A story about living and working, on a mountain’s peak during the peak of winter
The feeling is unmatched – stepping off a gondola onto a mountain’s peak, surrounded by panoramic views of the top of the world. For skiers and riders, this is the beginning of the adventure. For Vince Valencia, this is home.
”On the top of the mountain, I am home… Everybody has their own little world, but my world's a lot different. I'm up in 11,000 feet. Everything is different up here.
For 20 years, 63-year-old Vince has made the top of the Panorama Gondola his home as the official gondola caretaker and operator for Mammoth Mountain, high in the Sierra Nevada of California.
Vince lives alone among the elements, in the gondola building that sits at 11,000 feet. He is the eyes and ears between the summit and base operations, relaying first-hand, real-time reporting during some of the winter’s wildest storms and bluebird days. He has experienced sustained winds of 160MPH, record-breaking 700+ inches of snowfall, and countless crystal clear days, all on his own.
From 6:30am to 5:30pm, four days a week, Vince’s priority is his safety and the safety of his coworkers and guests. Vince’s job is to operate the gondola while staying in tune with changing weather patterns and understanding the signs of surrounding storms that can quickly affect operations. Vince’s ultimate goal is to help open the gateway to adventure for all visitors and offer access to iconic terrain through an experience that invites an appreciation for the surrounding mountains and the wildness they bring to everyday life. Skiers and riders can feel the thrill of floating through fresh snow through the trees, lift operators can feel pride in their high elevation work, and scenic gondola riders can learn the history of the Sierras’ geography and volcanic activity.
”We have all levels of skiing up here, there’s all different levels from intermediate to expert skiing and advanced skiing. From this point, from the summit, you can go any direction: East of the mountain, West of the mountain, North of the mountain. You could go anywhere when Mammoth is in full operation.
When the mountain closes for operations each day, and human silence blankets the summit, Vince then blasts his favorite music as he looks out his unbreakable windows and reflects on how he got there. He came from Redondo Beach in 1992 to seek out the mountains and expected to stay at Mammoth for one season. One season turned into two decades and a unique new way of life, one embedded in moments of solitude, reflection, and a deep respect for the strength of snow and wind.
”Living on top of a mountain… Nobody around, no people. I don't have a pet. You're just pretty much isolated. You're on your own. You're to yourself. I don't call it loneliness, I just call it being in solitude.
The mountains are wild and vast, the snow strong and deep, the workdays hard and long… and it’s worth it.
“My Ikon: My Peak” was filmed at the peak of Mammoth Mountain, high in the Sierra Nevada of California, during the record-breaking Winter 22/23, and was produced in recognition of all of our mountain teams’ hard work, dedication, and passion.
Watch the previous My Ikon videos here: