Peeking Into a Lift Operator’s Life

In any skier’s typical day, each chairlift or gondola ride always involves a Lift Operator. This key employee is constantly making sure that everyone is safe and well cared for. The constant interaction between Lift Operators and skiers has perked up my curiosity and prompted me to know more, and understand better, what motivates these seemingly tireless mountain workers.

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Late this season, one early morning, just before his shift, Kevin Combs, one of the many Deer Valley’s Lift Operators, took the time to listen to my questions and shone a rather enthusiastic light on his daily life:

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JF: How long have you been a lift operator?
Kevin: This actually is my first year.

JF: What was your occupation before that?
Kevin: I was a machinist, back east, in Massachusetts. I moved to Utah in November.

JF: How do you like working with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: It’s fun. It’s a great experience being here, lots of great people to work with, everyone has a smile on their face and always ready to serve our guests and makes sure everyone has a great experience, whether we’re talking about guests or fellow employees.

JF: Were you a skier before you came here?
Kevin: Oh, yes! I have been skiing since I was 12 years old.

JF: So, I guess you learned and skied in New England?
Kevin: Oh yeah, I skied the ice, which is something you have to learn on the East Coast. I can guarantee that it makes a good technical skier out of anyone who learns over there!

JF: How often to you get to ski?
Kevin: That’s what makes the job so exciting: I get to ski every day; whenever I get a break, I ski, it’s great!

JF: Even on your days off?
Kevin: You bet, I ski every day that I can, I wouldn’t miss a beat!

JF: Where, on the mountain, do you work?
Kevin: I am working out of Empire Canyon. I either work on Empire or Ruby Express chairlifts. I also help around on the mountain when another lift is short of people. I’ll rotate as needed.

JF: Since this was your first season, have you visited other Utah resorts?
Kevin: I’ve almost skied them all; the only ones I think I haven’t skied yet are Solitude, Powder Mountain and Snowbasin.

JF: When you’re skiing Deer Valley, what’s your favorite run?
Kevin: I’m into extreme skiing so I love to ski a lot around Lady Morgan, because of its great tree skiing and its cliffs. I’m particularly fond of Centennial Trees, and of course, I ski off Empire Express in places like Daly Bowl and all the surrounding Daly Chutes. When I happen to find an untouched area, I just “drop-in…”

JF: Are you skiing alone or with buddies?
Kevin: I do a lot of skiing by myself. This said, I have a lot of friends who ski with me; I do my own things in the morning, and then I hang with them in the afternoon because sometimes they can’t quite follow me. But I like to ski with everybody and together, we always have a great time; I guess that’s what skiing is all about!

JF: What would you say are the skills required to do your job well?
Kevin: Before anything, you need to be a great people person. You need to be concerned about skiers’ safety and comfort, especially those who are less advanced and aren’t always familiar with riding lifts. Sure, it also helps to know a little about things mechanical, the lift itself, because it’s a big piece of machinery. For instance I pay attention to noises that may come from the lift; with my mechanical background, I can alert Maintenance to a problem if there seems to be one. Of course, the job also demands that one is a decent skier so you can ski to and from work, can relate well to our guests and have a wonderful interaction with them.

JF: Does a healthy passion for skiing help?
Kevin: Oh yes, most definitely! If you work as a Lift Operator and are not really here for skiing, you miss out a lot. Of course you can take the job just for the love of the mountains, but a passion for skiing shows and makes all the difference. Working no longer feels like work!

JF: What would be your next professional goal with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I’d probably love to move up to Ski Patrol, because I like to help people and be on skis. For me, being outside and helping people are the two main reasons why I love with my life at Deer Valley!

JF: If people reading this blog were interested in a position like yours, what kind of advice would you give them?
Kevin: Don’t be scared by the responsibilities and by all the impressive machinery; the work is totally doable. The training Deer Valley provides is great, everything is fluid, all the kinks have been purged, and of course, there’s all the skiing!

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JF: What will you do this summer?
Kevin: I’m planning to get a job with an online sport equipment supplier in the Salt Lake Valley. During my spare time, I also plan to mountain bike a lot here and around Moab!

JF: Sounds exciting! So, you’re looking forward to another winter season with Deer Valley Resort?
Kevin: I think so; I’m now convinced Deer Valley is the place to be. It’s a lot of fun here. We’re surrounded with lots of great, helpful people all the time. I’ve never had a bad day here, which is simply… amazing!