THREE THINGS I’VE LEARNED:
By Abby Cooper
Mountains make the greatest teachers and provide us with countless opportunities to contemplate, question and learn. Many decades of experiences in the mountains have left Joe Lammers with some well-tuned advice for mountain enthusiasts. In this installment of “Three Things I’ve Learned”, Abby Cooper taps into the wisdom of this public avalanche forecaster whose ski career has taken him from the world of TV to ski patrol and everything in between.
After spending his childhood within the greater area of Vancouver, Joe Lammers left the city and traded it in for a mountain lifestyle – never to crave concrete living again. After graduating from high school in 1988, he went to Simon Fraser University for two years. “I was really just spinning my wheels, as I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “But skiing had always been a huge part of my life, so in my infinite wisdom, I moved to the mountains for a few months until I sorted it all out. I have yet to sort it all out, but life has been pretty awesome.”
For the next 17 years, Whistler, B.C., was home for Joe. Whether for his job as a ski patroller on Whistler Mountain, or just for the sake of skiing with friends, Joe had two planks attached to his feet at nearly any given moment during the winter months. Summers were spent rafting the waterways of Whistler as a white-water raft guide. Both jobs involved careful navigation, rapidly changing environmental factors, consideration of the weather, and extensive safety training.
For eight years he hosted a television series called the Pontiac World of Skiing on top of his regular ski patrol and guiding duties. The spotlight showed off Joe’s humour, humility, and graceful-yet-boundary-pushing skiing. His jokes and quick wit followed him across the globe as he travelled making countless lifelong friends at every stop. With ski patrolling as his staple career, Joe found flexibility to travel with the TV show and “go to Turkey and huck off cliffs or go to Switzerland and ski powder with my friends.” He even did a few seasons of ski patrolling in South America before returning to his routine of Whistler Mountain ski patrolling and white-water rafting. With this schedule he found time to play in the fall season in the southern hemisphere’s Spring snow – a way to get it all in within a year.
“The first time I worked as a ski patroller in South America, I was 23 years old,” Joe remembers. “After paying for my flight I had about $200 to my name, but I somehow made the next seven months work. I learned how to speak Spanish, connected with some amazing people, entered my first freeskiing comp, climbed some big peaks, got out of my comfort zone (on a few levels) and learned humility. For those reasons, it was a really powerful experience for me.” Joe continued to enter freeskiing competitions here and there, but focused his efforts on the operational side of the techy lines and still skied them with style.
With the opening of Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) in 2007, Joe headed East. With an offer to manage the ski patrol at the soon-to-open RMR, Joe accepted the job as employee Number 13. Since leaving RMR in 2010, Joe has done some avalanche work in the industrial sector, some safety work in the Middle East, and safety and planning for a reality TV show in Costa Rica. But, mainly he has been a public avalanche forecaster for Avalanche Canada.
He has been planted in Revelstoke for ten years now and these mountains are his home. His biggest passion is ski mountaineering. By forecasting at Avalanche Canada, Joe helps his fellow backcountry lovers get out there safely every day. Not one for a static lifestyle, Joe recently got his real estate license and is keeping tabs on the ever-growing market of Revelstoke, while avalanche forecasting for those who live in and visit the area.
Generous with his knowledge of the backcountry and to lend a hand on the street, Joe is an instant friend to all who meet him. His stoke oozes out of him, especially when he is talking about anything snow. His light-hearted, comical remarks keep you in stitches and the atmosphere approachable. You instantly want to learn from and be like Joe. Here’s what he had to say when asked, “What are three valuable things you’ve learned from your mountain-driven life?”
THREE THINGS I’VE LEARNED
1/ Embrace and manage uncertainty.
When you’re in the backcountry in the winter, it’s OK to be uncertain about conditions. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try and learn as much as possible about the avalanche conditions, but there are times (early season, after a big storm, dealing with persistent weak layers, an unfamiliar area, travelling through data-sparse regions, etc.) when even the most seasoned pros are scratching their heads trying to dial in the snowpack. What’s most important is that we put our ego in our pocket, acknowledge uncertainty where it exists and respond with conservative terrain choices. This has to happen until we get an acceptable amount of data to justify pushing into higher-consequence terrain. In short, it’s not a weakness, but a strength to admit uncertainty. Some days, you have a high degree of certainty and you can push. But sometimes, it’s OK not to know the certainty – and don’t be in a rush to know. It’s inherently complex, and that’s OK.
After a day in the mountains, have an informal debrief with your partners. Even if nothing notable happened, articulate three things you learned from the day. Sharing our thoughts goes a long way in terms of making the group stronger, but doing so will bring those lessons to the front of your mind and make them easier to apply to your next adventure.
3/ Everyone’s voice matters.
When touring in a group, wait for everybody in the group to catch up before discussing snowpack conditions, route planning or areas to avoid. This may seem like an obvious courtesy, but it’s easy to start talking about the game plan as soon as we stop. Talk about football, Justin Bieber’s new album or whatever until the last member of the group catches up. That person may be slower than you, but they may also be smarter and have something to contribute to the conversation!
A lover of all things outdoors, Abby Cooper is a splitboarder, climber, hiker, adventurer, photographer and writer. She’s living life one adventure to the next with her dog by her side.
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