Opinion » Alta States

Alta states

Gail Morrison: For the love of the mountains



It was the fall of 1981 and Gail Morrison was very keen to get back to Whistler.

Didn’t matter that the newly-minted resort municipality was stumbling through a crippling recession. Didn’t matter that her current travelling buddies, Vicki Vogler and Sharon Audley, wanted to stay in Europe for a while longer. Her dream had come true. Whistler Mountain had accepted her application to become a full-time pro-patroller.

“It was the job I wanted most in my life,” says the outgoing fiftysomething with her trademark laugh. “I knew all the guys on the team. And I knew that I could work just as hard as they could. I was confident we’d all be able to collaborate together successfully…”

People sometimes forget just how fast things were changing back then. Blackcomb Mountain was brand new. Whistler Mountain had just expanded its operations to include its north-side slopes. In the space of one season, the resort had nearly tripled its skiing base. The result? Way more terrain to patrol; way more potential crises to handle. Reluctantly, the old-boy club of professional pro patrollers had welcomed women into their midst. Fortunately, those who took up the challenge that year — gals like Morrison and Cathy Jewett and Leslie Bruce — were competent and strong and didn’t suffer fools.

“Jan Tindle was our mentor,” smiles Morrison. “She was the first to break into the club. And she was really good at what she did. So I just followed her lead.”

Gail laughs a lot. It’s hard to describe it if you’ve never heard it. Part nervous shyness, I figure, part raw energy. Whatever. Most of her comments are punctuated with it.

“You know, sometimes in life you get the kind of job that you’ve always fantasized about,” she continues. “It doesn’t happen a lot. But in this case, I was living my dream. The job lived up to my expectations on every level. It was a complete joy…”

Like so many other women living in this valley, Gail has worn many different hats in her life. Athlete, skier, patroller, caterer/cook, photo editor — and now proud mother of a promising young ski racer — she is a passionate mountain enthusiast who is never more comfortable than when she’s playing in the snow in wintertime.

Yet Morrison is one of those rare people living in snow country who wasn’t introduced to skiing by a family member. “I grew up in suburbia,” she explains. “In Coquitlam to be more precise. And neither of my parents skied.”