like I fit in – like there was a chance that I, an inexperienced, quiet, young woman with zero culinary school and little experience could hold her own on the line at the busiest restaurant in town. Maybe I wasn’t an im-pasta after all.
. . .
It’s 10:05, and our team has put out 450 cooked-to-order dinners in the last five hours. The kitchen closes at 10, but they’ll extend it if people are still waiting outside, and they are. Just when I get one second to breathe and think about potentially taking a bathroom break, I hear the printer again. I want to punch it off the shelf, but instead I watch the ticket keep printing, and printing.
“Sorry,” says the waitress, sheepishly as she walks into the kitchen, “I didn’t warn you about the table of 12 that just ordered. We just sat a few more tables too.”
I call out the ticket so the guy in the back on sauté can hear, then I put six burgers and three steaks on the grill. It doesn’t matter if it’s my 450th plate of the night, I still have to make it the best damn steak I’m capable of cooking. I finish up that order, three more orders, and then the manager finally tells us the kitchen is closed.
. . .
I’ve had many overwhelming days besides the ones I’ve written about in these pages. Maybe one day I’ll stop feeling like I'm getting chewed up and spat out by the dinner rush, or maybe great chefs never stop getting their butts kicked but have learned to roll with the punches. There are days I have the life drained out of me, and I finish my shift feeling like my brain had been fried in the deep fryer. There are days where I feel like I lost my soul somewhere between 7 and 9 pm, vowing if I ever have to see another filet mignon ever again, I’m punching a hole through the walk-in door. I’m not invincible because people say I can “handle the heat”. Many of us turn to drugs to handle the pressure of this job, but I’ve chosen not to. We all need some way of coping with the different pressures of life, whether we work in a busy restaurant kitchen or not. Writing this piece, and many other pages that will probably never make it out into the world, is one of my ways.
. . .
I actually felt as if I had come alive that night. Sure I was tired as all hell, but that feeling of giving something my absolute all was truly satisfying."
It’s 10:45. I think we did a good job on service, but I don’t know if people liked the food or not. The only dishes sent back were the “too rare” ahi tuna, and a perfectly good chicken dish that the customer thought just looked weird, and almost all dinners made it out in 15 minutes. Not only did nobody throw any plates across the room like they do on TV, and not only did no one retreat and cry in the walk-in, but I actually felt as if I had come alive that night. Sure I was tired as all hell, but that feeling of giving something my absolute all was truly satisfying. I’m not going to say the last few hours were handled with grace and ease, but dammit, we had handled it!
Then the chef walks in with the only piece of feedback I’ll receive on the entire night’s service.
“A customer said their rare steak was closer to medium-rare. They didn’t send it back, and they ate it, but try to take it off the grill sooner next time.”
The other 449 dishes? Who knows, maybe they were perfect, maybe they weren’t. It’s a mystery and will always be. This is what I have to base my entire performance off, and judge whether I’m good at my job or not. Constructive feedback is a good thing, but if I lose faith in my own overall ability, it’s over. I take note to pay more attention next time somebody orders rare.
I know I need to wake up early tomorrow for Sunday brunch, which is usually even more brutal than Saturday night. I leave the kitchen and begin squeezing my way through the labyrinth of drunk, dancing partiers bouncing up and down to some sub-par live music. I may as well be invisible in my whites (well they were white but now they look more like a Jack Pollock masterpiece of buffalo sauce and char). Nobody cares about me as I make my way to the utility room to get the mop bucket, as the lead singer of the band wails off-key. It doesn’t matter if I can put out all those fine foods. I’m not above mopping the floor, and I never will be.
We work in a pressure cooker, and few people become diamonds, and in the fast-paced craziness of my new work environment, I was beginning to see my true potential. I realized I wouldn’t want my workplace any other way."
I had come to work at the busiest restaurant in town to find out if I really wanted to cook for a living, and had, at many moments, wondered why I EVER thought that was a good idea. As I’m scrubbing dried batter off the walls that night, I realized it was a good idea, because I ended up finding an answer.
I was only planning on staying for a summer. Turning a childhood passion into an actual career? Impossible. No one does that, and if I try, I will end up hating the thing I used to love. At least that’s what people say. But when I went from cooking at home to cooking for work, something clicked. It wasn’t just cooking that I liked. I had grown to love the rush of a busy service, the potential to learn and eventually create new ideas that would bring a light to people’s eyes, and the camaraderie shared among people who have the same passion and work hard together. We work in a pressure cooker, and few people become diamonds, and in the fast-paced craziness of my new work environment, I was beginning to see my true potential. I realized I wouldn’t want my workplace any other way.
Modern day feminists may be mad, but I think I’ve found my place – and it’s in the kitchen.
It was on Saturday around 1pm that I realized that I was in the middle of having my ass handed to me, and that being a cook for a living maybe, just maybe, wasn’t something I was quite cut out for. I wanted to crawl inside the walk-in fridge and put a bucket over my head and disappear, but I didn’t have time. I didn’t even have time to pee.
I had cooked at home almost every day since I was 12 years old, even making some extra money as a teenager selling cooked meals to my parents’ coworkers and friends. My first summer out of College, after a winter working at a ski resort and getting married in the spring, I needed to find a job, fast. Knowing I was able to cook well at home for family, friends, and myself, I figured I would try my hand in the restaurant industry for a season. I heard it was stressful and busy, with long hours and low pay, but I was craving a challenge. Despite having no professional experience in the field, the summer job market in the heavily touristic Tahoe Area where I live was in high-demand, so I actually ended up having a few options for actual cook positions to choose from. I settled on a small, hole in the wall place called Morgan’s Lobster Shack in Downtown Truckee, because seafood is basically my favorite thing, and I figured I might as well enjoy the food I put out. My first day was a Sunday in mid-June, and they put me straight on the line. The “line” is where all order, manners, and sanity go out the window. Rather than prep areas, it’s the place in the kitchen where meals are cooked-to-order. Quickly, I learned all the menu items by heart, and I became familiar with the ins and outs of working in a kitchen. Soon, I was able to follow their recipes, prep, open, close, and work the line on my own.
Anyway, back to said ass-handing Saturday. I’m staring at the hoards of people lining up at the cash register to order their food, and the almost-as-long line of tickets on the rail above me of people who were waiting for their order. Apparently, the entire city, their moms, and step-sisters’ second removed cousins once-removed decided to show up at this restaurant at the same time. It’s a small restaurant, with only enough space in the kitchen for two cooks at a time, although sometimes a third will squeeze in if it gets really crazy.
