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SheGrooms seeks inclusivity and opportunities in the grooming industry

Categories: Guest Connection Faces of Meadows Inside Meadows Media Center

Allison Marriner, creator of the SheGrooms event, gets ready for a snowcat workshopAllison Marriner, above, creator of the SheGrooms event, gets ready for a snowcat workshop.
Photo courtesy Eduardo Cabal

This story was written by Emma Renly for The Columbia Gorge News and is presented with their permission.

The fresh lines of corduroy on the slopes of Mt. Hood Meadows don’t groom themselves. A dedicated staff of individuals operate snowcats to create those groomers every night while the rest of the mountain sleeps.

From April 23-25, Mt. Hood Meadows hosted its first-ever SheGrooms event, a celebration of women in mountain grooming and mountain positions. It included two days of workshops with hands-on snowcat training, round-table discussions of mentorship, and networking opportunities for participants.

The idea was created and executed by Slope Groomer Manager Allison Marriner, a long-time snowcat operator and champion for women in the ski resort industry.

SheGrooms participants gather around for hands-on learning during the event
SheGrooms participants gather around for hands-on learning during the event.
Photo courtesy Ben Mitchell, Mt. Hood Meadows

SheGrooms Event

There are many things that Marriner hopes that participants walk away with from the SheGrooms event, but the three she emphasized are networking, mentorship and knowledge.

In total, 26 participants joined the clinic from areas including Colorado, California, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, and Oregon. Three of the women that joined were from Colorado Mountain College, studying the same program that Marriner graduated from.

The event split into different sections, on-hill learning and off-hill learning.

“We paired up people with no experience with people who have been grooming for over 20 years,” Marriner said, in hopes of facilitating mentorship.

The event featured an Introduction to Grooming clinic that included ride-alongs in the cats, as well as a winch cat operations clinic with instructors Geoff Marriner, Kait Burds, Katy Crook and Ricky Burkett. The terrain park grooming clinic instructors included Brian Demarest, Tony Marshall, Kolby Lehman and Anthony Weyerman.

The classroom sessions featured Burkett and Demarest, two representatives from snowcat manufacturer Pisten Bully, who gave classes on winch cat operation and grooming terrain parks. Jeff Andrews, a long-time employee at Mt. Hood Meadows, put on a snowcat mechanical workshop.

Vice President of Mountain Operations Mel Toney gave a presentation on risk management. Since 1997, she has worked various roles at Mt. Hood Meadows from lift operator to ski patrol manager.

SheGrooms participants receive hands-on learning during the event at Mt. Hood MeadowsSheGrooms participants receive hands-on learning during the event.
Photo courtesy Ben Mitchell, Mt. Hood Meadows

“The SheGrooms event is a celebration of the amazing women working in mountain operations, and a platform to elevate them further,” Toney said.

Toney also contributed to the Leadership Panel along with Annie Alsheimer, Humaira Falkenberg and Angie Marie.

“Mentorship is crucial in the snow sports industry, which already has so many barriers to entry,” Marie said, who spoke on collaboration in leadership, women in the outdoors, and self-care. “The SheGrooms participants are making the world a better place by encouraging more women to step into leadership positions. We need that.”

A long-term goal is to make the event open to other mountain operation jobs such as patrol, lift maintenance, facilities and vehicle maintenance.

“Not a lot of women apply for mountain operation jobs, it’s still a predominantly male-dominated industry,” Marriner said. “I think it’s important to get women involved in the industry. Bringing more women in the workforce makes it a stronger workforce.”

Mt. Hood Meadows hopes to continue creating an inclusive work environment.

“We believe in fostering a culture where people can authentically show up, be respected and help others feel a sense of belonging,” said Matt Troskey, vice president of people and learning. “Even in our humble beginnings, we have experienced stronger team satisfaction that comes from providing better access to opportunities to those people who have been historically marginalized.”

Along with Mt. Hood Meadows, sister-resort Cooper Spur sponsored the event with discount lodging and meals for participants. General Manager Barbara Basham has worked in the resort industry for 31 years, since she was 14 serving food at the Schuss Grills at Meadows.

“We’re excited to be a part of the event. We want women to feel comfortable in this industry and encourage more to join,” Basham said. “Women can offer a lot and this event encourages that inclusivity.”

Sponsor SNOW Operating Process Design Experts was equally as excited to be a part of the event through financial support.

“Events like this open opportunities for not only personal growth and development,” Eric Lipton, SNOW chief operating officer, said. “[It] also fosters community and the ability for younger women who may just be entering the industry to see there is a place and path for them in these areas of resort operations.”

Participants listen to Mel Toney speak during an indoor learning workshopParticipants listen to Mel Toney speak during an indoor learning workshop.
Photo courtesy Ben Mitchell, Mt. Hood Meadows

Other sponsors for the year’s SheGrooms event include PistenBully, 1Risk Data Solutions, Propel Insurance, The Indy Pass, LVL Up Academy eLearning, Farleigh Wada Witt Law Firm, Wells Fargo Commercial Banking, Effective Edge Terrain Park Strategies, Vista Map Digital Map Design and Helly Hansen Apparel.

Growing up on Mount Hood

Marriner grew up snowboarding around the slopes of Mount Hood. Her interest in snow science and mountains brought her out to Colorado, where she graduated from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville with an associate degree in science for ski area operations.

“I’m a snow science nerd, but they didn’t hire snowboard patrols 20 years ago in Colorado,” she said. “To finish my degree, I needed to do a cooperative work experience at a ski area. I thought to myself, grooming looks kind of cool.”

Marriner got hooked on the experience and found she enjoyed the challenge of the job. In 2004, she began work as a groomer at Beaver Creek Resort and continued to work there for 16 years, until 2018.

“It was a welcoming environment and there were two other women working there at the time. I never felt unwelcome or less than, and my coworkers were all more than happy to teach,” she said. “You show up with the attitude that you want to learn and everyone was excited you were there.”

SheGrooms participants receive hands-on learning during the eventSheGrooms participants receive hands-on learning during the event.
Photo courtesy Ben Mitchell, Mt. Hood Meadows

Marriner also groomed the FIS World Championships Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek. From networking at the event, she was then invited to groom in Korea for three years, including at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

“After that, I came back to Mt. Hood Meadows, where I started,” Marriner said, noting she began in January 2019 and was promoted to slope grooming manager in 2022.

Over the last few years, Marriner said other women were surprised about her line of work. She wants them to know that if you want to do it, you can.

“A lot of women I talk to think you need to be some big burly dude and need to have a certain type of background. That’s not the case at all,” Marriner said. “To run a snowcat is a lot of knowledge-based material. It’s finesse, experience and time in the seats. Some people are natural, some need more time and some never get it, but gender is not a deciding factor in that.”

Working as a groomer at Mt. Hood Meadows requires early mornings and late nights on the mountain, with shifts running from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. and midnight to 8:30 a.m. Groomers are expected to operate snowcats, winch cats, loaders and snow blowers on various terrain in all sorts of weather conditions.

Snowcats and winch cats are both utilized on the mountain to create fresh corduroy on groomers, with winch cats used for steeper terrain, such as the runs 3D, O-Ring and Two Bowl at Mt. Hood Meadows.

“The things you can pull off with a snowcat is pretty miraculous once you learn how to use it,” Marriner said. “You have to know what you’re doing and there’s not a lot of room for mistakes. I enjoy that challenge.”