Community profile: Strohmeyer celebrates 50 years of safer slopes
Longtime Sunlight ski patroller continues providing expertise for others
Sitting at the base of Sunlight Mountain, Larry Strohmeyer pictures a perfect day for skiing — a warm, spring day with a bluebird sky and a fresh layer of powder covering the slopes.
“You just feel free when you’re up here on a beautiful spring day,” he said.
This year, at the age of 76, Strohmeyer celebrates his 50th year with the National Ski Patrol, 49 of which have been at Sunlight Mountain.
Born in California during World War II, his family made the move to Kremmling, Colorado, where he grew up. He came to Rifle in 1968 and taught chemistry at the high school until 1999.
He helps battle fires in the summer and mitigate avalanches in the winter.
“You remember the days where the snow is blowing and wind is howling and you’re trying to make the East Ridge safe for skiing,” he said about his years patrolling at Sunlight.
Strohmeyer’s years of expertise and guidance have been an invaluable asset for the rest of the patrol and avalanche mitigation teams.
“Even after 50 years with the National Ski Patrol, Larry stays an effective patroller teaching Outdoor Emergency Care, running toboggans, patient care, mountain maintenance, avalanche control, and keeping up with the younger team members,” Sunlight Ski Patrol Director Tracy Leese said.
Ski bum to ski patrol
It was a short stay in Wyoming that introduced Strohmeyer to the life of patrolling the slopes.
“I was in graduate school and didn’t have any money,” he said. “Someone told me to join the ski patrol to ski for free. So I joined a little area on the divide between Laramie and Cheyenne and patrolled that year.”
After moving back to Rifle to continue teaching, he had the option between Powderhorn Ski Resort near Grand Junction or Sunlight; he chose Sunlight.
During his teaching years, Strohmeyer would spend his summer months battling blazes all across the West while stationed out of Rifle.
“Every state except North Dakota that is west of the Mississippi,” he said of his time as a wildland firefighter, which he did for over two decades.
He now works in aviation out of the Rifle-Garfield County Airport and is the liaison between the contractors who own air tankers and the federal government. He is behind the scenes making sure flight times are recorded correctly so pilots get paid.
After retiring from teaching, Strohmeyer made the transition from volunteer to a paid, full-time ski patroller.
“When I retired in ’99, I worked about six months of the year as a firefighter and four months up here (Sunlight),” he said.
Shortly after going full-time he was promoted to assistant director in 2000 and later became director until 2018, when he decided to enjoy retirement and work part-time.
“Larry is an irreplaceable member of our team at Sunlight,” Leese said. “As past patrol director, he has been a great mentor to me. He has guided me through budgeting, patrol admin, the ins and outs of Sunlight, and helped me become a strong leader. He is not only a mentor for me but other patrol staff.”
In addition to patrolling the slopes and assisting guests with questions or injuries, Strohmeyer is also part of the avalanche mitigation team.
“If there is any blasting needed to mitigate avalanche danger, I work with three other people, and we do that,” he said.
The crew heads out every day during heavy storms checking avalanche-prone runs to make sure they are safe before opening.
“We try to get started before the lifts open; sometimes we actually get a ride to the top with the (snow) cat operators and get everything set up, and once we have enough personnel to do it safely, then we head out,” Strohmeyer said.
No day is the same for a ski patroller, but each morning begins with a briefing. The team goes through a safety checklist including the weather outlook, how many guests are expected on the mountain and an update on any slope maintenance needed.
Then it’s time to do a slope check.
“We do what is called opening runs, where we check as many of the runs as possible. Some are just sight check, some are actually skied,” Strohmeyer said. “Then after that we have various work projects, either moving snow fence, putting up closures, taking down closures — things like that.”
Ski patrollers are a tight-knit bunch and are often considered extended family. They work and play together for four or five months out of the year.
“You make friends for life in ski patrol, and there is a camaraderie. … There are so few us, and we work together closely, so you really get to know the people, and that’s enjoyable,” Strohmeyer said. “People come from all walks of life, and it’s fun to have a common goal, I guess you could say … assisting guests that may have been injured or even just with questions about the mountain.”
What draws Strohmeyer to Sunlight after all these years is the hometown feel offered at the small resort compared to some of the bigger and busier ski mountains across the state.
“I can walk over, and I know numerous people out on the deck enjoying themselves, and I don’t think you see that at larger areas,” he said. “Also on the slopes, I’ll ski up to people, and many times I know who they are.”
Skiing at Sunlight has been a family affair for the Strohmeyers for many years. He patrolled the hill with his son Nic for a few years, and his daughter Becky was once a ski racer for Sunlight.
“They grew up on this mountain,” he said.
On his off days Strohmeyer enjoys hitting the slopes with his wife, Pamela, and relaxing by the wood-burning stove keeping his Rifle home warm during the winter months.
“I guess as long as I’m physically able to, I would enjoy at least working part time,” he said. “As long as I’m physically and mentally able to do the job, I’d like to continue for a little bit longer.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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