The old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. For big, overwhelming tasks, you should approach it one small step at a time, from beginning to end. Well in the kitchen, not only would serving elephant get the health department to close you down, but you absolutely cannot take things that way. When it’s rush time, you might have 15 orders (ranging from 1-15 items per order) in front of you and only one other cook at a time. Taking tickets one at a time will cause people to wait all day for their lunch.
You can’t put the salmon on the grill and stand there and wait for it to cook before starting the next item. You have to put the salmon down, drop fries, dredge shrimp, sprint to the walk-in to dead-lift a 50 pound bucket of cut potatoes for fries, remember to turn the salmon for those *perfect* grill marks on your way to drop the dredged shrimp in the fryer, drop more fries, take the next ticket out of the printer only to realize it is attached to five more tickets you haven’t even looked at, dip fish in batter, make three salads, then suddenly remember you have to flip the salmon over, only to realize you forgot about the shrimp in the fryer which are now overcooked, and you have to re-start them, then you turn around and collide with your co-worker who didn’t say “behind, hot!” and now you have a nasty burn on your arm, which should probably be iced, but you don’t have time because you have to take that salmon off the grill before it passes that really fine line between undercooked and dry and chewy, then re-do the fried shrimp, prepare 10 plates for that table of 10 who has been waiting for half an hour, salt the fries, plate, and get that order out, only to continue working on the other 12 tickets which are already in progress.
Apparently, women belong in the kitchen, so I went to work at an actual kitchen. There were no women. I had yet again, after a season in the ski industry, found myself in a completely male-dominated field. There is nothing “domestic” or “easy” or “feminine” about cooking. (I mean, knives and fire? Don’t see anything soft and fru-fru about that). They say, “if you can’t handle the heat, get out!” The “heat” not only refers to the physical heat (which can get intense, surrounded by grills and fire and what not), but the stress, and the absolute chaos and mayhem that is a restaurant kitchen during a service rush. On that Saturday, and on a few other crazy weekends, I had found myself asking, Can I handle the heat? Or should I just get out?
When I first began my job, I had lots of doubts. I was surprised I was even hired as a chef in the first place, thinking everyone always had to start as a dishwasher or a waiter. I felt like that guy from the movie Ratatouille - unqualified for the job and not too sure how I got there or what to do. Only I didn’t have a rat controlling my every move. I remember about a week or two into my job, a server came back into the kitchen and said,
“Who made the fish and chips?”
I did it. I had made the fish and chips, even making the batter from scratch that morning . Oh no, what did I screw up this time, I thought. They must be undercooked, or too salty, or the fries must be soggy, or maybe I forgot the tartar sauce. Reluctantly, I admitted that I had made the fish and chips.
“They want to give compliments to the chef for the best fish and chips they have ever had!”
That was like my first boost of confidence. I finally had a glimpse of hope that maybe I got this cooking thing down.
Then there are moments when I feel don’t got this. Like when making clarified butter erupted into an enormous flame, which gave a California wildfire season a run for its’ money, get this - twice. Or when I spilled egg whites all over the floor and knocked a 22-quart bucket of pickled onions and juice over in the walk-in, both in the same day. I remember being on my hands and knees in that big fridge, mopping up all that pickled onion juice from all the little nooks and crannies, thinking, “How did I walk-in to this pickle?”
Working in a kitchen teaches you a good lesson on humility. Sometimes, you get to do the cool stuff like work on the line where customers can see you cooking their meal. You get to take the credit for the perfectly cooked piece of salmon, or you get that adrenaline rush from working a busy Saturday. Sometimes, however, you have to do the “crap work”, aka the stuff that just needs to get done. I’ve learned that no matter how well I can cook, I’m never too good to mop the floor or get my hands covered in shrimp guts peeling and de-veining hundreds of shrimp.
You get your satisfying moments too, like finishing the last ticket of a rush and giving high-fives all around. Working in a open kitchen, I get to hear the guy rave about that killer seared ahi tuna I just sent out, or the lady come back and say she just had the best sandwich of her life (Not just the best Lobster Reuben, but the best sandwich). Sometimes, it’s the little things that make your day, like the lady who came in after a busy Friday night and said she had come there to celebrate her friend’s cancer-free results.
And at the end of the day, coming home smelling of sweat and fish, with the sound of that darn printer still ringing in my ears, and a few new burns on my hands, everyone in that long line got their food, and I did not retreat to the walk in and put a bucket over my head - not that Saturday or any other day.
For five months, I made money as a professional Terrain Park tester at Northstar California, in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas by Lake Tahoe. For those of you who are new to or know nothing about the world of winter sports and ski resort operations, let me explain what a terrain park tester is.
At a ski resort, a “Park” is not simply a place with grass, swings, and benches, where people may take a stroll through of a Sunday afternoon. (Although some ski resort parks do have benches, and um, grass). I once heard someone referring to the terrain park as full of “death machines”, and I’ve heard mothers trying to convince their small children on skis to dare not venture in there. What it really is, is a place where the resort builds jumps, halfpipes, rails, and other creative features that skiers and snowboarders ride on. If you watched the Olympics, think of the halfpipe and slopestyle events. That’s a terrain park. I test them.
O.K, so maybe I wasn’t a “terrain park tester”, but it sounds cool… and dangerous. Park Crew was my official job title, although some may refer to us as “the groomers”, “park staff”, or “the boys” (even if, by some miracle, there are actually girls on park crew, like me). Park Crew actually does a lot more than ride around all day and smoke pot (the latter, by the way, I personally do not partake in).
I knew this job would be a good fit for me, mainly because I love to ride the park. During my job interview, they didn’t have enough chairs in the office, so my boss pulled up an empty paint bucket and flipped it upside down and sat on it. There were also puppies running around the office. It was then that I felt I could loosen up and be myself, even interviewing for a job at a world-class resort. I got to talk about my ideal terrain park, even using words like “de-gape-ify”, and all the words they tell you not to use at job interviews like “super cool” and “gnarly”. A few hours later, they told me I got the job. I hesitated to take it at first, because I had just graduated college with a business degree, and people have this idea that park crew isn’t for people with degrees. But then I was like, what the heck, I’ve always wanted to be park crew for a season. Now’s my time.
So, like I said, we don’t just ride around and test features all day, as much as I wish that were my job. We do so much of the nitty-gritty work that needs to get done, like putting up the fences at the exit, and tightening rope lines that mark the boundaries of the resort. It’s crazy the stuff I never noticed even after years of riding at ski resorts. Like, someone has to put up all those signs and fences and take them down every day for the grooming machines to get through.
