The People Along The Way: Kate Hibbs


Off-Grid Summer Living in Northern Minnesota

For many of us, it’s a wonderful dream: spending a summer in a quaint little off-grid cabin on a remote lake with absolutely no one else around.  The view of the lake, the stars at night, and the sounds of nature feed your soul.


The 1/4 mile path to Kate’s Cabin

There’s not a neighbor within earshot or eyesight, and the cabin isn’t accessible by road.  You park about a quarter mile away and walk-in on the trail.  There is an atv, but it’s a bit temperamental.  More often than not, you’re carrying in your supplies, drinking water, gasoline for the generator, and dog food on your back. 

Oh, the dog food?  Did I forget to mention the dogs?  Imagine that you’re also caring for 24 sled dogs… and 7 speedy and enthusiastic sled dog puppies!


Even at this age – sled dog pups love to run!

Kate Hibbs spent her summer in northern Minnesota doing just this!  Kate says “I loved living up north this summer; I knew I needed this time to be in the woods.  I needed to recalibrate, so living in solitude for a time was perfect for me.


Blue-eyed sled dogs, per the old legends, see into your soul.

Sled dogs are incredible animals, and I love mushing for so many reasons.  It’s extremely active, yet peaceful and beautiful.  It’s really fantastic to use this old traditional form of travel and see the pure joy, athleticism, problem solving and group dynamics of a sled dog team.”

When asked about the challenges the summer presented, you might expect to hear her talk about the physical demands of caring for so many dogs, or the inconveniences of living off grid and so remotely. 


Rustic Accommodations!

Instead, Kate mentioned only two things. “I haven’t been around to enjoy Minnesota’s boreal winters and the dog mushing that comes with it.  It was pretty difficult to only care for them during the summer months when it’s too hot to take them on runs.  I’d also say a big challenge was being so removed from my loved ones.”

Lately, Kate’s been spending her falls, winters and springs in Antarctica.  While in Antarctica (time that she calls “on-ice”), resources are limited, so there isn’t much of an opportunity to stay in touch with friends and family back home.  “It is important to be able to spend my time off-ice engaged in relationships that are important to me and engaged in my community.  While tempting to seek out solitude, I’ve learned that I need to figure out a balance of self-care without using my privilege to escape too much!”

Only 27, she’s already been a “mover and a shaker” in making a difference in her communities.  While in school at Ithaca College for Anthropology, she helped establish her school’s Asian American Studies Program, and was part of starting an East-Coast-wide movement for intersectional education in colleges and universities.

She and a few friends also founded the “Aurora Collective” in hope of opening the “out of doors” experience to a broader audience.  Through her experience guiding youth with wilderness adventures in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, she witnessed countless amazing transformations. “Doing hard work in wild places teaches people non-academic skills: character, growth, mindset, grit, emotional and social skills, among many others.  Going on an expedition, especially as a youngster, can help a person realize that they are capable of anything.  It translates to a self-awareness and confidence that helps in the pursuit of goals later in life.  Historically, access to the wilderness (including the gear, transportation, etc.) is expensive and limits the type of person who can go on trips.

We started The Aurora Collective as a way to promote and sponsor people doing more extreme wilderness endeavors, believing that more representation provides more inspiration!”  She cited as a case in point, Ann Bancroft: a Minnesotan explorer that was the first woman to traverse Antarctica. 

We kicked it off last summer by competing in the Yukon River Quest, a 444-mile canoe race.” Their 6-person all-female voyageur team was a rarity and met a lot of skepticism. But, after 53 hours of paddling, they earned 19th place out of almost 100 teams overall.  “The Aurora Collective is a work in progress, but I’m hoping that we can keep it going despite us living so spread out.”


Having learned about Antarctica from co-workers at Menogyn, a Y-Camp on the edge of the Boundary Waters, she had to see what life was like at the bottom of the planet!  This fall will be Kate’s third season working there.

“There’s a saying that people go down to Antarctica the first year for adventure, the second for friends and because the money’s pretty good, and the third year because they don’t fit in anywhere else anymore!” 


Your view upon arrival in Antarctica, after a very long flight in non-temperature controlled seating on military aircraft.

