Name: Sonja Davis
Job Title: Assistant Manager, Lift Operations
Department: Lift Operations
How many seasons have you been at Palisades Tahoe?
I started in 2015-16, so this is my 8th season. I worked as Mighty Mite coach as well back when my kids were little.
How did you end up in Lake Tahoe?
I’m originally from Oxnard in southern California, but I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992 when I turned 21. I had been coming up here since I was a kid. We had a house right outside the valley, so we would come up throughout the year. I knew the area and knew I wanted to live in the mountains. I realized I was not a Southern California girl at heart. I moved on my own into a studio in Tahoe City along the Truckee River and started working at Jake’s and Sunnyside.
Why did you start working at Palisades? Did you know you wanted to be in Lift Operations?
I originally started working on the mountain as a Mighty Mite coach when my kids were young. In 2015 I started a seasonal job in the summer working outside with horses. I liked it so much I decided to look for a seasonal winter job that could keep me busy and hopefully keep me working outdoors. My career had always involved administrative work, and I was ready to get back to the ski industry. I decided to apply for the Lift Operations Administrative Assistant position.
Eventually, the Administrative Assistant job morphed into a bigger role. I took over scheduling and began doing a lot of hiring and handling personnel management in general. I enjoyed the job of keeping the department organized. Even with its challenges, it is gratifying to help keep the wheels on the bus. In Lift Operations, it is almost entirely young kids working here. I enjoy supporting them and seeing them grow into new positions and move into new stages of their lives.
What was your training like?
I learned so much from Don Lowder, our former Lift Operations Manager. He was one of the best mentors I could have had. We worked so well together, and I learned by watching him and seeing how he worked with people around him. His ability to multitask and communicate with others was impressive. I learned what questions to ask and what to look for by watching him and listening to him. He was not so much instructional; his methods just rubbed off on me. I still miss him to this day.
Since Don passed away, it has been an adjustment for our department, but because of the impact he had on everyone on the team, we continue to work well together. The people I work with are so supportive. Even in the most difficult times, they have supported me. Without the community we have on this mountain, I would have had a much harder time making it to where I am now.
What does an average day look like for you?
I get here by 6:30am. I check and see who is on the schedule for the day and get caught up on my emails. I will check in with our Dispatch team and our Mountain Manager to see what is going on with operations for the morning. With Lift Operations, it is important to communicate with all departments to make sure all our operators stay safe. I want to have as much information as possible so I know where they can go and what to expect for the day. I then prepare a morning meeting, where we go over the plan for the day, the weather, safety topics, employee relation topics, and most importantly, the operations for the day. This season has been especially challenging with the number of avalanche control days and weather impact days.
I then work on payroll issues, scheduling, taking care of employee requests, and dealing with any changes that may come up on the mountain. Moving Operators around from different lifts is sometimes a necessity that takes time. I then try to get out on the mountain to see our Operators in action — making sure they are happy, doing their job with a smile and of course staying in uniform. At the end of the day, one of the biggest responsibilities is to make sure they all come down safely. One thing about Lift Ops is it takes a village. I work with many inside and outside of my department to make sure we have a successful and safe day.
What is the best part of your job?
Besides skiing, the best part is mentoring the young kids into how to be an adult. It’s molding them and teaching them responsibility and accountability. Most of them will not be Lift Operators for their whole life, but if they can be responsible for us here then it will help them as they go on through their career.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part is the tough conversations. There are sometimes people who don’t respond to counseling-type conversations. Having to cut ties with people is very difficult.
What is a cool experience that sticks out to you?
It happens often: When I’m out skiing around and I see people having fun doing their job. Knowing that I am a part of that and knowing that I help run a department where we support each other.
What do you do in the summer months?
I have worked at an equestrian center over the summers since 2015. My passion is horses and I will always have that remain a part of my life in some way. This summer, I will continue to work at Palisades. It seems our hiring season starts earlier and earlier each season and there is never a lack of things to get done in prep for another successful ski season. I do look forward to enjoying some extra time off this summer. Hitting the road with my dogs, camping and hopefully spending more time with my kids and grandkids.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in this industry?
Keep an open mind. Get a foot in the door and start somewhere, for example, as a Lift Operator. In my opinion, we are all on the same level. I manage people, but I’m still on their level. There’s nothing I ask them to do that I wouldn’t do. So, stay humble and remember, there’s always something to be learned. Get in at the ground level, experience different departments, and see where your talents lie.