Think ski patrol is always the first one on the hill? Think again. at Northstar, park crew is up there even before ski patrol, and we’re off the hill after them. We see the sunrise and the sunset in the same shift, and not just at the end of December either. We are 20 guys and 2 girls out there in the freezing-your-butt-off cold, making sure Northstar’s terrain park is nothing short of perfect. We are out there with our “sporks” which are like a shovel and a rake in one, shaping each takeoff to make the features ride smoothly for the skiers and snowboarders to come.
When it snows, we shovel all the snow off the 100+ rails and boxes, only to go back out in an hour and shovel again like a never-ending cycle. When it doesn’t snow, we shovel snow back on to the rails and boxes so they don’t fall over. At the end of every day, we use those trusty sporks to hand-shape every takeoff, beaten up by thousands of skis and snowboards. We’re out there on those really hot spring days, riding down the run with our big buckets full of salt to spread on takeoffs so they ice over rather than melt. 60 degrees feels like 90 when you’re in the sun, raking slush off a jump takeoff and melting snow on your head to cool the heat. Shoveling in the winter is tiring, but spring is a whole different tiring.
Despite all this hard work, people still look at the terrain park department differently. We’re the misfits. At a ski resort, the departments like ski school, marketing, real estate, and ski racing teams, are looked up to as the “ritzy”, classy departments that make the ski resort what it is. Skiing and snowboarding have become less of an extreme sport and more of something rich people do on vacation. Kind of like yachting or eating caviar (I don’t know what they do, I mean, I’m not rich people.) Over here in the terrain parks world, guests and upper management do think of us as, like I said before, riding around all day and smoking pot. We are, as people in my department have said, “the red-headed step child” of the resort.
Some guests though, do treat us like heroes. They will see us out there making the park look good, and say things like “Thank you for your service!”, “You rock”, or “now there’s the real MVP!”. I’ve heard parents ski by and tell their kids, “OK, little Johnny, now make sure you say thank you to the park groomer!”. We get fist bumps, high fives, and the occasional person taking time out of their ski run to tell us how fun the park is.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had people yell expletives at us after closing the halfpipe. I’ve even been mooned on the job. People spray us, pee on our rails, call us “gay”, and complain to us because their favorite rail to side-jump is closed for 5 minutes. Some days, people go out of their way to mess with us, taking all the flags off the jumps and throwing them into the woods just to see us have to put them back every 10 minutes.
So you do lots of hard work, and most people don’t even see it, and sure you might get a little recognition, but you also get people mooning you and swearing at you just for doing your job. So why do it?
Every day, tons of people come through our terrain park, the product of our hard work, our pride and joy, and its obvious they’re having the time of their life. From the kid with the edgie-wedgie side jumping every rail takeoff on presidents’ day, to the guy in a unicorn onsie doing 1.5 backflips off the big jump, the park has to be the funnest place on the hill. People laugh and smile and take videos of each other. They fly through the air and glide over rails. People of all ages are out there in the park having fun, and seeing that makes park crew’s day.
And yes, when we’re not raking, drilling, shoveling snow off features, shoveling snow back on features, getting flipped off, loading the chair with 50 pounds of salt, yelling at little kids in landings, putting back jump flags, untangling ropes, driving big machines, lifting fallen-over rails, or setting our alarms for 5am…
We’re testing the park. ;D
My senior capstone project for my major of ski resort management at Sierra Nevada College was to build a virtual ski resort on google earth that has at least a 10,000 person capacity (Think Northstar sized) and fits in a budget of 110 million dollars
In addition to chairlifts and trails, my partner and I had to plan out the base area, all the buildings, parking lots, machinery to buy, snowmaking, tree clearing, and all those other details an average guest might not think about.
It was a pretty fun but difficult project and I am proud to see it all come together, especially the fold-up brochure map I designed to look like a real ski resort's.
Here is our executive summary that I wrote:
"We are a diverse ski area with great learning facilities and beginner runs, a killer terrain park, plenty of blue groomers, and chutes and cliffs for those who want it. Located 4.5 hours from the bay and almost due east of San Francisco, we are a weekend and destination resort. 2 miles off Alpine Highway 4, it is a perfect, remote getaway from the traffic and crowds. Fly into Reno and make an easy 1.5 hour zip down Highway 395, avoiding the buzz and touristy-ness of South Lake Tahoe or the traffic of North Lake Tahoe.
With 6 high speed lifts, 3 quad chairs, and a gnarly tow rope on the far side of the hill, Tryon Peak boasts a base elevation 1,500 feet higher than most in the Tahoe basin, a peak elevation 0f 10,825’, and a mid-mountain lodge 300 feet higher than the peak of Northstar. Averaging about 470 inches of annual snowfall and joining the 700” club in the 2016-17 season, Tryon Peak is up there with some of the snowiest places in the West. Even on the lean years you can expect our reservoir-backed snowmaking system to deliver 5 chairs, ranging from green circles to black diamonds.
From wide-open powder bowls, to tight trees, to steep chutes and hot laps through our endless park we are sure you will find something to love about Tryon Peak. We have five zones for a skier to choose from. You can cruise green runs or lap the park on Lower Mountain, or hop on the steeps chair for a challenge right from the get-go. If you want a quick getaway to some wide-open faces and steep chutes, go right from the base area to the 10,825-foot top of our Highland’s zone via Highland’s Access Express. For some awesome trees and backcountry-esque lines, check out the backside, which tops out at 10,101’. The west side, accessible via Tryon Peak Chair, is another great zone featuring Intermediate and Advanced groomed runs. Finally, sitting above Noble Lake, featuring everything from blue groomers to narrow chutes, the Upper Mountain is another great place to have the time of your life. Our groomed runs total 411 acres, which are groomed every night by our 12 cats. In addition, we have 77 acres of designated double black terrain, including chutes, cliffs, and steep alpine bowls.
When you get into the centralized base area you will be able to choose from one of four chairlifts to start your day on, five if you include the Magic Carpet. Within minutes you can be out of the shuttle and up in the midst of paradise. While you’re in the main base lodge, book a lesson with one of our PSIA-AASI certified instructors, drop off your kid in Ski School, rent some skis, or swing by our retail store to get that one thing you forgot (I’m sure we’ll have it).
We have three gourmet restaurants to choose from to enjoy a treat away from home. Trough Valley Restaurant is conveniently located at the main base area. 8,900’ Grille is our mid-mountain lodge located by Noble Lake, where you can take a break from ripping it through the upper mountain. Finally, stashed away at the bottom of the backside, featuring plenty of outdoor seating, check out hidden lodge at the bottom of Koney Express to truly feel you are in the midst of Mother Nature. Enjoy views of Bull Lake and the famous 10,101 foot Binary Peak.
So what are you waiting for? Come try us on, you might just stay."
Would you ski here?
