Farm Girl Does Good
December 12, 2016
Local TV darling Tricia Swenson takes on new multimedia challenges with ‘Off the Hill’
By Stephen Lloyd Wood
photos by dominique taylor
If there's anyone here in the Vail Valley most of us think we know, it's our diminutive darling of the local airwaves, Tricia Swenson, who, at the crack of many dawns for nearly two decades as reporter and host of the local "Good Morning Vail" television show helped us prepare for our days on the mountain, or about town.
"I like being able to help people plan what they're going to do, so they can maximize their vacation, or their day off. Sometimes time is precious, so it's nice to be inspired to get out there," she says. "I love connecting people, networking. I think it also comes from being from a small town where you know everyone. I like being able to do that here."
‘Off the Hill’
Barely 5 feet tall, Swenson has a presence on camera, and in person, that's huge — her infectious, beaming smile, down-home style and cheerful, distinctive voice all sources of animation. That's something she hopes will propel a new opportunity — "Off the Hill,” a new, multimedia concept she's crafted with the Vail Daily. It's based loosely on a similar effort, the outdoor adventure-based "On the Hill" featuring active reports from Vail and Beaver Creek mountains and other sporting venues posted regularly on the newspaper's website, VailDaily.com.
"Off the Hill" puts the concept in perpetual promotion, with Swenson writing a story to accompany each video segment for the newspaper's print edition, which, in turn, refers readers back to the website. The print version also can be viewed on the company's online E-edition; the digital version is posted on the company's Facebook page; and Swenson loyally promotes it all over again on her own Facebook page, where she's "friends" with nearly 900 people and "followed" by legions more.
"I definitely want to see this concept grow," says Swenson, acknowledging it's all part of an effort to get Vail Daily content — including, importantly, that of its advertisers — in front of a new generation of readers who prefer to get their news online, as well as those from elsewhere who rely on VailDaily.com to keep up with what's going on here. "I think it's great because, either way, we're getting people to see it in print or on the Web. Some people only read things online; they don't go down to the newsstand and grab a paper. They're paperless.
"The world of media is changing. There was an opportunity to move over to the Vail Daily and do Web video, which is very hot in the newspaper business," she adds. "It's to bring vibrancy to their online efforts."
‘Anything I could get into’
It's all pretty heady stuff for a tiny farm girl from Kindred, North Dakota, about 25 miles southwest of Fargo. As a young girl, she helped out on the family farm with her two older sisters and a younger brother in summer and dug tunnels in the Dakotan snow drifts for fun places to play that doubled as shelters from the bitter cold in winter.
"It was really cold, and we'd go outside in our little snowsuits with our Fisher Price toys, Barbies, all that. We were really into building forts, playing and make believe," she says of those early years, before bigger responsibilities came along. "With my dad having three daughters before our brother was born, my sisters and I were sent out into the field at an early age. I got my permit to drive tractors at 13, and I was driving the big rigs, huge combines and John Deere tractors with eight wheels, at 15. I learned how to use the clutch, and I've driven stick-shift cars all my life."
It was in school, however, where Swenson refined that ethic of hard work and dedication, involving herself in everything her junior high and high school had to offer — gymnastics; drama club; speech team; editor of the yearbook; tenor, alto and baritone saxophone in the bands; and, of course, cheerleader.
"In high school, anything I could be in I was in. I would get up in the morning at 6 o'clock for early morning practice, then I'd go to my regular classes; after school, I'd do other activities — anything I could get into. I'd get home in the evening and take a nap before starting my homework at, like, 9 o'clock, going to bed at midnight, then back up at 6.
‘I tried everything’
Upon graduation, it was off to the alma mater of her mother and both sisters, Minnesota's Concordia College, for a wild ride through a variety of majors — "I couldn't figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up" — before the stars aligned in 1993 with a bachelor's degree in communications.
"Along the way, I'd taken the introductory class to just about everything — intro to political science; intro to mass communications; intro to historical studies; biology; physiology; and anatomy. Basically, anything offered at my college, I was a major in that. I tried everything," Swenson says. "Then, a friend of mine offered some advice. She said, 'just graduate and you'll figure the rest out.' And looking back, I think not knowing what I wanted to be — and not being fenced into one profession — is what allows me to do what I do today, relating on so many different levels with so many people, groups, events, organizations. I'm kind of a jack of all trades, master of none; I know just a little bit about a lot of things."
