Female mechanic at Skico the best in a male-dominated field
Christel Freese isn’t regarded as the best female in the male-dominated field of ski area mechanics. She’s regarded as the best mechanic – period.
Freese was given the Tim Krouse Memorial Award by the Ski Area Vehicle Maintenance Institute earlier this month. The award is given at SAVMI’s annual conference in Grand Junction to the ski area mechanic who shows the greatest dedication and skill in the trade. It’s open to mechanics from ski areas around the country.
Freese, 26, has been with the Aspen Skiing Co. for nearly six years and is now the lead mechanic at Aspen Mountain. She’s in charge of keeping Ajax’s snowcat fleet operating, running the shop and training new employees.
She said she was interested in how things worked while growing up in Los Alamos, N.M., but didn’t really dabble in mechanics or consider it as a career option. Then inspiration struck.
“I went to college, and I figured I wasn’t going to make it four years,” she said with a chuckle.
Instead she attended Wyoming Technical Institute as an automotive mechanic and landed her first job in Glenwood Springs. She applied at the Skico and was soon working on the complex components and diesel engines of $175,000 snowcats. Parts alone that the mechanics regularly handle cost up to $2,000.
“Actually when I started here I didn’t even know what a snowcat was,” Freese confided.
“She went from never seeing a snowcat to being the lead mechanic,” said her boss, Don Mushet, who manages the Skico shops at Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk. He nominated her for the Krouse Award.
“When she came to us she was 20 years old, fresh out of school and a little intimidated about stepping into the male-dominated world of ski area mechanics,” Mushet wrote in his letter of nomination. “From day one of her employment with Aspen Skiing Co. she proved herself as a very valuable employee, a strong team player and a very fast learner.”
Aspen Mountain Manager Steve Sewell wrote a letter of nomination that noted Freese has the vital job of keeping the grooming and utility snowcats operating.
“During crunch times when it is absolutely out of the question to suffer a breakdown – such as during course preparation for World Cup and 24 Hours of Aspen – she has literally lived in the maintenance shop in order to provide assistance at a moment’s notice, if needed,” Sewell wrote.
Freese said she considered it a big honor to win the award, especially since she was friends with the namesake, Tim Krouse, a ski industry mechanic who was crushed in an accident while on the job.
The only part of winning she didn’t like was the requirement to stand in front of the crowd at SAVMI’s conference to accept it. She was the first woman to win. And, in fact, she said she and Nadina Green of the Skico are usually the only women at the conference.
But Freese also said she’s almost always treated as an equal by male mechanics so it isn’t a big deal any more to be one of the few females in the trade.
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