It is an interesting concept to think about — the people you cross paths with and perhaps will never meet again. The people you wish you could have a second chance at meeting. The thought would come to mind sometimes that maybe, just maybe, the person I was supposed to fall in love with had already passed through my life without either of us noticing. What if, by some crazy fluke of divine intervention, the world would show two people just how small it is?
A good looking, snowboarding, Jesus-loving man, and I’ll probably never see him again. Do you even know how rare that is? I thought, as I drove back home down Highway 80 towards Reno and back to the Tahoe area that cold January night. I guess it’s just one of those things. I didn’t dwell too much on it. I didn’t think too much about what could have been or even that I had “blown it.”
Besides, no guy has ever shown interest in me in the past 19 years. Why would that suddenly change? I guess I had become numb to the relationship drama around me since my friends first started finding love in middle school. I didn’t want to hear any of it. I had just kind of accepted that it would never happen to me. Maybe my standards were too high or I just wasn’t “getting after it” enough.
That evening, I had participated in an entry-level snowboarding competition at Boreal, one of my local ski resorts. It was a rail jam event, so naturally, there were only two girls and about forty guys. The other girl was a professional snowboarder, so I wasn’t too bummed about receiving second place. Besides, I was still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, my first injury that season, and I was glad to be back on my board. I say first because two weeks after this event, I managed to injure myself a second time by dislocating the other shoulder trying to backflip on my snowboard.
“Nice cross sticker! Jesus is awesome!”
I looked to my right and there he was. He wore a black helmet and camouflage jacket. His face was shielded by ski goggles and a face mask. I did, in fact have a cross sticker on my helmet I had cut out myself and stuck front and center. A few people would notice it now and then — usually other Christians. This was the last place I expected to hear that. These Friday night rail jams were quite the show. People drank beer, smoked weed, and swore like sailors. This young man was like the light that shone in the darkness.
The competition went on and we saw each other each time we hiked up to the top of the drop-in of the competition venue. We would talk briefly about what trick we planned on doing or how our last run went. The rail jam format was a casual one where you had an hour or so to hike up as many times as you could and do tricks on rails, which you were given a score on. We watched people throw backflips, clear huge gaps, and jump onto three-foot-tall rails. It was a little intimidating, and I didn’t know anyone else there except this one guy I had just met.
I hoped to see him again and get to know him more after the competition during the awards ceremony, but when I left the hill and went into the lodge, he wasn’t there. I received my second-place-out-of-two prize bag and went on my way. I didn’t even get his name.
Life went on for the next eight months and I didn’t think much of this interaction. Those eight months went on just like the rest of my life up to that point — devoid of any meaningful attention from the opposite gender. It was a fun time in my life though. Snowboarding season continued, I finished my sophomore year of college, and I worked a fun summer job at that same ski resort teaching kids to snowboard on a small patch of man-made snow.
Shortly after school started, I attended a get-together for college-aged people. There were about seven young adults total, some new faces and some familiar. I always liked talking to new people, so I sat next to a guy I had never met before. He had dark hair, thick eyebrows, and was wearing a silver cross necklace and a pink, flowery ring.
“I was on my way here and I picked up a couple hitchhikers. They were all Chinese girls, and when I dropped them off they gave me this pink flowery ring and asked me if I had a girlfriend. When I said no, they told me to find someone to give it to,” he said, justifying his manly piece of jewelry. I kind of liked how it looked on him.
I had never hit it up with a guy like that before. We talked about random things — whatever came to mind really. I remember talking about my summer job, my passion for cooking, and how my grandma was a princess in Burma. He told me about his time in Alaska over the summer — how he had lived on a glacier taking care of sled dogs and flying helicopters. Then he started talking about snowboarding. Loves Jesus? Check. Single? Check. Into snow sports? Check. That was a good segue into exchanging contact information so we could meet up in the winter and snowboard.
This time, I wasn’t going to blow it. We exchanged numbers on Thursday, and since he hadn’t texted me first by Tuesday, I took the first step. I invited him to a beach party that was happening on Saturday. I felt more comfortable having a reason to text him rather than just starting with “hey ;)”.
I know the rules: Always let the guy text first; don’t make the first text an invitation; if he waits longer than three days he is not interested; make him jealous. I gave the finger to convention, since the last two decades of my life had shown me that waiting around and playing by the rules did not get me anywhere.
He responded about two minutes later with not only a “Yes, I’d love to come”, but also some actual effort in keeping the conversation going. I flipped when I received the first “good night” text two days later. I screenshotted it and sent it to my two best friends to whom I told everything. Keep in mind, I had never even been as far with a guy as texting just for fun. This was uncharted territory.
When Saturday rolled around and we both showed up to the beach party at Lake Tahoe, we seemed to connect just as well as we did the other night. Towards the end of the party, about thirty of us were in the lake in a big circle throwing around a beach ball.
“Let’s go and swim out!” he told me. I followed. The water was cold in spots and warm in other spots. We saw a ski-doo not too far away and swam towards it. When the two if us reached it, after looking around for the owner, we climbed up on top. We joked about how we should try to hijack it. When one of us would move, the whole thing would tip over. We almost capsized it a few times.
We sat there on the ski-doo so long just sharing our life stories that the party was almost over when we swam back to the shore. After everyone left, the two of us stayed there and continued talking. Since we were both snowboarders, the conversation drifted towards that.
“I’ve only ever been to one snowboarding competition,” he said, “and it was last winter in Boreal.”
“Ha, no way! Was it in January?” I asked, since I was at that one as well.
“Yeah, it was!”
“Remember there were like, two girls?” I said, “I was one of them. I was wearing a bright green jacket.”
I think both our minds were blown when he said, “You had a cross on your helmet, didn’t you?” He was the man I thought I’d never meet again. This is the sort of crazy stuff that happens in fictional romance stories, not real life.
Now, when people ask us how we met or how we started dating, I say, “It’s kind of an interesting story.” He keeps telling me he is glad we have a storybook tale, rather than “I bought her a drink at a bar,” or one that could be summed up in two words like “in college.” Not only is the how-we-met story unconventional, but so is our relationship. Instead of expensive dates, we go on adventures such as hiking off-trail, rock climbing, or skateboarding in Santa Cruz. We both fix our cars and do the dishes, and he owns more shoes than I do. During the winter, we snowboard together every weekend, even returning to the spot where we originally met.
Since starting our relationship, we’ve found other weird coincidences that made us laugh, like how his middle school Myspace account was sk8terboy and mine was sk8erchick, or how that pink, flowery ring given to him by those hitchhikers an hour before we met ended up on my finger. Through a combination of putting the rules aside and a crazy coincidence, we had found love. I’m not here to spark a conversation about predestination or fate, but it does provide food for thought.
