The right fluff: Meet the guides at Steamboat Powdercats |

The right fluff: Meet the guides at Steamboat Powdercats

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Skiing powder for a living, Steamboat Powdercats’ 16 guides might have the best job — and “office” — in Ski Town, USA. But behind all the face shots is a family of hard workers who bust butt to keep their clients safe and smiling.

We caught up with five of them to share their stories.

Brynn Gotchey (Photo by Steamboat Powdercats)

Brynn Gotchey
Marital status: single

Skiing/Steamboat background: I began skiing when my family moved back to Steamboat from Ocala, Florida, in 1990 when I was 5. Ski school was my first encounter with the sport. My dad is a horse vet; we came back for a job for him. Both my folks are from Denver, but they met on a horse drive west of Maybell and made sure to always come back to the ‘Boat once they had kids and could make it happen.

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This article is from the 2019 issue of Best of the Boat magazine.

Steamboat thoughts: I love that there are four beautiful seasons here as well as endless views made for endless wanderings.

Guiding background: I started in the 2012-13 season, so I’ve been guiding here for five years. I love so many things about it — taking people skiing in dreamy, fluffy places; the views from my office; driving the snowcats; going skiing during business hours; and the dynamic nature of nature (no two days are exactly alike). I also love meeting interesting people from all over as well as my crew. I love those goons … they’re some of the hardest-working, smartest and funniest people I’ve ever known.

Anecdote of note: One of my favorite stories is from a guest named Dusan (pronounced doo-shan). He was about 70 at the time, in his old tried-and-true ski clothes. It was one of the toughest conditions I’d ever experienced, like skiing on eggshells, and we got to the bottom of what I considered a near-impossible run, and Dusan says, “Well … that was skiing!” And I’ve never forgotten it. That embodies the whole point for me … going skiing. And if you’re lucky enough to be doing that, you’re lucky enough.

Offseason pursuits: I work at the Drunken Onion, help put on weddings at the Flying Diamond Ranch in the south valley, and I help my grandmother around her house off Colorado Highway 131. I ride horses, try and build random inventions I think up, paint, write stories, play volleyball, hike with my dog Bert, listen to music and travel as much as possible to sandy beaches.

Future plans: I’d like to get an education in electric motor repairs and new energy fields. I also want to buy a big abandoned greenhouse and grow cut flowers for events. I’d also like to become a mad scientist and invent something that could change the world for the better!

Britni Johnson (Photo by Steamboat Powdercats)

Britni Johnson
Marital status: single
Nickname: B*Nast

Skiing background: I learned to ski when I moved to Steamboat in 2009.

Upbringing: I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in international relations from Michigan State University in 2008.

School highlights: I walked on to the women’s varsity rowing team my freshman year at MSU and helped contribute to the team’s first Big 10 Championship as a stroke seat in 2V8. Prior to college, I grew up playing competitive soccer and ran cross-country in high school. I graduated summa cum laude from MSU and was a member of the National Honor Society in high school.

Steamboat arrival: I first moved to Steamboat in the summer of 2008 for a job with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. After finishing my degree later that fall, I made my way back the following summer for another season with RMYC, before accepting a year-long AmeriCorps VISTA position with them in 2009-10. That’s what engrained me into the fabric of the community and solidified my desire to call Steamboat home (as well as kickstarting my passion and learning curve for skiing).

Steamboat thoughts: I love our community. I love our seasons. I love the pace of life. I love the abounding beauty. I love all of the recreational outlets. I love all that the valley represents, past and present, its values and its priorities. This is such a wonderful and special place to call home.

Guiding background: I left Steamboat during summer 2012 for a farm internship in Bozeman, Montana. While there, a friend and guide with Powdercats told me they were hiring for the upcoming winter season. I was flattered and excited, but I’d only been skiing for three years and didn’t have much confidence in the strength of my candidacy. And I barely knew what a snowcat was. But the universe works in mysterious ways, and the Yampa Valley curse grabbed hold of me to return. I’ve been guiding with Powdercats ever since.

Guiding kudos: We have some of the best guests you could ask for, and it’s great to build those relationships with so many of them skiing with us each year. Their trip is usually one of their ski season highlights, and it’s incredible to share such an experience with them. I also work with an amazing family of guides, which makes the long, daily grind much more doable and gratifying. We all bring various backgrounds, strengths and comedic relief to the table, which, paired with the dynamic nature of our jobs, generally results in a healthy, challenging and refreshing work environment. While the biggest perk is skiing powder daily, as guides there’s much more than what meets the eye. But we know how to work hard, play hard and have fun.

Offseason pursuits: It takes a variety of hustles to make ends meet, so I’ve worked on and off in the restaurant industry. I also like to trail run, mountain bike, climb, cook, travel and après — mountain living at its finest.

Future plans: I feel like I’m in a pretty good place regarding work-life balance. I think I’ll be sticking around the valley for the foreseeable future.

Mike Rakowski (Photo by Steamboat Powdercats)

Mike Rakowski
Marital status: married (wife, Sarah, with “pets up the kazoo”)
Nickname: The Godfather “Out of respect, as I’ve been at it so long”

Skiing background: I raced growing up in Illinois, then, at age 15, I started working as a ski patroller at a small ski area in Bartlett, Illinois, called Villa Olivia. It’s a whole 330 vertical feet. I was one of the youngest ski patrollers in the state and did that for three seasons.

Upbringing: I was born in Chicago. My first home was in an apartment above a bar that my grandfather owned. We then moved to the suburbs, and I spent most of my childhood in Roselle, Illinois. I was vice president of my senior class in high school.

