This story is being shared as part of International Women’s Month. Each week, we will be featuring an interview with one of our many incredible, talented women who work in mountain operations. We hope you enjoy!
Name: Angie Hong
Job Title: Lift Technician Apprentice II
Department: Base to Base Gondola (Lift Maintenance)
How many seasons have you been at Palisades Tahoe?
This is my sixth season. I was a Lift Operator at first, then I switched to Upper Lift Maintenance, and now I’m on the Base to Base Gondola Maintenance crew!
How did you end up in Lake Tahoe?
My gig for April to November was doing build and teardown for music festivals. Someone on my crew asked me what I was doing that following winter, and if I would want to be a liftie. I was also recovering from a pretty dark time in my life and needed a change of scenery instead of going back home to Long Beach for the winter. I applied for the job without even really knowing how to snowboard, and I had little understanding of what the job entailed. But I enjoyed it so much that I kept coming back every winter.
Why did you switch to Lift Maintenance from Lift Operations?
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, it killed my music festival industry. It was an industry that I was starting to make a steady career out of, within the rigging world. All of the jobs I had lined up for that spring, summer, and fall were gone. I decided to stay in Tahoe, signed a long-term lease for a house in Truckee, and when we opened back up for the following ski season, I decided to switch to a year-round job. I switched over mid-season on February 4th, with (the late) Don Lowder’s blessing. I grew up tinkering on cars and other things of a mechanical nature, so Lift Maintenance felt like the obvious choice for me. It also seemed perfect because of my background in rigging and my love for heights.
This year, you are working on the Base to Base Gondola. Is it exciting to be working on a new lift?
Yes! It has been exciting to get to know this new machine. Also, since this is an entirely new department, I was really stoked to co-create the culture and help set the tone for our new crew dynamic.
Fundamentally, the Base to Base Gondola has many of the same parts as Big Blue, Siberia, or the new Red Dog, but the interconnect feature [that allows the two separate lifts to operate as one continuous lift] and the new style of the motor are the key differences. It has been especially exciting getting to work with the Poma engineers [from the lift manufacturer] when they are here. I’ve really furthered my knowledge by asking them questions and understanding more about the programming and electrical aspects of this lift.
What’s your favorite thing about working on the mountain?
My favorite part is getting to be outside and enjoying everything that the mountain has to offer. I love working with my hands and being physical with my work. The unpredictability of Mother Nature and its powerful elements getting thrown into mountain operations makes for a lot of really exciting moments.
What does a typical winter day look like for you?
On a regular winter day when it’s dry [and isn’t actively snowing], we’re here by 7am. We do an inspection on the lift, per state and manufacturer regulations. This is done every single morning before we are operational to the public at 9am.
Then, we are on standby, ready to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible if the lift goes down. Since the Base to Base Gondola is a new lift and it isn’t perfectly dialed in yet, at least one technician is at each terminal at all times, with the exception of the White Wolf terminal.
Most of our duties in the wintertime consist of troubleshooting, fixing things when they break, and other miscellaneous projects. Every 300 hours of operating to the public, we also perform a mandated inspection, which is a whole list of things such as inspecting the haul rope, checking every piece of hardware in every terminal and tower for torque, etc.
What does a typical summer day look like for you?
Summertime is when we tackle all of our large, more in-depth projects. There are too many to list here, but it includes almost everything with the lift that you can think of. Line work is one of my favorite things to do, which consists of inspecting and servicing each tower and all of its components. This past summer, my coworker Andy and I got to wire most of the tower safeties and anemometers on the new Base to Base Gondola. We climbed every single tower at least twice and got to hike most of the line, which was pretty cool! (And exhausting.) Helping Poma finish installing the lift was a great way to get to know this new machine before opening for the ski season.
How did you learn the ropes of working in lift maintenance?
Everything was mostly learned on the job. A few skilled technicians from Upper Lift Maintenance come to mind, who taught me the fundamentals of various lifts as well as the proper ways to work safely. In the summertime, a Poma service technician also comes to teach us about brakes by servicing them with us. There is also a state-wide lift maintenance and operations conference every summer, where we take classes from notable people in the industry. It’s an awesome way to meet people and also pick their brains about how they do things.
What is the hardest part of your job?
That’s a tough question. My job is so multi-faceted these days because it’s not just about the lift. The nature of our new crew has caused me to be thrown into a leadership role, which I’m happy to take on. It feels daunting sometimes because I’ll think about hypothetical scenarios with the lift that could happen and I never feel like I’m knowledgeable enough. I think that’s an internal struggle though. I have been able to handle every situation this winter, so far.
What advice would you give to someone who might be interested in working lift maintenance?
Be hungry for knowledge, and keep an open mind when it comes to troubleshooting. Safety is key. If you’re ever not sure about what you’re doing, stop and ask.
I don’t think it matters if you’re a woman or a man to be good at this job. Historically, Lift Maintenance has been (and still primarily is) a male-dominated industry. But that doesn’t mean it should continue that way. I take a lot of pride in my work and it has been inspiring running into other people in the industry who are also inspired by me (at the previously mentioned summer conference, as well as visiting other resorts) who use me as an example to talk about hiring more women into this field. This means a lot to me and I hope that I can encourage other women to pursue this career. It’s definitely helpful to be mechanically minded and/or have a good understanding of electrical knowledge, but you don’t need a formal background in either to excel at this job. If this is something you really want, you should go for it! You’ll never know until you try it.