Robin Vallentyne, AKA “The Pink Cowgirl” shares tales from the hill
If you’re a regular at Mammoth Mountain, you’ve probably seen her—the grinning woman in a pink cowgirl hat, most often stationed at the top of Chair 2, perpetually handing out high-fives and snapping photos.
In an age where everyone’s a photographer, Robin Vallentyne (AKA “the pink cowgirl”) has been making a living at her chosen profession for five seasons at Mammoth. She’s been so successful that she’s even been able to afford to take summers off.
“I mean, it’s a sales job,” said Vallentyne, who said that when she first started working for Magic Memories Photography (formerly SharpShooter Imaging) she was “really shy.” Also, she couldn’t ski.
Mel Seator and Andreas Braun, instructors at “the Dirty Bird” (Eagle Lodge), helped her get her snow legs. And she credits the job with bringing her out of her shell.
“If you want a lazy job where you take a lot of ride breaks, this isn’t it,” says Vallentyne. She works entirely on commission. “You just get used to being poor, that’s all,” says Vallentyne, laughing. She’s kind of kidding. “It does work. If you work hard,” she says. “During the holidays I did 28 days straight,” said Vallentyne. Probably the best known member of her team is Mammoth uber-local Sue Morning, who only photographs races. But Vallentyne, sporting as much pink as she can muster, is likely the most recognizable.
A few winters ago, Vallentyne had to go to bat for her signature style. “The Mountain said it was not ‘on par,’” with uniforms standards, said Vallentyne, and she was asked to discontinue use of the hat. She said her sales dropped 15 percent. So her manager stepped up to get the hat approved.
It now falls under the category of “mountain morale,” says Vallentyne. “Kind of like Woolly.”
And it works.
“You can see [the hat] from different chairlifts,” says Vallentyne. “Kids love it. I once had a little girl skiing around the mountain to try and find the cowgirl. The Mighty Mites [Mammoth’s 6-8 year old ski team] ask me where my horses are. I tell them they’re in the lift shack.”
Vallentyne, who grew up on the western slopes of the Sierra near Oakhurst, first applied for a job at Mammoth “because it was only 30 miles from my house!” As the crow flies, of course.
She drove to Mammoth and spent her first winter in a travel trailer (a 1960s “Aristocrat”) in the woods. Her mouthwash froze solid, but “I loved waking up out there every morning.”
Before Mammoth, Vallentyne served with the U.S. Air Force from 2000-2005. She attended Brooks Institute of Photography, earning her degree in Visual Journalism.
She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2014—kind of on accident.
“I went to this party in the desert, and some people were taking off the next day to do the PCT, so I just started walking with them,” she said. She had an external frame JanSport backpack and crappy boots. And, of course, her pink cowgirl hat.
“I just kept saying, ‘I’ll get to the next town and get off’” the trail, but then she’d hop back on after resupplying. “It just kind of escalated.”
She also credits that trip with improving her sales skills. “Getting people to give you rides and food” was great training, she said.
At one point, a piece of plastic on one of her hiking boots broke inward, and she had to cut the boots off her feet because she couldn’t pull them off. “I had to hike to the road barefoot… the couple who picked me up didn’t believe in Walmart, so they ended up taking me to a gun shop, which also sold Nikes and ice cream.”
She’s accepting suggestions for this coming summer’s adventure, after spending last summer recuperating from ACL, MCL and meniscus surgery (shout-out to Mammoth Hospital’s Dr. Brian Gilmer for patching her up). But she says she’ll be returning to Mammoth each winter as long as she can. “You basically get paid to ski, give high fives, and hang out with fun people.”
Favorite place to shoot?
“Chair 2,” she answers without hesitation. “The Minarets are unbeatable, and it’s a transfer station, so you have people coming from all over the place.” Insider tip: “Chair 10 has the best view in the house, but it’s harder to get people to do photos, because they have to walk up past the lift shack. But the view is absolutely incredible there.”
Worst thing to happen on the job?
“One woman yelled at me because I was taking pictures instead of blowing snow” during one of the drought years. “I also got yelled at because the chair wasn’t heated. I went immediately into the lift shack to ask the liftie if this was a thing, and where could I find a heated chair lift?”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
“I don’t want to grow up! We live in Peter Pan land, no one has to grow up here.”