Alex Stange: A Day with Dispatch
Standing at 5’3”, Alex Stange may not be the biggest skier on the mountain, but with her bright pink helmet and finesse in the park, she’s hard to miss. As the season winds down, you can often spot her sliding rails under the Glacier Chair at Lake Louise - she’s infectiously stoked on spring park laps. When she’s not in the park, ripping laps on the back side, or touring the resort’s slack-country, she can be found tucked away in the Lake Louise dispatch office, as one of three women who run the entirety of the resort's on-hill communications.
A seasoned ski instructor, Stange made the shift after four years with the Lake’s Ski School to run radios, log incidents, and keep track of all the moving parts that make the resort run. No small feat when that includes 4,200 acres of terrain, 10 lifts, the entirety of the ski patrol, trail crew, and lift operation teams, not to mention keeping track of each on hill accident and incident, along with being a wealth of knowledge for anyone who happens to stop by the dispatch office with a question or two. The transition from instructing to dispatching came with a steep learning curve and an overwhelming first few days, but Stange expressed that she loves to learn new skills - something that undoubtedly pushed her to gain her CSIA Level 3 at age 19, effectively becoming one of the only female park course conductors in the country at the time. After a season with dispatch, Alex is already working on the next skill set: she’s been working part time with ski patrol with the plans to swap departments next season, and will be apprenticing millwrighting through the resort this summer.
In short, Alex keeps herself busy. Thankfully, she still made time to spin a few spring laps, coach me through some features in the park, chat about her plans to stay working with the resort for as long as possible, her passion surrounding women within the industry and within park skiing, and why the sport means so much to her.
Whatʼs your history with skiing? How did you start?
Alex Stange (AS): I grew up skiing on a small hill in the prairies when I was four. It wasnʼt until I was 15 and got my first teaching job at a hill called Rabbit Hill that I fell deeply in love with sliding on two planks. It was the coolest job I could have ever had as a teenager, and it was eye-opening finding a job that I was passionate about. I remember being in high school and leaving Edmonton at 4 a.m. for a day trip just to make it for first chair at Louise with my friends. Thereʼs something magical about this place that has kept me here ever since.
I didnʼt grow up as a sporty gal. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of nine. I used to be so insecure with my body due to the fact that it didnʼt always move the way that I wanted to. A lot of people tell me Iʼm in the wrong industry for someone with joints like mine. There have been days where just getting out of bed is a mission, and has been something that has not only affected me physically - but also mentally. Not being able to do what you love is exhausting on the mind, and very easy to go to a sad place. There are definitely the bad days, however the good days have trumped all the ones that suck. The people that I surround myself with are nothing but patient with me when skinning up a mountain, or when Iʼm not feeling motivated to push myself in the park. I have never once been made to feel guilty for holding anyone up, which has been massive for my brain. I see it as an opportunity to be grateful, with the thought that a condition like this doesnʼt tend to get better, I take advantage of every day that I get to ski. Knowing that one day my body wonʼt be able to do the things that I want it to, I constantly remind myself that Iʼm so lucky to be able to do what I can right now.
What brought you to Lake Louise?
(AS): I came to Lake Louise fresh out of high school. There was lots of fear that I wasn't doing it “right”. A lot of my friends had chosen to move onto post-secondary, which is great for them, however at that point in my life the appeal of the mountains was too tempting to resist. Sticking to what I knew and loved, I chose to teach skiing for “a gap year” (which has turned into 4 wonderful years). At 19, I became a Level 3 Ski Instructor and realized that living out here wasn't something just temporary in my life.
I continue to accumulate all these goals and things I want to do, which I donʼt know if I could do anywhere else but here. The community of people with a big sense of adventure makes every day out here a learning opportunity, and I feel so lucky to get to be a part of it!
How did you end up working on Lake Louise’s Dispatch team?
(AS): I had initially applied for Ski Patrol this season, however at the time when I submitted my application there weren't any spots available. Thatʼs when I was approached by my [current] boss, Jess (Lake's Accident Investigator), who wanted to hire me for dispatching. I was hesitant as I had never worked in an “office setting” – but this is no regular office job. Snow Safety is one of the most dynamic departments I have ever worked in. It has been so cool to get to see what goes on behind the scenes, which is something I wouldnʼt have gotten to see had I been on snow.
This will be my 5th winter here at Lake Louise, with many more years to come!
Some smaller resorts don't have a dedicated dispatch team, but it's a position instrumental in guaranteeing a smooth operation with a hill the size of Lake Louise. What's the average day look like in the dispatch office for your team?
(AS): Dispatch has been this beautiful combination of chaos and excitement. I go into work every morning ready, but also with no idea what the day will bring. Itʼs very satisfying knowing that I have the ability to make things around the resort move as smoothly as possible.
In this role, I am the primary source of communications on the mountain. I am responsible for three radios, a phone, as well as a window that is open to all guests and staff that have an inquiry. Essentially, all clearances, injuries, basically anything that happens out on the mountain – I'm on it. I keep track of where equipment is, how long a lift is down and which patrollers are required where.
There are times when a lift has stopped, Iʼm keeping tabs on how long it’s down, communicating to management that it’s down, but at the same time there are 3 different injuries and Iʼm on the phone updating EMS. This can all happen within the span of minutes. Sometimes when things get spicy, I can go hours without eating or even going to the washroom!
