Love what you do: Vail ski patroller Matt Whalen
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Some days at work, Matt Whalen is skiing the back bowls of Vail.
Some days he’s bombing the slopes for avalanche control. Other times, he’s skiing down the front side with an injured person in tow. Just another day at the office.
For the 13-year veteran of the Vail Ski Patrol every day at work is different, bringing with it new challenges, but one thing he knows – he loves his job.
“You never know what’s going to happen (in a work day),” said Whalen, 38. “But that’s the fun part about it, too. You make a lot of your own decisions on the mountain. It’s very rewarding.”
What makes his job great, he said, is that he gets to ski, help people and that he is able to work with a tight-knit group of like-minded people.
Whalen, a Massachusetts native, had always loved skiing, and had dreamed of coming out west to ski the Rocky Mountains. He did one year after graduating from college, initially working some seasonal jobs in the Vail Valley. He decided to try out for the patrol, passed the ski patrol test the next season, and knew he had found his passion.
It’s a coveted position – potential patrollers must pass a ski test and go through training. From the group that completes training, only a few are chosen each year for the spots that open up on patrol.
“What makes a good patroller is someone who values hard work and teamwork,” Whalen said. “A good sense of humor helps, and you need to take pride in what you do and in Vail Mountain.”
The job even gave him the change to move to France one season as part of an exchange program. He spent the winter at Meribel Ski Resort, learning the language, culture and how to patrol on a new mountain.
But it’s not all skiing, he said. In fact, there are some days he’s in an office and not skiing much at all. And while it’s a fun job, it’s hard work, requiring early mornings, long days and a lot of physical labor. On some mornings after snowstorms, he’s up at 4:30 a.m. with other patrollers bombing the steeper slopes to make it safe to ski.
“This is definitely my job of choice,” Whalen said. “The longer I do it, the more I learn from it. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. When I’m sweeping the mountain at the end of the day, or standing at the top of Rasputin with another patroller, I think, ‘There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here.'”
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