Sue Boyd has skied almost every winter of her life since she could walk. Fifty-six years, and almost as many seasons, working and skiing five to seven days a week, in rain, hail, and puking storms, and she still loves it.
“I loved skiing even as a child,” says Boyd who grew up at her family’s ski hill, Tillicum Valley, just outside of Vernon. The day lodge had a family room for the five Boyd kids, where they were supposed to do their homework while night skiing operations went on outside.
“We’d just throw our books on the bed and go skiing,” says Boyd. “It wasn’t very big hill so we did all kinds of things to keep it fun—skiing on one ski, skiing on our boots, skiing backwards.”
After chasing her around, practicing Wong-bangers and tip-rolls, her younger brother Rob famously went into ski-racing. Sue started competing in freestyle skiing, but when rising interest rates and bad snow years in the early ’80s forced Tillicum’s closure, Boyd, then aged 18, moved to Whistler to continue her training. “Once I got to the top of the lift and realized you could keep going up, in any direction, instead of just straight back down, everything changed.” She joined the Blackcomb Ski Patrol in 1984. She moved to Fernie five years later, lured by a less-busy resort with an avalanche control program, and worked her way up the ski patrol over the next 15 years, gaining more and more expertise in avalanche control, explosives handling and avalanche dog work.
“She’s one of the most experienced people in avalanche control and explosives. She really commands respect,” says Niki LePage, the head guide at Island Lake Lodge, where Boyd spent the next 8 years of her career, managing the backcountry operation’s snow safety and explosives program. “And she’s a phenomenal skier.”
Boyd has an intrinsic sense of snow, says Janet Kuijt, who matched her turn-for-turn for several years as her partner at the World Powder 8 Championships. “She’s an amazing skier—in flat light, when it’s puking, whatever the conditions. I can’t think of anyone who could ski faster than her.”
Kuijt remembers chasing Boyd up the side of mountains, working hard to stay in her partner’s boot pack, as they blasted past the other Powder 8 competitors on their way to the top of each run. “She was so fit. She’d get to the top and not even be out of breath. It really rattled all the guys.”
Still fit, still fun, still with an enviable tickle trunk, this winter, Boyd’s main focus will shift to teaching recreational avalanche courses. She’s become an adept instructor, after three years developing and running an 11-week ski patrol training program for Non-Stop Ski.
Tyler Steen got his start under Sue back in 2000. Now Fernie Alpine Resort’s patrol director, Steen says his first task this season was to beg Boyd not to retire from the patrol team. “There are very few people who you work with, who you can see in a room if something bad is happening and think, oh, Sue’s on it, it’s covered. It’s almost impossible to replace people like Sue. We’re just going to have to hire six more people in her place.”
At least he’ll have some of Boyd’s new grads to welcome to the fold. “It’s very obvious when someone has spent 12 weeks studying with Sue Boyd. There’s an immediate professionalism. She should be very proud.”