VIEW: Joe Lammers – A life of snow

Since dropping out of University, Revelstoke's Joe Lammers has built himself a diverse career in the ski industry.

Joe Lammers goes big in Engelberg, Switzerland.

Joe Lammers goes big in Engelberg, Switzerland.

Joe Lammers has an impressive resume in the ski industry. He hasn’t been a lifty, but he was a ski patroller. He didn’t race, but he did compete in extreme skiing competitions. He wasn’t a ski instructor, but he did coach freestyle camps and “extreme” ski clinics. He hasn’t been a guide, but he is an avalanche forecaster.

He’s also appeared in front of the camera as a professional skier and the host of Ski Television for several years.

In short, he hasn’t done everything in the ski industry, but he’s done a lot. His is an inspiring story of how you can go from being a university drop out to a 25 year (and counting) career in the ski industry.

***

I have been friends with Lammers for a few years and knew bits of pieces of his history as a professional big mountain skier, TV show host and, most recently, as an avalanche forecaster for Avalanche Canada. It’s the diversity of his career in the industry that appealed to me, so I asked if I could interview him about his life. We met over dinner at the Taco Club while a string band played in the background.

Lammers’ earliest memory of skiing is going over a metal pipe feature on the bunny slope at Cypress Mountain. Growing up in Vancouver, he skied the mountains on the North Shore, made weekend trips to Whistler, and the occasional family trip to the Okanagan. I asked what he loved about the sport as a kid.

“Just being addicted to the feeling of it. Just being completely consumed by the mechanics of skiing,” he told me. “Skiing has become a lot more to me than that over the years, but that was it when I was planting the seeds.”

Lammers took the traditional path after high school and went to study communications at Simon Fraser University. After two years, he dropped out so he could spend a winter in Whistler. “The Whistler transfer program,” he called it.

His parents weren’t impressed but within a week, he knew it was where he wanted to be. He worked as a ticket checker and ingratiated himself with the ski patrol. It was the early 90s and Whistler was much smaller back then. He was known as the redhead. With his affable, outgoing personality, he made friends quickly and found mentors, and in his second winter there, at the age of 21, he was hired on to the ski patrol. “Someone hurt themselves and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” he said. Right off the bat, he started doing avalanche control work.

***

Lammers also got into the burgeoning “extreme” skiing scene, which was being taken to new levels by guys like Shane McConkey.

In 1994, while working on a ski patrol exchange in Valle Nevado, Chile, Lammers signed up for an extreme skiing competition in Las Lenas, Argentina. He finished in the middle of the pack (McConkey won), but it was enough to get him noticed. He spent some time working with some photographers and realized there might be some work there. “All of a sudden it clicked that we’re the next generation,” he said.

His skiing earned him a sponsorship with a snowboard clothing company called Chromophobia and then with Rossignol (he’s now with K2). He kept patrolling, but was able to go on trips as a professional athlete on the side. “I was on the international B team,” he said. Still, he had enough exposure to get paid, get free gear and have a travel budget.

“I had enough exposure in magazines that I was able to take a step back from patrolling and concentrate on skiing for a number of years,” Lammers said. “I was kept alive by sponsors, teaching the odd avalanche course and coaching freeski camps.”

Taking a walk down memory lane with my roomie. He was once very much famous, and he still is. #joelammers

A photo posted by Sarah Peterson (@sarah.red.peterson) on Nov 21, 2013 at 5:50pm PST

For a few years in the early 2000s he gave up patrolling and focussed entirely on being an athlete. During that time, he was asked to do a segment on backcountry preparedness for Ski Television. They liked him enough to bring him back as a host of the show. You can watch him on YouTube hosting a segment at luxurious Mica Heliskiing. “I went to a lot of places that very few people could afford to go to on a regular basis,” Lammers said. “It was an awesome experience but as far as the skiing goes, I’d rather be skiing with my buddies in the Monashees than skiing for a camera.”

The highlight of his hosting duties was convincing the program to do an episode at this brand new ski hill in the middle of B.C. — Revelstoke Mountain Resort, where he’d moved to become the assistant manager of the ski patrol. It was exciting times here, helping develop entirely new safety and avalanche control systems at a new resort. “I threw the first bomb,” he noted.

After a few years as a ski patroller, including two as manager, he left to become an avalanche forecaster. “It teaches you to never take any moment for granted and appreciate the beautiful world we live in,” Lammers said.

***

As we finished our meals, I asked Lammers about the most memorable moments from his career so far. He started talking about his friends who passed away but I stopped him. I really wanted to hear about the high points. After a bit of thought, his eyes lit up. He told me about a trip to Turkey with Ski Magazine. They flew to the far eastern part of the country, spent some days at a local resort then one day decided to take their rental car to a small mountain village.

On the way up, their car broke down. They got out and hiked the rest of the way to the village. As they neared, they encountered a big boulder blocking the road. And at that moment, the local villagers showed up with their tools to clear the rock away. The two disparate groups – one of fun-loving skiers, the other hard working villagers – worked together to clear the boulder.

After, they were then invited into the village, where they stayed two nights with the mayor. They built a jump, showed off some tricks, but mostly they just hung out with the villagers. As they were preparing to leave, the call to prayer camera sounded from the mosque.

“It echoed through the mountains and the skies were parting and I could see some really cool summits above me,” said Lammers. “I thought, ‘Skiing brought me here. How rad is this?’ It’s not just about the mechanics of skiing. There’s so much more and so much to explore, not just professionally, but culturally and geographically.

“Just the fact skiing means so many different things to different people and there’s so many different sides to explore, it just keeps me doing it.”

 

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