Photos and writing by Hanalei Edbrooke
Between coming home from College and going off to my summer job, I had three weeks at home in the Bay area. It was hard to get hired because I was only there for such as short time, and I had no plans. Nothing to do, no routine, no time constraints or deadlines, no commitments. So I decided to continue something I had started about three years prior. That was a healthy, gourmet, catering business for family friends.
My company motto is “good food that just happens to be healthy”. You may be surprised when you see items such as clam chowder, alfredo linguini, chocolate-citrus cake, and shepherd’s pie on a “health food” menu. But those are all there, and yes, are indeed, healthy. It became my goal to spread the idea that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or limited.
When I started the Paleo diet 3 years ago, I didn’t want to “cut out” any of my favorite foods, and I soon discovered that there was a healthy way to adapt practically any dish. Doing this business has not only taught me more about cooking, but about business.
I learned that you’re never too young to go ahead and start something. My business started as a way to raise a few hundred dollars for a missions trip in 2013 when I was 16. In a few months, I had raised enough money, but I didn’t want to stop there. I continued it on and off and saved the money for my snowboarding pursuit. When I started, I had no idea about business or accounting. All I knew was that I had to price the menu items more than the cost of the ingredients, and boom! Profit. I learned that other people are willing to pay more than I am willing to pay for something. I guess if you’re used to eating out at restaurants, my menu was pretty cheap, and probably healthier.
I learned about target markets. It would be great to be that cool, hip new startup serving the twenty-somethings. I wanted to cook for my friends, and people like myself. However, when I first began selling my meals, 100% of my customers were my parents’ age. It made a lot of sense. Who makes the decisions about what the family eats for dinner? Probably not the children. I hadn’t set a target market at the beginning, but I soon figured it out.
I realized how hard it must be to start a “real” business. For me, it was easy. There was no risk, since I only bought the ingredients after receiving an order. Working out of home, I had no extra rent to pay, no overhead, and I didn’t have to pay any employees. My only cost was the ingredients and electricity. Getting customers was hard, but at least my life was not dependent on turning profit – it just was a way for me to get some extra money. Seriously, if this was a real business where I had to get a separate building, hire employees, and pay for permits and insurance, I would have to get a lot more orders – which wasn’t easy. I learned that most of your money comes from repeat customers rather than new ones, and that putting people over profit is important for keeping those customers. If someone didn’t like my food, I would re-do their order for free. I gave out free samples and free gifts for repeat customers. I took “off menu” orders if that’s what my customers wanted, even roaming around the city in search of goats meat to fulfill one of those orders.
Am I going to make this more official and continue it in the future? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure if I will still love cooking if I do it for many hours a day, day in day out. All I know is that I’m very grateful I’ve had people willing to put their trust in me and buy food from a 16-19-year old. Without this experience, I would not have learned so much, and those three weeks at home would have been a drag. Honestly, I would have done it for free. It means the world to a chef when people enjoy and praise their creations.
Ever since I first started snowboarding, I have had the dream of living in a place where the mountains were accessible on a daily basis. Finally, after 5 years of driving up from the Bay, I moved to Tahoe. When the first snows started falling in November, it was like a dream come true. I even arranged my school schedule to I could snowboard 5 full days a week. I got a job next to my favorite ski resort. I didn’t think I would be on my college team, but after walking in on a meeting and asking if I could train with them, I found out I actually could be a part of the team. Everything was so great! I enthusiastically went to every single fall conditioning, thinking about all the pow I would be riding. I thought of all the friends I would make.
My season started early, on November 6, riding the park at Boreal. It seemed like the season was off to a great start! I remember on “dead day” during finals in December, I went out to Northstar instead of studying. I landed 3 or 4 new tricks that day, which I was very happy with so early on in the season. After finals, I moved to Truckee for Winter break, five minutes from the slopes. And then, on day one of break, Injury number one hit. My doctor told me I was out for the season. Suddenly all the promise of the season melted away like the terrain park on a sunny, April day.
I kept my hopes up. Between Christmas and New Years, I was able to snowboard in a sling with my family. It was fun and I was glad to be back. School started up again in mid-January, and I was competing with the college team and individually through USASA. I was back to training 5 days a week, and by the end of January, I felt I had fully recovered. In fact, on January 31, I said “I think I’m finally recovered from my injury! Time to start pushing it again!” So I tried a backflip.
I was so close, but backflips should be done in whole numbers. 0.8 backflips just didn’t cut it, and what-used-to-be-my-good-arm was now my bad arm. That same day, my car broke for the 4th time since it caught on fire in November.
This time, my determination was even greater, and I was back on snow within 4 days. I kept to a rigorous physical therapy routine, and knew that the season still had promise. I felt like I loved snowboarding even more than I did before my injuries. Two weeks after my second injury, I was off to regionals for the Collegiate competition league in Mammoth, where I would compete against the colleges from California and Nevada.
First of all, Mammoth is the BOMB! And I felt like I was truly part of the team on that weekend road trip. Out of complete surprise, I ended up earning 3rd place in the Slopestyle event and 4th in snowboard cross. I attributed it entirely to good luck. A month later was Spring break and I skipped the tropical vacation and got to ride every day, including my birthday, on which I received several feet of snow and blue skies. A week later, I was in Colorado, competing in the USASA national championships. It's now the end of the season, and I can happily say I’ve had no more injuries
I didn’t plan on having 2 injuries. I didn’t plan on spending so many of those 89 days by myself. I didn’t plan on having my car catch on fire. Despite all this though, I am extremely grateful for how my season went. Considering my doctor told me I was out for the season with my first injury in December, my season has been phenomenal in comparison. My goal was 100 days. I got 90, and I had to take about 20 days off snow between both injuries. I got so many sunny park laps. Although I feel I did not improve as much as I would have liked, I can say I did my best with the circumstances. I am way more stoked that I tried a backflip than I would be if I had stayed safe and un-injured.
My season is actually not over. A week ago, I found out I would be working at a summer snowboarding camp starting in June. I am extremely stoked to have this opportunity, and to continue progressing in what is usually the off-season. My luck may have turned in December, but it has turned back around. I come out of this season stronger and with more confidence in my own determination. Without my setbacks, I would not have this.
They Say 19 is the stupid age. The most reckless stage of life where decisions are made impulsively and without thought of the future. Next week is my 19th birthday, and I am excited to embrace the next year of my life.
I might be the sort of person who tries a backflip on my snowboard off a 7-foot jump, or goes 75 around a 55-mph corner just for the heck of it. While I may or may not have gone out snowboarding while still in a sling, I feel like I have learned a thing or two in my almost two decades of existence.
