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Lori Spence talks about being first woman to lead Aspen Highlands ski patrol

Eleanor Bennett
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Highlands ski patrol director Lori Spence and her avalanche dog, Meka, stand in front of the patrol hut at the top of Loge lift. Spence was first hired by longtime Aspen Highlands patrol director Mac Smith in 1985, and she became the first woman to lead patrol at the mountain after Smith retired last year.

Lori Spence is the first woman to be director of the Aspen Highlands ski patrol and the second woman to be hired by Aspen Skiing Co. as patrol director at any of the company’s four ski areas.

“I just hope women realize we can all do this job,” she said. “We all bring different strengths to the position.”

Spence has been ski patrolling at Aspen Highlands for more than three decades.

In February 2021, she took over for longtime patrol director Mac Smith, who retired after 42 seasons on the job.

Eleanor Bennett
Aspen Public Radio
Lori Spence leads a recent morning meeting at ski patrol headquarters atop Aspen Highlands. In February 2021, Spence became the second woman in SkiCo history to be patrol director at any of Aspen’s four ski areas.

“We have 41 patrollers on the roster right now and five women,” Spence said. “That’s the most we’ve ever had since I’ve been here for 37 years and one or two years I was here by myself.”

Spence patrolled through two pregnancies and a breast cancer diagnosis, and she raised her kids on the mountain.

“My boys came up here quite a bit, and they were able to grow up with their mom ski patrolling in the valley, and it was great,” she said.

Courtesy of Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol
Lori Spence and her fellow Aspen Highlands ski patrollers pose for the annual group photo in front of the Highland Bowl shortly after Spence was hired in 1985. During her 37 years on the team, Spence was one of just a handful of women patrollers.

The only other woman to be patrol director at SkiCo before Spence was Roine Rowland St. Andre, who patrolled at Buttermilk for 29 years and served as patrol director there for three years.

She also broke trail as the first woman patroller at SkiCo in 1970.

“I think it’s a change from years ago, for sure, because it’s such a male-dominated field,” Spence said. “I feel lucky I am in this position and can be a role model for women in the future.”

SkiCo recently hired Crested Butte patrol director Tessa Dawson as the first woman to be head of ski patrol on Aspen Mountain.

Eleanor Bennett
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Public Radio reporter Eleanor Bennett interviews Aspen Highlands ski patrol director Lori Spence on the deck outside the patrol hut. Spence says the patrol hut is open to the public and provides a great view of the Highland Bowl on a clear day.

Aspen Public Radio spent a day with Aspen Highlands ski patrol director Lori Spence and her avalanche dog, Meka, to learn more about what it has been like to be one of the few female patrollers on the mountain for over three decades.

Listen to the story above.