During her summers off from college, meanwhile, Swenson headed to the mountains, working at, of all places, the Ponderosa Ranch, near Lake Tahoe, where the popular television series "Bonanza" was filmed.
"I'd give tours of the ranch house, work in the photo studio and the Silver Dollar Saloon wearing those checkered shirts and skirts and cowboy hats," she says. "They would recruit people from colleges in the Midwest, like Concordia, because of their work ethic. We'd work the whole summer, then go back to college."
Upon graduation, she returned to the Lake Tahoe area. Having learned how to ski at 11 years old with her family at Detroit Mountain, in Minnesota, she took a job as a ski instructor at Heavenly, working with kids.
"After that, I thought, now what? I wasn't ready yet to enter the real world," she says. "But I had several friends here at Vail/Beaver Creek, so I came here and became a kids' instructor for the 1994-95 season — a great job because I met so many people right away. And it was steady work."
‘Nothing was handed to me’
It was here, with no television or radio experience to speak of, that Swenson finally figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up, applying for a job at Vail Resorts' corporate television channel, TV8, and taking an entry-level position as the Beaver Creek reporter in November 1997. Like in junior high and high school, it was back to long days, heading up to Beaver Creek Village and even higher in the cold, early hours to videotape interviews, sometimes with whomever they could find.
"Sometimes we were getting up at 4 or 4:15 a.m. to do an early weather segment. But, usually, I'd be at work by 5:30 or 6 a.m. It would be so cold sometimes we'd have to be creative and find places to pop into to get warm between interviews," Swenson says. "I was low-level up at Beaver Creek; it took me a long time to move up to the studio."
But move up she did, all the way up to executive producer in 2007, just 10 years into what's become a successful career both in front of the camera, and behind it. As her experience built, her on-screen presence developed and her knowledge of live television production made her more and more valuable in the studio, Swenson took on other gigs, too, such as anchor for Outside Television's "Outdoor Updates" on CNN Headline News, airing in metropolitan areas across the U.S., as well as reporting on events and activities at many Colorado ski areas for The Weather Channel; she interviewed Olympic athletes for the Jeep King of the Mountain series; she hosted 48 straight Ski & Snowboard Cross tours on national television; and she was a "tour guide" on Universal Sport's "Universal Access" programs, promoting Vail and Beaver Creek resorts, as well as the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships.
"That was so much fun because it was 'national.' It was so cool. My friends would say they saw me on TV in Boston, or Chicago, or Dallas. I was doing national broadcasts, but based from here," Swenson says. "If I've been successful, I think it comes from my work ethic. Nothing was handed to me; it was hard work and perseverance and my will to keep putting it all out there.”
‘Married to my work’
Which raises the question: Why has someone so driven — with the work ethic of a farm girl and the natural good looks and bubbly personality perfect for live television — chosen to remain here in the Vail Valley, not exactly a media Mecca, when she obviously could continue on a higher path toward national fame and bigger fortune?
"I really love the lifestyle here and the variety of activities we can do right outside our doors," says Swenson, who has come to enjoy the recreational things in life here, such as alpine and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, road and mountain biking, hiking and fly fishing in summer. "To go to a city and go through that urban grind, just for more money in a bigger market? I don't think so.
"The Vail Valley is such an interesting place, with so many different things to get involved with. You can get very involved here, or you can just sit back and relax.”
Swenson expresses her love of the Vail Valley in other ways, as well, involving herself with a long list of local charities, including: Habitat for Humanity; the Vail Valley Foundation; the Vail Veterans Program; Round Up River Ranch; the Education Foundation of Eagle County; Room to Read; the Home Builders Foundation; Canine Companions for Independence; and many more.
"I don’t feel like I am a part of a community unless
I am involved in the community somehow, somehow
giving back," she says. "That’s when you truly feel like
Mainly, Swenson says, it's the people she's met, befriended and cherished in her 22 years here that
“I have a boyfriend now, but I've never married or had kids; I was married to my work, instead, for a long, long time. When I do go out, everybody knows me; but I actually, genuinely like interacting with people," she adds. "When you start making your core friends, it's hard to leave the people that become your family. I still go see my family, and they come visit me. But, it's the friendships, and the people, that keep me here."
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