1. Education is important, but learning is importanter
Academics aren’t everything – but definitely are something. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum moving from from Cupertino to Tahoe. Asking someone their GPA in Cupertino was comparable to asking a woman her weight. I worked in a child care for almost a year, and I realized that Kids were being prepared for the SAT from Kindergarten. My boss told me that his boss was the parents, and the stricter and meaner I was, the more they would like me. If a kid went home and complained, “Miss Hanalei Forced me to do math homework and put me on time out when I didn’t!”, that is what kept them coming back. Meanwhile in Tahoe, I’ve met people who skip class because they don’t feel like going, or are too hungover from partying hard on a Monday night. This post is not about why we should all forget about school and go do whatever you want (I would definitely become a ski bum)
What I have realized is that grades do not measure anything, and what motivates me to do well in school is the fact that I am giving my all into everything I do. What matters more than learning set facts is learning how to think for yourself and work with people. While the school system still needs work, I believe you can still go to a public school and get out what you put into it by approaching subjects with genuine interest.
2. Who cares?
Working through the same child care, I did get to do some non-academic stuff in the summer. I remember one day we went to the park to supervise the children on the playground. I had the strong urge to join them, watching them swing, roll down a hill, do cartwheels and ride the spinny-thing. and then I realized – why not join them? Who cares? So I did. and it was awesome. In middle school I cared so much about what people thought of me, but then I realized I was my own worst critic. What could have been a boring day sitting around in mid-June heat watching kids have fun turned into an awesomely fun experience.
3.Life is like a hitting a ramp.
One of the best and worst feelings is standing at the top of the terrain park, strapped into your snowboard (or skis), knowing you’re about to send it. If I want to hit a jump, I have to decide from the top, not at the takeoff. I need to go fast enough, and not hesitate. Approaching a jump timidly or too slowly can cause you to miss the landing and hurt yourself. Snowboarding is not the only place I have realized being decisive and committing are important. Whether I’m stepping up to the stage at Open mic night, or deciding to commit to a binding decision, there are things in life you just can’t “sorta try to do”. At some point you just have to say, “dropping!”, point your snowboard at the jump, and send it (figuratively and literally).
4. Sometimes a little luck is all you need
After 4 car break-downs and two injuries in the space of 3 months, I figured it was time for some good luck. It was regionals weekend and I was at Mammoth with the SNC team. Snowboard cross is an awesome, aggressive, exhilarating event, but to be honest, I sucked at it. I’m just too nice! Strapping in at the start gate, my goal was to not lose the first round by too much. The top two from each round go to the next round, and so forth until the finals. In that first round, everyone fell and I stayed ahead long enough to end up in first place! It came by total surprise! Three rounds later of the same luck and I was in the finals! That day, I learned that sometimes all it takes is a little luck, and when the good luck comes, embrace it!
5. Put downs and criticism are my motivation
I wasn’t going to hit the jump at Northstar, but all it took was some guy saying “all girls just need to grow a pair” to get me to do it. The fact that I was not recruited for the snowboard team and was denied an athletic scholarship motivates me to show up to every practice and try my hardest at every one. I was once told that watching me snowboard was like watching grass grow. If someone tells me I can’t do it, that drives me to prove them wrong. I remember the most determined I ever was to prove someone wrong was when my doctor told me I was out for the season in December after a dislocated shoulder. I was back on snow in two weeks and my arm feels fine. Want to get me to send it? Tell me I’m cautious. Tell me I won’t amount to anything. I dare you. I could crumple or give up with criticism, but I’ve made the choice not to. People create meaning out of things, and to me, I take criticism as an opportunity to prove someone wrong.
6. Boring things are as boring as you want them to be
In middle school, I hated school. My favorite thing to say at one point was “I’m bored”. My 13-year-old self never would have guessed that I would eventually get myself to tolerate long distance running and Chemistry. In 10th grade, I learned to “fake it till you make it”. My life consisted of 18 hours a week of cross country, and lots of homework from my Honors chemistry class. After a few weeks of hating it, I realized, “Hey, maybe I don’t have to hate it!”. With every step, I told myself i loved running. With every assignment, I told myself I loved chemistry. And it worked! I didn’t love them, but I definitely tolerated them, and I was surprised at the impact of my fake, forced thoughts.
7. It is impossible to do things without other people
Even before Coming to SNC, I had the vision of starting a christian fellowship club. My greatest fear was that no one would want to join me. I could plan the best events, and choose the best bible verses to study, but if no one came, it would be a huge flop. Seriously, other people rock. Without other people, this club would be nothing. We now host meetings twice a week and are being sponsored by a local church because of our success. All I’ve done is get the people together. I thought starting a christian club at a small, liberal arts college would be difficult, but the amount of support I’ve had has made it possible.
8. Better to aim high and miss than to aim low and make it
Every snowboarding season I set a ton of goals. Last season some of them were pretty out-there. By the end of the season, I was extremely disappointed with my slopestyle line at nationals. I did three straight airs. My disappointment was tangible. Then I realized, so what? I was disappointed but whoopdedoo, big deal. I didn’t die. Just achieve those goals next season!
9. Forget being a hard worker.
Work smart, not hard. When I first started hitting jumps on my snowboard two years ago, I could not land them. I thought the only way was to keep trying the same thing over and over. So I did. I literally busted my ass (most likely fractured my tailbone that season). Last snowboarding season I wanted to take a different approach. I worked on my form and focused on how I hit the jumps.
Bill Gates once said he likes to choose lazy people to do a job, because they will find an easy way to do it. I take this mindset into studying for tests, and other areas of my life. Sure I could study for both the SAT and ACT and take the best score after taking each one multiple times, but why not pick one, study it well, and plan to ace it on the first try?
10. Healthy food doesn't suck.
They say “if it tastes good, spit it out”. I say “If it tastes bad spit it out”. Whoever came up with that saying probably tried to eat raw kale and decided to stay away from all healthy food. I remember when I used to think healthy food was uncool. But you know what’s even uncooler? Feeling tired and sluggish and getting sick every other month.
When people think of healthy food they might think of weird things that weird people eat like Kale, Chia seeds, or Quinoa. You know the food that only “that kind” of person eats. What I’ve learned is that healthy food is rad, and doesn’t have to be a speciality “health food”. It just has to be real food! I never shop at whole foods, and I’m not a big fan of kale or salad. I hate chia seed pudding and I’ve never bought Kombuncha. Healthy food can be totally awesome (and inexpensive) if know what you’re doing!
11. Yes friends on a powder day!
Life is way more fun when you share great experiences with other people. What I’ve realized is that life is not all about me. If I had all the money in the world and could snowboard powder all the time, but could not share it with anyone, I’d be miserable. I’m not only taking about powder days, but life in general.