Living there isn’t easy. The physical environment is challenging. “It is called the harshest continent for a reason!” The station is extremely remote station with very limited internet access, so staying in touch with friends and family isn’t easy.  The working hours are long and difficult, with 60 hours or more, 6 days a week, the norm.  There’s very little in the way of food choices available, being dependent on seasonal food shipments.  Fresh foods like vegetables and fruits are often a rarity.  Even something as simple as placing an Amazon order is challenging, as it can be months before your package is delivered.


But, all that said, there are benefits to working seasonally in Antarctica also.  “The lifestyle of working really hard nonstop and then having a few months to travel or pursue a new skill or field is very appealing to me.  Air travel there and back is provided, normally with a stopover in New Zealand.  Kate often will make the most of that stop and do some impromptu touring of New Zealand on her way back from “the ice.”

While at the station in Antarctica, there’s a strong ethos among the community to make the most out of every day.” Kate says that the station is just big enough that you can find others with shared interests, but small enough to be welcoming. “It’s like camp for adults!” with the endless live music, sports, game nights, art-making, costume parties, language classes, etc. She’s found them to be a good group of hardworking and creative people that are invested in making their time there as nourishing and stimulating as possible. 

You may have seen that Antarctica recently made the news with the possibility of new life forms discovered in some of its ice caves. Kate’s been able to see some of the ice caves firsthand herself!  “I got to take a trip to an ice cave my first season. It was amazing.  I think the thing that jarred me the most was experiencing complete silence for the first time in months.  Ordinarily, we’re surrounded by the constant buzz of generators, planes, helicopters and heavy machinery.  It’s like living on a big construction site 24/7.”


Just another hard day at work!

Kate’s work there this upcoming season will be as the Solid Waste and Recycling Coordinator. She was a Janitorial Lead last year. Before that, her first season as a dishwasher. She laughed, saying that the Antarctic station is known for having the best educated dishwashers in the work force.  People are willing to take (and are grateful for) whatever job is needed for the experience of living there.

If you’re interested in checking this opportunity out, she suggested you do some research.  First, there are a couple of good documentaries about what life on a station in Antarctica is really like.

Then, if you’re still interested, contact one of the agencies that hires station support contractors.  It is common to not be accepted on your first try.  She suggested that if you’re serious about it and determined, keep trying. Network.  Knowing others there can help. Find a way to try to get some experience in the field you’re trying to get a job in (even if just dishwashing!).  Most importantly, keep applying until you succeed.


As for what’s next for Kate Hibbs?  “Eventually, I would love to return to my work in education.  But for now, it would be awesome to work my way up to running a field camp in Antarctica!  I also want to get all 7 continents in my passport (I only have South America and Africa left).  Beyond that?  Who knows?  I do feel like I’m still searching for something, but aren’t we all?”


Our Review of Seasonal Employment at Snow Mountain Ranch, YMCA of the Rockies

Here it is! Everything You Wanted to Know about Seasonal Employment at Snow Mountain Ranch YMCA of the Rockies in Granby, CO


Sunrise Over Our Seasonal Employee Dorm @ Snow Mountain Ranch

First off, let’s just start of by admitting that there’s just something beyond words about being able to wake up every day in a place so strikingly beautiful that it puts your senses on overload the moment you step outside.  In my mind, that’s truly why someone would want to work seasonally at Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, CO.  There are other benefits also, of course.  But that’s the one that ultimately makes it all worthwhile.  The spectacular 360 degree views of the mountains all around will take your breath away.  So will the altitude! (The resort is at 8,600 feet above sea level!)

That being said, there are some things that we wish we’d known about before going to work there (and some we’d known about but that we wished we’d paid more attention to).  We’re hoping that this entry will help you in making your decision.  Snow Mountain Ranch can be a magical and wonderful place, if you’re prepared and honest about your expectations.

Here’s what we’ll tell you about, based on our experience there as seasonal employees from August through February of last year:

  • the resort and seasonal employee perks
  • the meals (provided as part of your compensation)
  • the housing (provided as part of your compensation)
  • the pay
  • rules, culture, etc. at the resort
  • the area around the resort
smr view

Autumn View At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby CO

The Resort & Seasonal Employee Perks

Snow Mountain Ranch is a year-round family oriented resort property that sits on 5,200 acres that are surrounded by National Forest.   The resort sleeps around 2,000 people guests at any given time, in a combination of vacation homes, cabins, yurts, campsites, family reunion cabins, or hotel style lodges.  The goal of the organization (YMCA of the Rockies) is to provide an affordable, wholesome, out-of-doors vacation experience for families.    They do a pretty good job of that by including so many complimentary activities as part of their guest’s stay.