Steamboat arrival: I wanted to ski out West, and in 1979, a friend called and said he had to use up his vacation time, so we headed out from Wisconsin. I had a job and a place to live in Vail for a bit, then tried Aspen and then came to Steamboat at the end of the season. There were hippies on one side of the road and beautiful women on the other. I turned 21 at the Tugboat. I left in 1980 to try the real world, but that didn’t work, so I came back permanently in 1983 with my brother Steve.

Guiding background: I was asked to work for Powdercats in 1988 after I hired company owner Jupiter Jones to guide on the Eagle River for a day. He said he liked the way I ran the trip and said, if I got my EMT, he’d give me a job. The next day, I enrolled at CMC for my EMT, and I started with Powdercats the next year. Now I’m coming up on my 29th year. As far as I know, I’ve been doing it longer than anyone else in the state.

Work likes: What’s not to like about it? It’s great skiing, great people, great owners and a great team. While it’s always nice to get paid to ski, the clients that come back year after year are what truly make it special. Now we’re skiing with third generations of clients. And the view from my office is amazing.

Offseason: For years, I’d spend spring and fall traveling, mostly the Caribbean and Central America. I recently bought a 36-foot Morgan sailboat and keep it in Key Largo, Florida. In the summer, I guide rivers in Colorado and now help run a tubing operation. I also spent two summers teaching water skiing in Wisconsin and a few summers living and working on a sailboat in the Keys and Bahamas.

Future plans: I hope to work for Powdercats as long as they’ll put up with me and continue working at Backdoor Sports until my wife lets me move onto our sailboat full time.

Matt Weingartner (Photo by Steamboat Powdercats)

Matt Weingartner
Marital status: married (wife, Holly)

Skiing background: I started skiing when I was 3 at a tiny hill called Bradford in Massachusetts. My parents didn’t ski, but they got me going early. As my sister and I got better, we started family trips up to White Mountains. Once I got my driver’s license, I stopped winter sports at school and drove up every weekend and started junior patrolling at Cannon Mountain. I was hooked; bold letters across the top of my page in my senior yearbook read “gone skiing.”

Schooling: I grew up in Merrimacport, Massachusetts, and was captain of our high school lacrosse team. I started college at Hobart in New York, then transferred to Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia and was accepted into their adventure studies program, focusing on ski guiding.

Guiding background: I got a taste for guiding in Pucon, Chile, on an abroad program through school. I got a great foundation through ACMG training and several mentors in the industry, and jumped at every opportunity for professional experience. A mountain rescue clinic at Mike Wiegele’s and contacts from school led to an apprenticeship at Mustang Powder, and my foot was in the door.

Steamboat arrival: I moved here in winter 2009 from Golden, British Columbia, where I worked as a guide for Mustang Powder. I came because of the job at Powdercats and the opportunity to guide in Colorado. Holly and I live in Ipswich, Massachusetts, the rest of the year, so living stateside made it easier to make the dual-state/seasonal lifestyle a reality.

Lifestyle likes: Steamboat has it all — fantastic skiing, not extreme, just pure fun. It also has great food and a great community of friends out doing what they love and having fun. And the Powdercats family is a tight and talented team. After the morning meeting, the guide team is free to craft the day and solve any problems. I love that freedom and responsibility. I also love having the deck stacked in my favor to be out there on those rare, true blower, over-the-head powder days.

Bonehead move: My first day on the job, I dropped the cat off the side of a road trying to let snowmobiles pass. I pinned it up against some trees and needed another cat to come pull it out. Luckily, all the owners were out that day with their families, so they understood what happened.

Offseason: I work in a yacht yard in the spring and fall rigging and delivering boats. By the end of June, I captain the Hannah Glover full time for Mahi Mahi Cruises & Charters, a 150-passenger vessel offering sightseeing, wedding parties, music/sunset cruises and a ferry service for a local YMCA camp. I also sail as first mate on research vessels from 70 to 170 feet, specializing in marine mammal research and autonomous underwater vehicle support. I jump on board for projects that fit my schedule.

Other interests: Anything that involves the ocean — sailing, surfing, SUPing, swimming and being salty. I also like fixing stuff, from outboard engines to all my gear. Eventually, I’d like to take people sailing in the Caribbean in the shoulder season.

Kyle Pietras (Photo by Steamboat Powdercats)

Kyle Pietras
47 “But I’m very immature.”
Marital status: married (wife, Christine; two daughters, Ella, 14, and The Nar, 12; and two dogs, Poncho and Lefty)
Nickname: Kyle-driver (“Maybe because it rhymes with pile driver”)

Skiing background: I started skiing at age 5. I got dragged up T-bars, raced, bumped and was a liftie and ski instructor. I grew up in western Massachusetts and skied all over New England thanks to my parents and grandparents. They took my sister and me all over to ski.

School highlights: I went to Western New England College for a business degree and Umass/Amherst for a plant and soil sciences degree. I’m pretty sure I graduated.

Steamboat arrival: My Jeep broke down here on the way to Jackson Hole for the winter in 1995. I had to decide to fix the Jeep or buy a ski pass in Steamboat. … I bought the pass and never left.

Hobbies: I like skiing, biking and rafting. I especially love to bike. I have a bike for every occasion, and so does my family. And there may be a few extra bikes around, as well.

Offseason work: I used to landscape in the summer and paint or bang nails in the winter, but then the recession hit, so in 2009, I did the ski patrol clinic and took some first aid classes. I applied for patrol and Powdercats and felt wicked lucky to get the Powdercats job. In the summer, my wife and I now own and operate a landscaping company, KP Landscapes.

Favorite part of the job: Skiing powder.

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