A few years ago, a skier fell and broke his leg on a steep slope at Crystal Mountain.
Veteran patroller and accomplished mountaineer Brent Okita was first on the scene and called for assistance. Moments later, Kim Kircher was there to help.
Kircher, now 45, has patrolled Crystal’s slopes since she was 18, and she recalls the man’s reaction when he realized his rescue depended on a woman.
“He was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to take me down,’ ” Kircher said. Okita quickly defended his colleague by saying if he was in distress he’d want her coming for him. “I guess I assumed it would be a guy,” the injured man said.
The man was loaded in the toboggan, and Kircher skied him to the aid room at the bottom of the mountain. As she filled out paperwork, the man became flirtatious. A few days later he sent her a note and flowers.
“I thought, ‘This is interesting,’ ” Kircher said. “The guy either responds to a strong woman with a sexist response or a flirtation response. There was no in-between setting. He doesn’t react to me like I’m a normal person. His reaction was so telling and interesting.
“... If there is still sexism toward female patrollers, that is the kind of thing that happens a lot.”
This season Kircher is making history. She is Crystal’s new ski patrol director and is one of the first women in Washington to hold such a post. Tess Morris is entering her second year as ski patrol director at Mission Ridge.
“It’s pretty exciting to have this opportunity,” Kircher said.
She is quick to point out that she doesn’t think the ski industry is sexist. “There’s just sexism around the industry,” she said.
Ski patrols have long been dominated by men, but that’s changing. This year, 11 of Crystal’s 33 patrollers are women.
“I’d say it (sexism) is something that women in ski areas deal with no matter what their job is,” Kircher said. “… There aren’t as many women as men. I was fortunate that I was married, so I wasn’t that single woman who was getting hit upon. It’s second nature. You get in line and there is a guy and he wants to ride the chair with you. It’s kind of constant. You talk to any woman in the ski area. Certainly when I was younger I felt that. Then it became something that was part of the job, part of the lifestyle. At this point in my life, I don’t even notice it, and I feel that if I do, it just rolls off my back.”
Kircher is married to Crystal Mountain’s general manager, John Kircher, and she credits him and her predecessor, Paul Baugher, for creating an atmosphere that treats men and women as equals.
There was something about my new position that I felt like, I’m going to be patrol director and we’re going to have a woman president. Look at us women. We are really kicking ass. ... but now that Hillary didn’t win, I’ve thought, ‘That’s interesting. I kind of identified with her a little bit.’ … I really respect her. I was really disappointed. I asked myself, ‘What does that mean for me? … Is sexism still there?’ I wouldn’t say that I need a woman president to show me how to be a leader. But there is that question. Are people doubting me because I’m a woman? Kim Kircher, Crystal Mountain ski patrol director
“Honestly, I wouldn’t be here in this position if it wasn’t for Paul,” Kircher said. “He laid the groundwork not only by hiring more women, but by creating this environment where women could do anything that guys could do. I was allowed to thrive and take on more and more difficult positions.”
It wasn’t always that way.
“When I first got on patrol, there were the token women,” Kircher said. “Those women were the really strong, quiet types. And I was like that too. I just kept my head down and was one of the guys. I didn’t think about what it meant to be a woman on the patrol. It’s only now that the conversation is more prevalent.
“I think that’s actually a sign of more acceptance.”
Before the evening of Nov. 8, Kircher pondered the presidential election from her distinctive perspective and wondered what a Hillary Clinton victory might mean.
“I was really hoping that we would have a woman president,” Kircher said. “There was something about my new position that I felt like, I’m going to be patrol director and we’re going to have a woman president. Look at us women. We are really kicking ass.
“I wasn’t thinking about it before, but now that Hillary didn’t win, I’ve thought, ‘That’s interesting. I kind of identified with her a little bit.’ … I really respect her. I was really disappointed. I asked myself, ‘What does that mean for me? … Is sexism still there?’ I wouldn’t say that I need a woman president to show me how to be a leader. But there is that question. Are people doubting me because I’m a woman?”
She’s letting that roll off her back too.
“I’m here to do a job,” she said. “I’m responsible for the safety of the skiers and the staff at Crystal. What people think won’t deter me from my job.”
Kircher said she’s excited to carry on Crystal’s legacy as one of the region’s top ski patrols. There aren’t any major changes that need to be made, she said. She describes herself as similar to her predecessor but more “touchy, feely.”
Kircher spent 30 hours meeting one-on-one with patrollers after last season and again during training this fall. She hired nine new patrollers (two women) and hopes to persuade her boss to upgrade the patrol’s gear.
And Kircher hopes to inspire women who want to be patrol directors to pursue that goal.
“They might not even think it’s a job they want to do until they see a woman doing it, and then they say, ‘This is a job I can do,’ ” Kircher said. “I certainly hope I can be that (role model) for other women.”
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