Seeing Red Fox at the Resort Was A Frequent Occurrence!

Wildlife is abundant in that general area, including:  moose, mule deer, red fox, coyotes, elk, pronghorn (antelope), beaver, bear, big horn sheep, mountain lion and more.

Snow Mountain Ranch itself offers a host of perks in terms of complimentary (or at the very least, cheap) activities for staff.  As with most places, guests get first priority in activities, of course.

horseback ride

Our Free Employee Ride Ended Up Being a Private Ride!

Spring, Summer and Fall activities for employees include:  hiking (the property adjoins the national forest), canoeing, fishing, mini-golf, Frisbee-golf, archery ($5), climbing wall ($5), summer tubing hill, mountain bike rental (discounted rate on rental), nature programs, crafts (pay per, but very affordable), swimming pool and sauna, horseback riding, library, roller skating rink, pool table, ping pong, basketball courts (indoor and outdoor), tennis courts.


Hubby Roller Skating With Friends Who Visited Us @ SMR

In the winter, the outdoor activities are replaced with free cross country skiing and snow shoeing (including free rentals).  If guests are signed up for ski lessons, staff are allowed to tag along for free. The ice rink and ice skate use is free, as are the snow tubes for the snow tubing hill.  You can also rent fat bikes at a discounted rental rate to ride on trails in the snow.


Me… learning to cross country ski @ Snow Mountain Ranch!

Additional perks for seasonal employees include free sodas, coffee and tea, discounts at the non-buffet dining at the resort, discounts at the gift shop, shuttles to town for grocery shopping (space available, sign-up required).

Snow Mountain Ranch also provides free day-trips for seasonal workers.  Staff trips include destinations such as the Rocky Mountain National Park, the Denver Zoo and museums, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, the X-Games up in Aspen, Strawberry Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs.  Staff are also encouraged to submit specific requests for places to go on staff trips.  This is a great benefit, but also has a few challenges.  First, there’s a minimum requirement (3 people) for the trip to go.  If you can’t find 2 other people with the day off and interest in going, your trip doesn’t go.  On the flip side, there’s a limited amount of space in the vans. If it’s a popular trip and the van’s full, you don’t get to go either.

Complimentary Guest Lodge Rooms:  As a thank you for working there, Snow Mountain Ranch awards you complimentary lodge room nights for every month that you work there.  There are black out dates that can make using them a little challenging.  The complimentary nights can be used at either YMCA of the Rockies properties (Snow Mountain Ranch, or Estes Park Center).

There are many different jobs available (including some year round benefited positions), in a host of different departments, including:  Front Desk, IT, Housekeeping, Food Service, Maintenance, Human Resources, and Programs (swimming pool, arts and crafts center, outdoor recreation, etc.).

Seasonal staff generally work 40 hours a week.  There are also volunteers who work 3 days a week, and receive the same housing, food and entertainment benefits as the other staff (but do not get paid).  Many retirees take this option, as a way to enjoy the area.  The minimum commitment for a volunteer is 3 weeks, but can extend indefinitely.

The Meals

As a very significant part of your compensation, Snow Mountain Ranch provides an all you can eat buffet for all 3 meals per day.  A typical breakfast includes: fresh fruit, granola, cereal choices, yogurt, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal or grits, toast, meat of some kind (usually sausage), eggs of some kind, breakfast potatoes, juices, cereals and pastries.  A typical lunch would include salad bar, 3 different entree’s, a make your own sandwich area with a single meat choice, and a couple of desert options.  Dinner, about the same as lunch, but with heavier entree’s. By most people’s standards, the meals are reasonably tasty.  In fact, other seasonal employees have commented that it’s much better quality than what you typically find with other seasonal employers.  And of course, the bonus is that you don’t have to prepare or cleanup the meals (unless you’re working in food service, that is).  You do have to go across property for your meals, even on your lunch breaks.

Important Note: Contrary to what the resort’s website says, they don’t have much in the way of gluten free options.  If this is a concern for you, you need to know that you won’t be satisfied with the meals there. 

