Here comes the groom: Woman leads Sierra trackers
TWIN BRIDGES – Some men may consider Sierra-at-Tahoe grooming supervisor Laura Jensen to be a man’s woman – the friend they’d like to know and the co-worker they’d like to have.
To Andy Lee, she’s the supervisor he always wanted in the seven years he’s worked in the male-dominated grooming world: A good-natured, good listener.
“She’s probably the best boss I’ve ever had. She’s easy to get along with and easy to talk to,” he said, while fueling up his snowcat outside the maintenance shop.
“Of course, women are known for that,” Jensen, 36, said with a snicker. She flashed a coy smile, mocking a reverse sexist joke.
Having a woman managing the ski resort grooming fleet, schedule and 23 energetic men may represent a giant leap for mankind. This year, it’s the first year Sierra has hired a woman to run the department. But Jensen is no different than the guys. With “dude” and “man” easily applied to women in today’s vernacular, Jensen shows she’s one of them. Even her boyfriend, Travis, is man enough to work for her on the weekends as his second job.
“He supports me. When this job came up, he told me to apply for it. What have I got to lose?” she said. “I’m not intimidated by it. I don’t think anything of it.”
Apparently, she’s not. And the guys aren’t either.
Jensen has worked as a Sierra-at-Tahoe groomer for nine years. Men dominate the culture, and Jensen finds a way for things to work. When the only woman on the team goes out on the graveyard shift and has to urinate, she pulls out way ahead with her snowcat and turns the lights off.
To build confidence with the crew, it helps that she knows a thing or two about the equipment. The crew unloaded with the boss in her office after last Saturday night’s 2-foot dump. The work turned out to be as challenging as trying to groom with no snow.
“Smitty, tell me about West Bowl. Is it a mess?” she yelled down to the first floor of the maintenance shop from her office. The walls are plastered with photographs of the various snowcats and crews. ZZ Top blares on the stereo.
With that, Groomer Danny Mullinix bursts into her office, complaining about his snowcat’s surging tendencies and temperamental CD player. Jensen sympathized with Mullinix, who equated driving the machine as having a sports car that doesn’t run.
“Tell Dan (the mechanic). You’ve got to have a working CD player. It’s just too quiet. You go crazy,” she said of snowcat No. 9. “You’ll get used to it. I won’t stick you with it every night.”
There’s no chance of the men handling their female boss gingerly. One snowcat is nicknamed Barbie after workers toyed with the Bombardier label. Someone had rigged a bondage Barbie figurine on the dashboard. Jensen laughed at recalling Barbie’s head had fallen off.
“I’m probably more vulgar than they are,” she said.
Obscenities fly on a regular basis with Jensen. She recalled how a man she worked in construction with one summer complained she cussed too much. She told him to get over it.
When Jensen is off the slopes for the winter, she’s moving dirt in the other seasons for Q&D Construction, based in Reno. She’s capable of operating a scraper, backhoe, skip loader and bulldozer – “But I’m not really good at it.”
Jensen attributes her exposure to unconventional fields for women as something her father encouraged, even though he’s an airline pilot.
“I’m afraid of heights, so I needed to go into something else. But with him, I never thought there’s anything I couldn’t do,” she said.
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