This job has given me so much insight into how many roles there are working on this big machine, and how important each member of the team is here to operate on a daily basis.
What were some challenges, or ongoing challenges, do you find working within the industry as a woman?
(AS): There’s a lot of pressure not wanting to mess up as a woman in fear of not being accepted by your colleagues. It is hard when the ratio of guys to girls isn’t balanced and you feel like you’re having to constantly prove why you deserve to be here. However, whether Iʼm out on the slopes or at work, Iʼve realized how important it is to be unapologetically present as a woman. There are so many inspiring women out here that I look up to who are actively working their butts off to make this space more inviting for other gals. While dispatching, it’s been a really cool experience getting to work with Jess and having such a strong woman to look up to, who has mad respect from her male co-workers. I don’t know if these women even realize what they’re doing for girls as a whole, so THANK YOU ALL!
I have also been very fortunate to have a group of boys that I ride with who are constantly supporting me-which I’m sad isn’t everyone’s experience. I’m very thankful for my guy friends who are nothing but supportive to me. Itʼs not just the galʼs jobs to make this space more inviting, it’s also the guys who already were invited to the party to make sure everyoneʼs included.
Dispatch has a full female crew this year - what's the atmosphere like on your team?
(AS): Our team is composed of three cool ladies- two Dispatchers and an Accident
Investigator, and we do it all, every day. I am very grateful to work on a team just of women, and having a boss who is this wonderful combination of self-assured and patient. Jess is someone who inspires me a lot to have more confidence in myself and my own abilities.
Any thoughts for girls trying to get into the industry?
(AS): The thing I love about the lady community out here is that one girlʼs victory is ALL of our victories. Thereʼs no petty competition, only stoke and support for wins for women.
If the idea of any of this sparks your interest, whether it to be a bold radio lady as a Dispatcher, or to strongly pound steel in the ground with Trail Crew or even to responding to calls and performing first aid on the mountain, feel free to swing by the Dispatch office and weʼd be happy to point you in the right direction! It may be intimidating to take a step into these kinds of roles, but come shadow for a day and see what all the fun is about! You will have a group of cool gals cheering you on throughout your entire journey.
You ski a lot of park, and frankly you shred - yet park still isn't the most common space for women in skiing. How did it become a major interest for you? Do you have any thoughts on female involvement (or lack thereof) within park skiing?
(AS): Coming from a small hill, you find ways to keep the adrenaline pumping. For me this was the park. I remember sliding my first rail - the many falls, the MASSIVE bruise on my left cheek and the big victory after.
I think it can be a scary place for gals because: a) rails DO bite back sometimes, and b) standing up top waiting to drop with a bunch of boys can be very intimidating. This was something that used to scare me about it. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve been able to push that fear into motivation. I like rolling up to the park, having people look at this small 5ʼ3 lady wearing a pink helmet and question my ability. I love dropping in and pushing myself bigger and farther to show that the gals are here to shred, even if that means falling or not completely stomping it. The challenge of it all can be overwhelming, but people really do respect you if youʼre determined and keep trying.
I have noticed there are more girls in the park which gets me SO excited! My biggest piece of advice is that YOU ARE ENOUGH. It’s very easy for thoughts like “I’m not good enough” or “I didnʼt go big enough”, however that’s never the case. If you are motivated and willing to keep trying it WILL come. Also, falling is ok! My collection of bruises on my legs makes the victories that much better, knowing that I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Where’s your favourite place to ski at Lake Louise?
(AS): I only just discovered this one recently, but my new favourite would have to be UNC to North Cornice. But in the spring you’ll find me lapping Glacier Chair for some slushy park laps!
Do you have a favourite Lake Louise hidden gem? (Could be a run, the best sushi roll or beer on the hill, best spot for a warm up, lift with the best crew/tunes, etc).
(AS): I love eating, so for me it would have to be the nachos up at Powder Keg. Itʼs just a mountain of chips, cheese and toppings. So. Good.
Whatʼs your go-to après activity?
(AS): When the world is normal, an ideal Après would be an extra spicy caesar out on one of the decks at the resort on a sunny day with all of my friends around. Currently, my favourite thing is sitting on the roof at home with my partner, listening to tunes and eating lots of snacks after a big day at the hill.
What are your go toʼs for keeping warm/stoked to keep lapping all day?
(AS): Layers and good company. I find that surrounding myself with wonderful humans keeps the stoke HIGH. I know thereʼs the saying “No friends on a pow day”, but I’ve found pow days have been the best ones because of my friends. Thereʼs nothing like being there for a rope drop, getting glorious turns and hearing the hoots and hollers from all of your pals. Also, if I have a good tumble, I always like having people around to laugh at myself with me.
Final question: What are you listening to while on snow?
(AS): My ski playlists are a bit of a mess and tend to change depending on whereabouts I am on the mountain. My park playlist features artists like Cardi B, and J.Cole. If Iʼm in the alpine, there’s a lot of Anderson .Paak with a hint of Elton John and Fleetwood Mac. It really depends on the day!
Special thanks to: The Lake Louise Ski Resort & Alex Stange Written by: Megan Jones