It’s not often you find a woman that can ski down a mountain of sheer ice with a vertical drop of 3,937 feet, carrying a 70lb medical bag to assess an injured U.S. Ski Team racer. Andrea Saterbak is by all definitions a #momboss! She’s a highly driven, fierce, and ambitious Orthopedic Surgeon, practicing in Stillwater and Woodbury, MN who chooses to periodically take her office to any mountain top location the U.S. Ski Team happens to be training or racing on. Seems fitting that Snow Bunny Mag gets the low down on her snow story.
SBM: What’s your go to vacation spot?
AS: Beaver Creek, Colorado. Vail was my place when I was ski racing in the 70’s and 80’s. I did my fellowship there in the last part of my Orthopedic training with Dr. Steadman for a year and all the connections I have with surgical meetings occur there. It happens to be the epic center for a lot of ski meetings for my surgical profession.
SBM: What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
AS: Skiing- If I’m in Europe skiing, it’s cutting out around 2pm finding a good glass of wine then getting up early to hit the mountain.
SBM: What is the top item on your bucket list?
AS: I would say having about 2 months to travel the World Cup in Europe. That would be awesome!
SBM: Where is the best place you’ve ever skied?
AS: It’s about who you are with and what the conditions are but I’d choose St. Anton and St. Christoph on the back side of St. Anton. That was quite epic.
SBM: What’s your snow story? When you really think about your life and skiing being at the heart of it where did your life change, evolve, or start because of skiing?
AS: It was an evolution. My parents learned to ski as a couple adults in the Midwest. They wanted an activity to do as a family. We put skis on back when there were lace boots. It evolved from there. In elementary school they’d drop us off at local ski areas like Snow Crest and Burch Park. It’s what we did all day on the weekends. I really didn’t know too much about Colorado or ski racing until I was maybe 9 or 10. Once we made our 1st trip to Steamboat Colorado and I saw those mountains, it occurred to me it was going to be a lifelong sport.
As I emerged into jr. high/high school in Stillwater MN, I jumped into ski racing, explored the U.S.S.A system and it just rolled. I went to a ski camp where Erich Sailer was coaching. I asked to be on his team at Buckhill, and I told my parents I wanted to do this. It was not on their radar. It was a way for me to break out of the house a little bit and be with people who wanted to push the independence and lifestyle of ski racing.
It kept unfolding as I hit up U.S. Nationals in 1980, 81, and 82. In 1983 I was in the top seed in U.S. Slalom! Then I earned a D1 Scholarship at the University of Wyoming, so I continued my ski racing career into college which was even better. To end my ski racing career at the collegiate level was amazing. My core friends from then still enjoy the sport today in ways that connected us 30 years ago.
At one point in my residency I went to Chamonix with a friend from the University of Wyoming. We took a tram up and at the very top of the mountain we walked out to this graded fenced landing. This women was up there with a one piece purple out-fit on. The wind was whipping at the top of the French Alps and she turned around with a craggy face like she was 80 years old. I looked at my friend and said: “This is where I want to be when I’m 80 years old. At the Top of the French Alps! But, passion in different ways evolves with experiences. There were about 10 years where I hardly skied because of my career. Sometimes with family things, education, and a career your focus changes a little bit.
SBM: So, tell me about that. Why did you decide to become an orthopedic surgeon?
AS: At the end of my ski racing career/middle of college I had an injury. When I saw my team move off without me in the winter, I thought: “I’m still gonna ski but maybe not at the level I was.” I needed a career that surrounded me with people that had a similar attitude of a ski racer: inquisitive, smart, and a risk taker. I needed to be in an environment that gave me a gold medal feeling and in a profession that gave me that kind of drive. I wanted challenges. Just taking the test to get into medical school gave me that. When I got into medical school, I was atomically thinking ER or surgery. I knew I wasn’t a sit down, ponder, and think about a plan kind of person. I needed to make a plan on limited information and that’s what ski racers do. So, orthopedic surgery blended well with my upbringing.
SBM: How has the profession allowed you to stay connected with ski racing?
AS: About 10 years in the books I found myself with outdated ski equipment, and I was hardly skiing. At the tail end of my residency there was an opportunity to do a fellowship- an extra year of training. They are all over the U.S. One in particular was with Dr. Steadman in Vail. This would be a year spent with him in an accredited Sports Medicine fellowship. When I interviewed, I thought where would I best fit in and where would I best want to continue with my profession.
I was the first woman fellow to train under him. His position as Medical Director of the U.S. Ski team allowed me to have the access and connections to get in as a consulting physician with the U.S. Ski Team. I was one of the rare women who traveled especially on the Men’s Tour. In Kitzbühel- back in the day- I don’t think there were many women there. I think it opened up some doors.
SBM: What was your first experience traveling with the U.S. Ski Team like?
AS: I’m in fellowship with Dr. Steadman and there was an abrupt change in our training. In the first two weeks, we started up August 1st, a lot of the fellows were going down to work with the Bronco’s during their training. All of a sudden I’m the first woman fellow in Vail (this is in retrospect) the head coach of the Bronco’s at the time didn’t want a woman on the field. I’d worked enough with football at the University of Iowa, and I didn’t need to battle that. Without saying anything about that, Dr. Steadman says: “The U.S. Ski Team needs a doctor in Portillo Chile. Can you go?”.
I was barely in Vail getting my bags unpacked, and I was getting invited to Chile with the Men’s U.S. Ski Team! YEH!
I was with Bode Miller before he hit tops in the circuit. The camps are great because you get to see the athletes in a little different environment. When you get on the tour during the season it’s go-go and stand back until you are needed. The athletes want to know you are capable, can ski, and diagnosis them. It’s fun to work with all the service men and the coaches and get to know them.