The flip side though, is that for those who enjoy cooking for themselves, the food is highly processed and largely (but not entirely) pre-prepared elsewhere.  The high sodium content was something that concerned us, as high blood pressure can be a factor at high elevations.  Plus, cooking a homemade meal has been an important part of our routine for many years.  Not having this available to us was hard for us, but a good lesson to learn about what we need for our comfort.

There is a shared kitchen that can be used by seasonal employees.  The younger staff generally leave it a mess though.  And you have to purchase groceries to prepare there (your pay is based on your dining at the dining hall, whether you eat there or not).


Snow Mountain Ranch has three different buildings for accommodating staff.   Blue Ridge is the dorm style building that houses the “trekkers” (18+ year olds) and staff that are in their twenties.   The Bays are the rooms beneath the “Kiva” (recreation center).  These are generally used for staff that are in their 30’s.  The downside:  the rooms are under the basketball court, and the rooms have no windows.  There is one bathroom shared for the whole single-sex hallway.  The upside:  the staff often get their own room.

Pinewood is the building attached to the main lobby/admin building, and is where the volunteers and any staff 40ish or above live. We stayed in Pinewood.  It was convenient for me, as I worked Front Desk.  I didn’t even have to leave the building to go to work.  The room was small, but they provided a queen sized bed, two chest of drawers, two night stands, a closet area, and we had our own bathroom.  Not much room for storage, if you have your life on your back.  So, our room was always packed full, as were the rooms of other gypsies like us.  But for those that had just a little bit of stuff for the season, the room was a bit more workable.  The bathroom even had a bath tub!  And we also had a large set of windows that looked out at the mountains.

smr view from room

View From The Window in Our Room

I loved that I could take as long of a hot shower as I wanted.  We didn’t enjoy being able to hear our neighbors all the time.  Being on the bottom floor, we also got to hear the neighbors up above us.  There was a lounge area in the building for staff that had a full sized fridge, microwave, toaster oven, and sofa with tv.

In the Spring/Summer/Fall, there is an employee campground that’s open on the resort property as well.  If you have an RV, this is an excellent option, as you have a bit more privacy and quiet than if living in the dorm housing.

All the housing options have wifi.  Most (except the campground) have a phone provided (no long distance, but you can use a calling card or accept incoming calls).  So, in addition to not having to pay for internet or phone, the resort also covered trash removal, water, heat.

Note:  Road Conditions at the resort, especially in the winter, were worse than terrible.  If you don’t have a vehicle that’s good in snow and ice, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting around at the resort in the winter.


Keep in mind that, the resort is paying for your all you can eat buffet (3 times a day), your lodging, your utilities, and the employee perks, as mentioned above.  Beyond that, the seasonal rate of pay for most jobs was $4.50* and hour.  It doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t.  But when you think about everything else that’s taken care of, it’s not so terribly bad.  (As long as you’re able to live on it, after considering any other financial obligations that you have.)  It should be noted that housekeeping and food service jobs there sometimes paid much more, depending on the season.  Additionally, for every quarter that you work there (as long as you haven’t broken your contract with them), you get a share of the “employee appreciation fund” which is basically the tip pool.

*It looks like some of the wages have gone up since we left.  You may want to check the jobs board:

Seasonal Employment Open Jobs List – Snow Mountain Ranch

Rules, Culture, Etc.

There are rules for all volunteers and staff at the YMCA of the Rockies, which includes Snow Mountain Ranch seasonal staff.  Being a YMCA property, alcohol is strictly taboo.  Even though you’re a legal age adult, if you’re caught with alcohol on property, you’ll be immediately asked to pack your bags and leave.  Yes, you can drink off property, but you can’t drink on the resort property nor are you permitted to be intoxicated within view of the guests.  And yes, Colorado is one of the states that has legalized marijuana.  Regardless, the YMCA of the Rockies has a zero tolerance policy for drug use of any kind.  If you’re caught with drugs of any kind, you’ll be immediately asked to leave.  Also, if they even just suspect you of drug use, you’ll be given the option of either taking a drug test or packing up your things.  If you end up with a Workman’s Comp Claim, they’ll also require you to take a drug test.  Also, the resort does employ “Resident Advisors” to keep an eye on the employee housing areas.  Do some people still drink and do drugs there?  Yes. But it’s risky business, especially when this is not only your employer but your temporary home. If these things are important to you, it’s best that you find another place to go.  (Winter Park Resort and Devil’s Thumb Ranch are in the nearby area and do offer some seasonal employment with housing.)

smr outdoor chapel

Outdoor Chapel At Snow Mountain Ranch

As to culture there, the YMCA is a Christian organization.  You will see evidence of this on the resort property, which is their right and privilege.  There is an outdoor chapel.  There is an indoor chapel.  There are faith-oriented slogans, and Bible studies, and such around.  However, they welcome people of other faiths.  Many of the staff I worked with were from all over the world and of different world religions (including Buddhism and Islam) and they felt perfectly safe and comfortable there.

There’s another component to the culture there, and that’s the culture among employees.  I found the staff to be largely welcoming and friendly.  There were a few cliques of groups that had a long history of going there, but they were still friendly.  We made many wonderful new friends from every age-group there.  Real friendships. People I will stay in touch with for a long time to come.

It is a place though, where everyone knows every detail about everyone else.  It was very difficult to have any sense of privacy or boundary between work and “home.”

The Surrounding Area

Granby, CO is the nearest town to Snow Mountain Ranch.  The grocery store there is about a 15 minute drive from the resort.  Granby also has a small downtown area with coffee shops, a fabric store, thrift store, hardware store, gas stations, restaurants, and a few other odds and ends things.  There’s also Granby Ranch there, which is a large subdivision that has a ski area, golf courses, etc.  (Granby Ranch will often offer Snow Mountain Ranch staff a season’s ski pass at a greatly discounted rate.)  The tiny town of Hot Sulphur Springs is about 10 minutes drive on the other side of Granby.  In the other direction, Winter Park is about 20 or so minutes drive away.  Winter Park has a Safeway grocery store, a couple of thrift stores, and a selection of tourist oriented stores and restaurants. Denver is about a 2 hour drive from Snow Mountain Ranch.  Steamboat Springs is a little over 2 hours in the other direction.  In the summer and fall, you can drive over Trail Ridge Road (through the Rocky Mountain National Park) to get to Estes Park.

You might also be interested in some other posts from our time in Colorado:

Free Things to Do at The Resort in Granby, CO

Enjoying Free Activities at Snow Mountain Ranch, CO

Besides the opportunity to live in an absolutely beautiful spot, we picked this resort in Grand County, CO for seasonal employment because of the plethora of free things to do.  As seasonal employees, we get to enjoy the same activities that the guests do!

For starters, the resort sits on 5,200 acres that borders the national forest.  Of course, there are hiking and mountain biking trails galore.  One of the favorite hikes is to the waterfall, a small but lovely waterfall in the woods.


The Waterfall Hike @ Snow Mountain Ranch

The resort is comprised of what were originally two homestead properties: The Just family ranch, and the Rawley homestead.  I’m always fascinated by how innovative the settlers were.  There was no researching and ordering items online.  They used whatever they had and figured out how to make it do what was needed.  I love practical frugalness.  Granted, they didn’t have much of a choice.


The Just Homestead, Granby CO

At the resort, there’s also a stables that provides complimentary trail-rides to the staff.  Our ride ended up being a decadently private ride with just hubby, myself and the wrangler.



View from Horseback @ The Resort

And of course, there’s always wildlife watching.  It was pretty common to see mule deer, moose, red fox, chipmunks, and an occasional bear or coyote.


Who’s watching who?

Some of the wildlife does and exceptional job of disguising itself. Like so many things in life, you have to be paying attention to see it!


Ptarmigan hiding in the grasses

Do you see the ptarmigan in the photo above?  They’re game birds, also known as “Prairie Chickens.”  Their feathers turn white in the winter to disguise them in the snow.

There are so many other things to do at the resort.   There’s really no reason for anyone to be bored. Essentially, all the activities that are available to the guests are available to the staff.  Most of them are free to guests and staff, but there are a few that are available for a small fee.  Other outdoor activities at the resort:  tubing hill, mini-golf, tennis, basketball, frisbee-golf, zip-line courses, and archery.  Indoor activities:  swimming pool, sauna, climbing wall, archery, yoga, and arts and crafts.