I could just devote all my time and energy into improving my own snowboarding and winning competitions, but what is the point if I never help other people? To even consider snowboarding as a sport, I am extremely privileged. Not everyone can pursue their passion, and it would be my honor to help other people.
12. You don't have to feel a certain way because it's the norm.
It is the day before my first college finals and I’m out at Northstar hitting the terrain park. what on earth am I doing out there? In 9th grade, I saw how stressed people got during finals week and I vowed not to stress out. It’s hard to describe how to not stress out, you just kind of tell yourself that it is your intention. I planned to go snowboarding the weekend before finals every year and have kept to that tradition. The result? My final grades were often surprisingly higher than my average grade for the semester. I took the same mindset into Junior year (dubbed year of hell and eternal sobbing in Cupertino), and found myself not stressing while everyone else around me was.
13. If you're not fearless, pretend you are.
Let’s face it. Some people are just born fearless. From a young age they are going big in extreme sports. When I was a kid I was one of the most cautious people you’d meet. I loved to stay in my comfort zone. I chickened out on Disneyland’s splash mountain. So now that I aspire to be in the X-games, all the fear just suddenly melted away, right? Yeah I wish so too. I’ve learned that how you are as a kid does not define your future. I think my cautious nature drew me to snowboarding because it is a tangible way to step out of that comfort zone. Courage is just the by-product of caring enough about something. Fear exists, but I refuse to let it rule my life. I want to go skydiving because I know I don’t want to.
14. There is no set path
I try really hard not to, but I get extremely jealous when I see the little 9 year old girl out there on the snow, ripping it up. In the world of high level sports, 19 is old. I started snowboarding at the age of 14, living 4 hours away from the closest snow. I didn’t go to some fancy mountain academy or compete in the junior Olympics. I knew that I would be competing against people who did take that path. Some people were homeschooled and lived in Tahoe all their lives. How could I possibly make it? There was no way. That was until I heard about Jenny Jones.
Jenny started snowboarding at 17 and lived in England, where there are no mountains. However, at the age of 33, she won a bronze medal in the 2014 Olympics for slopestyle snowboarding. I was inspired, and realized that I too could make it to the Olympics for the sport I love.
There’s nothing wrong with starting really young, going to a private mountain school and riding every day, and going to summer snow camps every year. That is one path. But it is not the only path, and I should not be discouraged. If I focus on where I’m going, and see these people as friends rather than enemies, then I’ll eventually end up where I need to be.
15. Question Everything?
In community college, I got to take an awesome class called Creative minds. Basically, it was about questioning the status quo and rebelling against the system. Coolest. Class. Ever. We learned about vested interests that big corporations had in industries. We learned to think twice about “common sense” things and issues such as gender roles. I thought differently about how the school system worked and how the pharmaceutical industry keeps us unhealthy. Now I always think: why is something the way it is? What is really happening here? I remember when I was in urgent care after a snowboarding crash, I had the wits about me to question every step the doctor performed.
16. We were all once gapers.
If you know what GAPER day is, then you’re awesome! For those of you who don’t know, a gaper is basically a skier or snowboarder who has no clue what they are doing, usually characterized by a gap between their helmet and goggles. It is easy to poke fun at gapers, or even get mad at them when they’re in your way, but I always have to remember – I was once a gaper not too long ago. I think I enjoy gaper day (where everyone dresses up as a gaper) so much because I’m remembering my roots and where I started, and poking fun at myself and what used to be normal for me. I am reminded not to take myself too seriously. Gapers inspire me. They don’t give a damn about what others think and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Any beginner skier or snowboarder will make a fool of themselves on their first day. The fact that they’re out there and trying their best is inspiring. You go gapers!
17. Treat people like it's their last day.
Woah… Getting real deep here. I included this because of my dog, Kona, who died in 2014. One day it was my 17th birthday and everything was going great, then the next day she was so lethargic we took her to the vet where she was diagnosed with cancer. We decided not to have the operation because of the slim chance of success. The vet gave her a few hours. She lived an extra two weeks after that day. I remember every day for those two weeks I would spend as much time with her as I could. I spoiled her and let her on the bed. Eventually she went peacefully in her sleep. If I could treat her like that when I knew any moment could be her last, why can’t I treat people like that every day?
18. Nothing is guaranteed
I had it all planned out – Winter break was five weeks and I had landed a place 2 miles from my favorite ski resort to spend it. There were 35 days I could have injured myself. However, fate chose day one and my epic plans were thwarted. It was so tempting to become bitter and complain about it (not saying I didn’t do that at all), but I soon realized that doing so would achieve absolutely nothing. My winter break of 2015 made me realize that I could plan everything out as carefully as I wanted to – but in the end, it is not me who decides what happens. Realizing that helped me not to lose my mind while I looked out at the bluebird skies and fresh powder that I could not ride. I realized that there is no good or bad, there just is.
19. Never stop failing.
People who don’t ski or snowboard regularly usually end up asking me this question: “do you still fall?” My answer is Yes, yes I do and I plan to continue falling for the rest of my snowboarding career. In snowboarding, falling means you’re trying new things and pushing your limits. Snowboarding is not the only place where this matters. Imagine living a life where you never tried anything new in fear of failing? What a boring life! To me, failure is not trying. This is just one of the lessons snowboarding has taught me. Do the thing! Go get it! and never. Stop. Failing.
When my car broke down last month, I remember being glad my problem was with my car instead of dealing with an injury. I guess I’ve learned not to give the universe any ideas…
It was like a dream. 24 inches of fresh snow and I had just moved to a place 5 minutes from the resort. It was day one of the best 5 weeks of winter break I could ask for. I got up, spent a long tine digging my car out from under 2 feet of God’s gift from heaven, and set out to shred the freshies. Conditions were amazing. There’s no other way to describe gliding through fluffy, cold smoke pow, other than pure Nirvana. Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, the sun came out, and they opened up a run everyone had been eyeing all day. It was a steep field of untouched powder. It’s the thing all snowboarders and skiers dream about. There were little bumps and lips around, making for fun kickers that sent you into a soft, fluffy landing. However, powder is not entirely consequence free.
I just remember going really fast, slashing rooster tails at every turn, and searching for jumps to launch off. My last thought until my day took a turn for the worst was “Damn, this is probably the best run I’ve ever had!” Then suddenly, towards the end of the run, one of those bumps caught me by complete surprise, and I flew superman style with my arms out in front and flipped head over heels a couple times (AKA the tomahawk). I assumed I was OK, but then I realized I could not move my left arm. Surely this can’t be happening. On day one of winter break?