SBM: When you spend a day with the team, what does that look like?
AS: There are 38 races in the World Cup and they shift every week to a different event. Some events are tech and some are speed. There is a list of consulting docs that are connected with the U.S. Ski Team headquarters, so in June a list goes out for coverage- you see what works for you and sign up. There are even Eruopa Cup events. If you are out there yearly sometimes you get special treatment, but sometimes I just can’t get out there every year. It’s a commitment. You can list and get out for your event and pick the time and speed vs tech. Once you pick, it’s a week long. If it’s a speed event, have your practice set up because you might not get back on that flight home because things can happen. Your practice is totally independent of this. This is all volunteer. FIS sets up credentials and space in the hotel for the doctor. I work through the U.S. Ski Team to set up logistics.
I’m a consulting doctor for them; I’m not on staff with them. You have to be certified through a training course at Beaver Creek, and you have to travel regularly on the tour. They have to know you can cut it by skiing down these rigorous courses that are of course glare ice. They want to know you have the capabilities to interact with a professional athlete, and know how to work through the triage line of communication in place with media and the athletes. There are strict protocols to deal with. When I get to a new area, I have to do a reconnaissance. I have to figure out were the local hospitals are and meet with the medical director. All the doctors have a team meeting, so we know the Emergency Activation Plan. A lot of that is run by the ski patrol of the local events. The emergency back pak weighs about 70lbs plus I carry walkie talkies.
On training days I’m usually at the top. There is a certain reporting protocol with coaches, trainers, and doctors. I have to have my car keys and credentials ready to go because sometimes I’m shoveling racers to where they need to be. With ski racing, it’s all weather and that’s intriguing.
SBM: So, it’s all volunteer and you pay for your own travel. Why do it?
AS: It’s all volunteer. I cover my hotel and flights. The credentials get me into places: I do it because I just LOVE the sport. Sometimes I come back and my knuckles are raw because I’m by myself trying to get out of these weird countries. Then I get home, and I have a kid and a practice to deal with, and I’m just tired. Why do I do this? I look at the hill in Croatia and I’m like: “Why am I here?” Well, I just saw Mikaela Shiffrin start her epic career! I was with her when she won her second slalom of her career before she won her first world champs in the Olympics. I’m watching this slalom race unfold in almost a city race type setting. I met with her mom, talked with her over 3-4 days. I watched her do both runs, win the race, and after that they take the top 10 and do a random drug test. I’m at the top of this weird mountain at FIS headquarters for four hours until they can get through the drug testing when this guy comes up to me in this laced up back brace and cut off sweats (I had my U.S. Ski team outfit on) and says to me in an accent: “Your racer today… She did very well. I had a daughter at 16 who had that look and that performance.” I suddenly looked at him and said: “You’re Mr. Kostelic!” He said: Yes. I was so honored to meet him. He can be kind of a crazy course setter, but he has developed two amazing athletes. On the fly to be able to have those experiences, talk to people like that, and be at the for front as someone’s career unfolds like Mikaela…“I saw that!”. Her focus and calm…she has herself in control in a unique way. Seeing all of that is why I do this.
SBM: What are the race hill conditions like?
AS: The conditions of the hill are boilerplate. On a Down Hill or Super G you don’t want to take your ski’s off, trainers and doctors have been known to slide down the hill and burn their coat off. Conditions are ICE. That’s what they want to race on and in some sections racers can be going 75-80 mph. It’s not all about the speed it’s how they carry it through transition. One year I actually asked one of the coaches: “What makes Lindsey Vonn that good?” It’s how she links her turns through transitions. She’s able to link those critical sections. We were in LaThule, Italy it was a new Super G course on the circuit and they had never seen this before. She was able to look at it for two days. They have a video guy on the other side of the mountain with a high def camera and that’s how they analyze a lot of their courses. It was a new course, windy, with a lot of transition changes. I was like “Lindsey can do this because she can link those turns through transition and not lose speed getting into the next 5 gates.
SBM: Is there a part of you that wishes you were the racer?
AS: No, I’m kind of past that. I love what they do, but I’m happy where I’m at. I want to enjoy skiing as the bigger sport, the views, vistas, and camaraderie. When I see a course do I want to jump in it. Yeh, but then I think of injury. I don’t want to hurt myself so that I can’t be at the top of the tram in Chamonix and look out like that lady did at 80.
SBM: How does the sport of skiing empower women?
AS: You can have a helmet and ski clothes on and rip to the bottom and no one can judge you. Skiing lends itself to being a gender-neutral sport. Plus you don’t have to define yourself by age. Get out there, click in, and enjoy. It’s a sexy sport.
SBM: How many women doctors can travel with the U.S. Ski team?
AS: Not a lot. When you look at what they want: someone who has an understanding of orthopedic injuries to the degree of a surgeon. Less than 10% of females are orthopedic surgeons. It’s a pretty narrow group of people. This is NOT like covering a sport on a sideline. You have to be up on a mountain in skis and be able to get down glare ice to a racer. On top of that understanding the World Cup circuit and how a race is conducted is essential. You will be slashed from that environment if you violate any codes of on hill conduct.
SBM: Do you have a life motto/mantra?
AS: See the best in others. Overall, I’m a positive person. A friend in residency once said: Be like a duck. What she meant was let negativity flow over the top of you and always push forward. Through ski racing and college, I never let the little things set me back.
Enjoy the journey more than the result. The journey is the best.
Connect with Andrea Saterbak who partners with Twin Cities Orthopedics with main locations in Stillwater and Woodbury MN.