April 15, 2014

Ski-bum interruptus: Woody trades Highlands ski-patrol job for school

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Woody, aka Peter Woodward, throwing some slush around on the Big Burn on a recent day off.

Chris Council/Aspen Daily News

Woody, aka Peter Woodward, throwing some slush around on the Big Burn on a recent day off.

Woody, aka Peter Woodward, has given notice that after six seasons on the Aspen Highlands ski patrol, he is leaving to get an MBA from the University of Washington.

“I’ve had a phenomenal run ski patrolling,” Woodward said. “But at this stage in my life, having just been married and hoping to have a family, now seemed like as good a time as any to go out and get some extra schooling.”

But wait, you say. Can a person quit the patrol, move away, go to business school and still be a proper ski bum?

Consider that Mike Kaplan, the CEO of Aspen Skiing Co. has an MBA from DU and yet still describes himself in his Twitter profile as simply a “ski bum.”

And Woody has to be given ski bum props for six years of throwing bombs in the Highland Bowl, doesn’t he?

Plus, you should know Woody has carved out his ski-bum career in a deliberate fashion.

Peter "Woody" Woodward

Chris Council / Aspen Daily News

“I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma in high school,” Woodward said. “Did chemotherapy, did the whole nine. Sat next to people in the chemo room getting treatment who didn’t make it through the illness. I realized then that there was more to life than making money on Wall Street.”

Indeed, there was skiing.

Woody was first on skis at 3 years old, at Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont. Then his family moved to Maine and he grew up bashing bumps at Sugarloaf.

He first came to Aspen as a freshman at Boston College and hiked the bowl for the first time. It changed his life.

He decided he was going to get on patrol at Highlands, and in Woody-like fashion, he took steps to make it happen.

He took avalanche courses. He got his EMT credential after graduation. He moved here in the hopes Highlands ski patrol director Mac Smith would hire him.

Then he got on the Highlands trail crew and worked on thinning Canopy Cruiser.

Six weeks later, he got the nod from Mac. He’d made it.

Woody was 22. And six years later, at 28, he’s still the youngest person on the Highlands patrol.

At first, Woody’s parents raised an eyebrow at his career choice. But they came to understand what it means to be on the Highlands patrol.

“I wasn’t coming here to mess around,” Woodward said. “I was coming here to learn from some of the smartest, most-experienced ski patrollers in the country. So they realized this was as hard as trying to make it at Goldman Sachs, but instead I was working with a bunch of tobacco-dipping, bearded, bomb-throwing guys.”

Woody has gone all in while on patrol. He’s worked closely with the snow safety team and the avalanche dog team. And he’s climbed the bowl about as many times as you can imagine.

Asked about what it’s like to run bombing routes in the bowl, Woody chose his words carefully.

“You’re definitely very focused,” he said. “You’re aware of what the Highland Bowl means. You’re aware of the time and effort people have put in to get that terrain open. So, when you’re up there and it’s a snow day, your eyes are on the job you need to do, on your route partner, on the other teams around you, and getting out of there safe.”

And he’s always been appreciative of how locals treat the Highlands patrol.

“I’ll never forget the opening day of my first year, the 2008-2009 season,” Woody said. “It was a snow day. I was packing tower pads down the Cloud Nine lift and people are shouting down from the chair, ‘You rock! and ‘We love Highlands patrol!’ There’s not a whole lot of jobs where people you’ve never encountered before pull you aside to say ‘thanks.’”

He said it was very hard to tell Mac Smith he was leaving the patrol.

“But Mac, being the incredible manager and gentleman that he is, was nothing but supportive,” Woodward said.

Woody now has eyes on a management position in the outdoor industry. While he’s been in Aspen, he’s also worked at Durrance Sports and Ajax Mountain Sports; he’s been the rep for 4FRNT Skis out of Salt Lake City and Flylow ski gear out of Boulder, and he’s worked as a raft guide and the sales and marketing director for Blazing Adventures.

And in true ski bum fashion, he’s chosen the University of Washington’s business school with skiing in mind.

“It’s closer to the mountains than CU is, than DU is, and closer than Cal is from Tahoe” Woodward said, ticking off the names of Crystal Mountain, Steven’s Pass and Alpental. “I’m looking forward to skiing the relatively stable steeps of the Cascades.”

There’s a good chance Woody will be back in the valley. Especially with the memories he’s deliberately created.

“The best day of my career in the bowl was two or three days before we opened this season,” Woodward said. “It was in the middle of boot-packing season. We had a snow safety training day. And I got untouched G-6 from the peak of the Highland Bowl all the way down into the run-out, in probably 18 inches of untouched snow. And that was pretty special.”

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published a version of it on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

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