Work Hard, Ski Hard: Maddie Crowell, The Forestry Engineer

An interview with the Colorado native on forestry, winter road trips, and the seasonal lifestyle

This is the latest installment of Work Hard, Ski Hard, featuring interviews with skiers who work all summer to ski all winter. Read more interviews here.

It is hard to say which is more adventurous: Maddie Crowell’s job or her lifestyle outside of work. The 25-year-old skier spends eight months of the year working as a forestry engineer, flying on floatplanes and helicopters into remote forests on Vancouver Island and the mainland coast of British Columbia. She spends the remaining four months of the year chasing snow, road tripping, and skiing.

Skier by winter, forestry engineer by summer, Maddie Crowell spoke with us about her seasonal lifestyle. PHOTO: Courtesy of Maddie Crowell
Skier by winter, forestry engineer by summer, Maddie Crowell spoke with us about her seasonal lifestyle. PHOTO: Courtesy of Maddie Crowell

Born and raised in Telluride, Colorado, Crowell is not in the woods to cut down trees. As a forestry engineer for a small consultant company, she decides what wood is best for logging companies to come in and harvest, with a focus on environmental and sustainability concerns. Her passion for work, skiing, adventure, and life drives her through 10-day field shifts, with 10 to 13 hours of work per day. Come winter, Crowell will be back where she is most passionate: the backcountry of BC’s Coast Mountains or back home in the jagged peaks of Telluride.

Describe your job as a forestry engineer.
Everyday we go out and we walk around in the forest. We’re taking notes. If logging companies decide to go into an area to harvest the wood, how are they going to get it? What’s the best way to do it, not only economically but also in terms of disturbance and wildlife habitat? Is this a grizzly bear habitat and do we have to take that into consideration? Are there streams with fish in them? There are laws in place that you have to protect those types of ecosystems and we’re there to ensure that is happening and figure out how everything is going to work together.

Where in BC are you doing all of this work?
We’re going into these really backwoods areas that are very remote, so we’re taking helicopters to get there and floatplanes and boats. We do 10 days on and four days off. It’s a really good way to save money for the ski season, basically.

No work, all play, all winter. Maddie Crowell makes it count in Revelstoke. PHOTO: Jono Doherty
No work, all play, all winter. Maddie Crowell makes it count in Revelstoke. PHOTO: Jono Doherty

Sounds like it. What do you do with those four-day weekends?
I’ve been doing a lot of exploring on Vancouver Island with my boyfriend. There are a ton of mountain ranges that nobody knows about. We just bought a canoe at the beginning of the summer so we’ve been doing a lot of canoe-access trips. Like we did a multi-day trip up to the tallest waterfall in Canada, which is on Vancouver Island. So, yeah, I just try to explore and be outside. I think the first month I was here I slept in my bed, like, two nights.

Do you ever see any negative connotations associated with working in forestry?
When you explain it to people, they’re like, “Oh, you’re cutting down trees.” They get really psyched out by the term “logging.” But everyone goes back to their houses that are built of wood, and writes their friend a note on a piece of paper, and wipes their ass with toilet paper. Everyone is so reliant on this industry but they never think about the process of where wood comes from. While we’re taking this resource, we’re also protecting it and hopefully sustaining it so we can use it in future generations.

So let’s talk skiing. What do your winters look like?
I’m a little bit of a snow chaser. Telluride is always my home base and I always try and go there for at least a month. Last winter I chased snow a little bit in February and went from the coast of BC and then did a good road trip all the way through the interior. And then I drove down to Montana, then Jackson, then out to Utah. And then I ended up back in Telluride. When I did that road trip I just couch-surfed for a whole month. I slept in my truck maybe once. The people I knew would just show me the goods. Pretty much every place I went I skied in the backcountry. I think that this winter I’m going to try and do the same, except in January I really want to go to Japan.

Back to the woods, for Maddie Crowell. PHOTO: Courtesy of Maddie Crowell
Back to the woods, for Maddie Crowell. PHOTO: Courtesy of Maddie Crowell

What benefits translate from your forestry work to skiing?
Whenever you’re in a wilderness situation or you’re in the backcountry, spatial awareness is key. When you’re in the backcountry you always need to be assessing the situation, you always need to be aware of your surroundings and constantly adapting to those, and that’s the exact same in the forestry industry. For me there’s a big crossover because I am really comfortable in being in remote areas and situations where a lot of other people might not be OK.

Do you plan to keep it up into the future?
Yeah, I’d say indefinitely right now. It’s the lifestyle that I want to lead. I think that this year I’ll go and spend the season in Telluride. And then maybe put some time down in Revelstoke or some small Canadian ski town. But yeah, I want to take the winters off and ski and just be out there every day.