Canyon Blog spent an afternoon chatting with Alta safety director Dave Richards in his office. During the lull in skiing that’s struck the nation there was time to be shared. In a canyon populated by transplants, Dave’s the rare local born and bred, not just in Utah but the canyon itself. He grew up at Alta where his dad was a ski patroller for three decades and his mother an employee at The Rustler lodge. He was a pro skier for a time in his youth before working as a heli skiing guide until he eventually found himself skiing his father’s tracks on the slopes of Alta as a ski patroller. After decades of avalanche and patrol experience he arrived at the ski resort’s most important operational job, safety director.
Now forty and bearded with locally flavored tattoos, he has the bearing and appearance of a green beret and rarely approaches subjects from an oblique angle. We talked about the mountain we both loved for awhile before your correspondent turned on the journalistic interrogation lamp.
Canyon Blog: What’s the job of a ski resort safety director exactly?
Dave Richards: Well, it’s three things. The first is to understand that we operate and provide recreational opportunities for people in an incredibly hostile environment. Everything we do is focused on the safety of our employees, who have to work in the elements whether we’re running chairlifts or not, followed by our customers. Third is to operate a ski resort so long as the first two are met.
CB: What’s the most important thing for skiers and visitors to a world class mountain like Alta to know?
DR: Understand that you’re in a mountain environment. The Alta Ski Patrol seeks to afford you a certain amount of safety, but we work with the mountain not against it. How you approach that mountain personally effects your safety.
CB: So individuals have a responsibility to make judgement calls.
DR: Exactly. We provide a safe space for you to enjoy but ultimately, you’re making individual choices about what and where you can ski.
CB: So, after four decades of living, working and skiing Alta what’s the best part of your job.
DR: Skiing powder.
CB: That’s it?
It doesn’t get less oblique than that folks.
(To learn more about Alta Ski Patrol and their work check out this exceptionally cool video: https://vimeo.com/392487362)