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: Sidney Ossenfort
Job Title: Groomer
Department: Alpine Grooming
How many seasons have you been at Palisades Tahoe?
This is my 2nd season! Both seasons I have worked as a groomer.
How did you end up in the Lake Tahoe area?
I moved to Lake Tahoe from Jackson, Wyoming. I worked Lift Operations there and in their Tram for 4 seasons. In the summer of 2020, I had applied for a trail crew job in Jackson, but it didn’t end up happening because of covid. I stuck around there and worked a final winter season, but I really wanted to do trail work, so I applied for another trail crew position in Reno with Nevada Conservation Corps (NCC). I ended up doing a 6-month term with NCC. I really liked the Sierra mountains. Working that job took me to some really cool and remote places. After the 6 month term, I knew I wanted to stay and live in Tahoe. I had never skied at Palisades, but I had heard how iconic this place was. Alpine Grooming had positions available, so I applied.
What made you want to be a groomer?
It was sort of like, why not apply? I don’t think you see positions like that very often. In Jackson, it was so much more about who you knew if you wanted to get a grooming job. I just wanted to see if it would go anywhere because I didn’t have any experience. When I was a Lift Operator and first starting to get into the industry, I sort of had grooming in the back of my mind. Lift Operations was fun, but I would see Groomers all the time and I would wonder what it would be like. I was always curious.
What was the training like?
I worked the graveyard shift for my first season. My very first time in a snowcat was actually New Year’s Eve. I thought I wouldn’t have to work that night, and then Brendo [the Director of Snow Surfaces at Palisades Tahoe] texted us and told us to come in at midnight. You know, every time you get in a cat, it’s an opportunity to learn something new. I did lots of ride-alongs when I was first starting out. If you ask any groomer, they’ll tell you there’s only so much you can learn from the passenger seat. I would also work with other newbies and we would take turns driving or sitting in the passenger seat. Also, when I was first starting, video games actually helped a lot because of the hand-eye coordination that’s required.
What does an average shift look like for you this winter?
I usually wake up around 9am. I’ll ski during the day, and then come in between 3:30 and 4pm. We wait until Ski Patrol sweep is in, then we go out and warm up our cats. The work we do each day depends on the conditions. On a super stormy night, it is important to take your time and not rush because snowpack can change rapidly. In the springtime, the snow itself can be a lot harder to work with. That can be frustrating when the snow is so warm and you are dealing with slush all night. But yeah, tasks are totally dependent on the weather.
What’s the best part of your job?
The actual work of grooming and using a big machine is really fun, but the best part is being able to blast your own music and sing your heart out while you’re grooming. You do that while you’re grooming a beautiful slope in the Sierra with amazing views and amazing sunsets (or sunrises).
What is the hardest part of your job?
It’s hard to compare yourself with other groomers who have more experience. I mostly work with other men, but everyone is very encouraging and they want me to learn and be the best I can be.
When you’re out on the mountain, poor visibility is one of the tougher things to deal with. You are in a really safe machine, but if it is a major storm, it is so hard to see and it can be scary if you feel like you’re about to fall off a cliff or anything.
I’d also say that the hours of the graveyard shift were hard. It was tougher to make friends or meet people my age when you have a strange schedule. The swing shift, which I work now, is more like restaurant hours.
What is a cool experience that sticks out as a favorite?
This interview! I feel like a celebrity. But really, working for Palisades as a whole is a cool experience. It’s nice to work for a resort that shows its appreciation for its employees.
Also, when I meet new girls around Tahoe and I tell them that I’m a groomer, they are always so stoked, which is such a cool feeling. My boyfriend is also a groomer, but people don’t always realize that I am, too. When they find out that I’m a groomer as well, they are stoked! It’s cool to help be a part of the representation and it makes me feel good about doing this job.
What do you do in the summer?
I do trail crew in the summer. I love that job. The amount of heavy machinery and equipment operating that I got to do and learned over the summer helped me so much in a snowcat this year. In the fall, I also did snowmaking before grooming started. It helped bridge the gap between my summer season and winter seasons.
Why do you love working at Alpine?
This place is so tight-knit and such a good community. It’s very welcoming. I have met some amazing people during my time in Tahoe, and most of that is owed to Alpine. You can find so many people that work at Alpine with a great passion for the outdoors.
What advice would you give to someone (not just women) who wants to be in the industry?
Be persistent. Persistence is key to get through some of the tougher obstacles. Grooming can get hectic or intense, but that shouldn’t let you stray away from applying for this position. It’s such a fun job and so many people appreciate it that you wouldn’t even realize!