All throughout the day I kept seeing ski patrol being dispatched, and I’d see all those poor people being pulled down in a sled. Every time I’d think “Oh man, I’m sure glad that’s not me”. That day was my lucky day, and I got to go for a little sleigh ride down to the gondola and into the clinic where they put my shoulder back in its place. Without the sling on it felt like it was going to come out again just hanging there. There was no way I was going to go out riding the next day. There went my winter break.
I was only able to get to the doctor a week later since I couldn’t drive, and when I finally went, all he said was that I was out for the season and I had to wear this crazy immobilizer thing for 6 weeks. For 6 weeks, he said I would not move my arm at all. It was like a cast. Only after the 6 weeks could he start rehab and building up the weak arm that had not been moved for so long. So by the time I would be deemed “completely healed”, it would be April.
The same day I got that diagnosis, someone decided to hit and run my car, which had been fixed a week ago after last month’s incident. Things were really looking bright.
Some people wonder how I stay positive through my frustrations. The whole reason I moved to Tahoe was to ride every day, and this year, we finally had snow! My thanksgiving break plans were de-railed, and now this?
I got my inspiration from a guy who lived thousands of years ago named Job. He had it all - thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants. (Back in those days, if you had a lot of animals, you were the G!) He was the richest man in the entire area. Then one day, he lost everything – all his material possessions were lost or burned. In addition, all his children were killed and he came down with a terrible disease. Compared to him, my week was rainbows and ponies.
And when all this happened, Job worshipped God – the same God he could easily blame for what had happened to him. I heard this story at church about a month ago, back when my life was fine-and-dandy. I wondered why I remembered that message.
I’m not perfect. I definitely threw a few pitty parties when I was house bound on a bluebird powder day, unable to drive anywhere – even to the store to get food or to the doctor to start doing something about my injury. The thoughts in my head were definitely not positive when I dug my car out from another 2 feet of frozen-ice-snow with one hand. I’ve learned that it’s ok to feel things. For some reason, the only emotion I never really felt was anger. I just kind of accepted it, because if there’s nothing you can do about a situation, then I can at least see how I can view it from another perspective. I have a house to live in, great food, and a healthy rest-of-my-body. I’m glad my car was hit-and-run instead of hit-with-me-driving-it. In the scheme of it, everything on earth is temporary. I’m one person an a little dot flying through the vast endlessness of space. Life is pretty good so far. In this past month, I've realized that when life sucks, it makes me think about how it could be worse, and I'm actually more grateful for the little things than when life is going well.
The doctor doesn’t know me, my passion for snowboarding, or my God. I am not taking “out for the season” as an option. As an extreme sport athlete, you just have to push through and know that these things will happen. There’s a fine line between being downright stupid and persevering through injuries. If I don’t make smart decisions, my shoulder will keep falling out for the rest of my life. But then again snowboarding is my love and my life, and to go an entire year without it would be more painful than this injury.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so determined to prove someone wrong, and so sure that I will do so.
When people asked “how was you thanksgiving break?”, I was not sure how to respond. So I told them my story. Not a story of woe, but just a story. Maybe it didn’t go as planned – the plan being to shred the endless pow every day. But you know, I did learn a valuable lesson – that when you know can’t control the situation, can definitely control the way you see it.
So here’s the story:
Let me be honest. I was playing hooky on my business management class that last day before a week long Thanksgiving break. It’s just that it had been 5 days since I had last been snowboarding, and I was about to have serious withdrawals. So I got in my car, blasted some dubstep, and headed towards Boreal. About three quarters of the way into the journey, as I turn left onto highway 80, I realize that the little thermometer needle is all the way past hot. Like beyond the red zone. But I’m going 60 mph up a hill. Maybe it always does that, I think. I see the exit sign, Boreal ski area: 2 miles. Ok I’m gonna make it. I can do this. Boreal ski area: ½ mile. And suddenly I couldn’t see – black smoke started pouring from the hood. Okay, I guess that’s not really normal. In a scramble for life, I came to a halt and grappled for the door and ran as far away as I could. And it was at that moment, watching my Subaru engulfed in smoke with my all my snowboarding gear inside, that I realized how little material possessions matter in this world. The emotion I remember was happiness – that I was outside on the side of the road instead of trapped inside.
And I kept thinking of the same sentence, over and over. It was like the theme of my day:
“there is no good or bad, there just is”
Over the weekend I was dying to go snowboarding. I had turned down going home for thanksgiving because I wanted to snowboard, and now I was stuck in my dorm, alone, writing this stupid blog post and going to bed at 9. I tried to bum rides off people, but everyone seemed to go home during thanksgiving break. With a huge snow storm outside, I was essentially house bound for a couple days. The mechanic originally told me it would be ready on Friday, the day after I was towed in. Then Monday. Then on Tuesday afternoon, they called and said,
“I’m afraid we can’t save it”
I couldn’t believe this had happened after only 2 months of owning my own car. People think I’m joking when I say my dream car was a Subaru outback. Not just any Subaru outback, but one of the older models, complete with dents and scratches. Those new ones are too shiny and don’t even look like dirtbag snowboarder cars. They look like rich people cars. Ew. This one was literally everything I wanted. I had even plastered the back with stickers. It was complete with a ski rack, snow tires, and even a few small dents to add character. Plus it was a stick shift - which I wanted just cause I can. I could identify a lot with it. We were both made in 1997. We were both built for the snow but had spent the first 18 years of our life in the Bay area. Finally, in 2015, we had found our true home together in the mountains and were finally living where we were truly meant to live.
So this past week I have realized that my problems really are nothing in the scope of things. Situations could always be worse. Maybe it was my fate to get injured snowboarding this week. What if the car actually did catch on fire? What if it had been totaled – along with myself – in a 95 mile per hour accident with a big rig? What if the words "I'm afraid we can't save..." Came from a doctor instead of an auto mechanic? Seriously, this really is nothing. Mainly, I learned that bad stuff happens, but bad attitudes don’t just happen. Also, your situation can always be worse.
So how was my thanksgiving break? You know I did get to ride a couple of those days, bumming rides off a few people, (One of the people I rode with had their car break down too). I made friendships now that I actually had to – gasp – talk to people when I wanted to go somewhere, and I did go to a local thanksgiving community dinner. For those dorm-bound days, I had nothing to do but plow through writing my 10 page research paper and was done with it by Wednesday, and let me just say that Sunday night Hanalei was extremely pleased with that. I’m going to learn to appreciate having a car more when I get it back. For now I’ll have to be a person with actual social skills and ask people for rides. This past week was not a bad week. I could even argue that it was a good week. But all I know is that there is no good or bad, there just is.