Oddly enough, it was an avalanche that led to Jaime Musnicki getting her job as executive director of the American Avalanche Association. In April 2013, Musnicki was skiing in Grand Teton National Park with her partner Paul Rachele when she triggered a pocket of wind slab. “It wasn’t super big or deep but washed me down the rest of the way and tore my ACL somewhere in the process,” she says. “Luckily the runout was very friendly (no terrain traps), and I was sitting on the surface when it all came to a stop.” While recovering post-surgery, Musnicki saw the opening for an executive director at the AAA and decided to apply.
The 37-year-old Dartmouth grad has been heading up the non-profit, which serves an umbrella organization for snow-safety professionals across the country, ever since. Prior to her role with the AAA, Musnicki, who hails from the Finger Lakes region of New York state, spent 10 years as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). She still ski guides and teaches avalanche courses near her home in Victor, Idaho.
If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asks what you do for work, what do you tell them?
I tell them I run a national-level non-profit that supports the avalanche industry in the United States, so avalanche professionals and other aspects of the avalanche industry. Most people are like, “What does that mean? Who are avalanche professionals and what is the avalanche industry.” So I usually will go on to explain that avalanche professionals include people like backcountry ski guides, mountain guides, avalanche forecasters who forecast for public avalanche centers, who forecast for highway programs-for roads that go through the mountains and are potentially impacted by avalanches-ski patrollers who try to mitigate avalanche hazard at big ski resorts around the country, researchers who do research on snow and avalanche dynamics… and give folks just a little bit more information on what exactly avalanche professionals do.
What is a typical day like for you?
I have a home office in Victor, Idaho, where I’ve been living for the past 12 years. So usually when I get up the first thing I do, I have my trusty office assistant, Telly, who is a nice yellow dog. She and I go for a walk. Sometimes we’ll go to the gym first thing in the morning. Then I get into the office, and I spend a lot of time on the computer. The second most frequent activity for me is talking on the phone. I’m kind of running all aspects of the American Avalanche Association, from finances and book keeping to fundraising to program management to membership database management, and all sorts of other little business-type things. So I spend a lot of time in front of the computer. It’s great to work from home, though, because I do have flexibility. I usually will try to break my day up with walks around the neighborhood with the dog, or getting out for a ski or a bike ride during the day.
My position is three-quarter time, and I work hard to try and keep it close to that. I definitely need to supplement the work I do with AAA with other work. I still work with NOLS. This winter I worked a women’s backcountry ski training course for them. These days I’m a little more selective. I tend to work shorter things that are closer to home or I do a decent amount of classroom-based leadership and risk management training for NOLS. I also ski guide in the winter for YÃ¶stmark Backcountry Tours and teach avalanche courses for YÃ¶stmark as well, here in the Tetons.
How does your job affect someone’s day?
Probably the biggest direct way that folks are reminded of the American Avalanche Association on a daily basis is through SWAG, the Snow Weather and Avalanche Observations Guidelines manual, that I think a lot of professionals from all different segments of the industry reference on a pretty regular basis when they are writing up their observations and interpreting observations from others. It is a reference manual that provides common language and abbreviations for people who are making observations about the snow, avalanches, and weather related to snow and avalanches.
I’m very hopeful that for avalanche professionals across the industry, the American Avalanche Associations has an overall positive impact on their day-to-day activities. Whether that means feeling like they have access to the training and continuing professional development or mentorship opportunities, whether they feel like they are part of a larger community of avalanche professionals and have resources they can connect with in their region or across the country, or whether they’re attending a professional development workshop that the American Avalanche Association has helped support financially.
What was your first job in the outdoor industry?
I led trips for Wilderness Ventures starting between my junior and senior years of college. I led a trip for them that summer out in Washington where we took a group of about 20 high schoolers sea kayaking, hiking and then we climbed Mount Rainier.
How does someone get your job?
I think having more than just an outdoor background, but having some administrative experience and maybe some perspective on non-profit management is super helpful. I would say developing a background that has them familiar with the avalanche industry-to be a practitioner, to be somebody who is involved on a day-to-day basis-as well as being experienced with leadership and organizational development and running a program of some sort. My job with the American Avalanche Association itself, I don’t really do a whole lot in the mountains. I’m constantly interacting with people who are out in the mountains a good amount, but my job is a lot of administrative stuff and thinking about the organization, a lot of big picture and how we can best influence and support the avalanche industry.
What are the pros of your job?
I get to interact with a lot of really interesting and smart people across the avalanche industry-folks who are passionate and dedicated to the industry. I also really enjoy being in a position where I get to work with those people to help, hopefully, positively influence the avalanche industry. I like thinking about big picture things. I like coming up with ideas and then trying to figure how to implement those ideas. I like to see positive change. I feel like those are things that I definitely get with the triple-A. I do like a good challenge, and I get plenty of that as well.
What are the cons?
Since I have such an office-based job, I don’t get into the field as much as I would like to, professionally. I think any non-profit executive director will tell you that sometimes it’s hard to ever get away from your job. There’s always a never-ending to-do list that’s constantly growing. Being able to step away and separate from the non-profit organization is a challenge sometimes.
Photos courtesy of Paul Rachele, Ann Piersall and Dean Lords