Michelle French: Patrolling the slopes, fighting fires

By Debbie Hall

In the world of mountain safety, Michelle French is a rare find—especially among the ski community. She is one of a handful of women throughout the United States that oversees safety programs and a national ski resort. French can be found at Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort ensuring all ski and snowboard enthusiasts have the safest visit. Visitors can see her and her team of mountain patrol staff in their signature red helping guests or teaching mountain safety programs, but it is what guests don’t see that makes French one of the top females in her industry. Her many job titles include manager, national ski patrol volunteer patrol; manager, Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort Mountain patrol and assistant manager, Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort Snow Safety.

At LVSSR, French is responsible for the training, scheduling and management of approximately 100 individuals with the National Ski Patrol Volunteer Patrol, as well as overseeing the seasonal staff LVSSR Mountain Patrol. Her primary duty of avalanche mitigation often goes unnoticed to the average visitor. It is during this daily routine that French records weather observations and prepares avalanche forecasts for the ski area. If the situation requires, she leads her team to carry out a variety of avalanche control methods including explosive mitigation, Howitzer gun control and ski cutting techniques. In fact, French is one of 12 individuals trained to use the Howitzer gun, the famed WWII weapon that is only used as an avalanche mitigation tool in 28 national ski resorts. She was named LVSSR’s Employee of the Year during the 2011/12 season and received the Angel Award prior to becoming a patroller for assisting in saving a patient experience cardiac arrest. She loves working at LVSSR because she is a part of a visitor’s first experience with skiing and sometimes even seeing snow.

French moved to Las Vegas a little over 37 years ago after visiting her older brother while he was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. It wasn’t long at all before French took up skiing.

She credits two women in her life for guiding her. Her first mentor/role model was her mother, Lauretta Johns. Her mother supported five children with the income she made from the beauty salon she owned in the south side of Chicago. She also worked as a waitress in the evenings. “Her long hours and work ethic was passed along to me and all my siblings.” French explained. “Over the years we all worked in this family business. She was an example to us; never give up no matter what life throws at you. Throughout the years she transformed herself into different job professions until she retired at age 70ish.”

Her second mentor/role model is her sister, Peggy Chapman. “She also instilled in me to never give up on my dreams and be all that you can be. We owned a repossession company together for 19 years and still have a very close relationship. Not always easy to own and run a business with family members.”

French resides in Lee Canyon with her husband, cat and ski-partner dog. In the off season, French is a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Mt. Charleston Volunteer Fire Department, where she also serves as treasurer. This past summer, her volunteer department assisted for 12 days in fire fighting and patrol during the Carpenter One Fire, where they defended 15 buildings against the blaze and saved a small kitten.

As French proves with her passion and skill, she is truly a Fearless Female.