Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Jeff Gildehaus

Office of Communication
January 31st, 2017 at 11:30AM

A photo of Jeff Gildehaus stopping for a picture in Bridger Bowl, Montana
Jeff stops for a picture during his work in snow ranger field monitoring boundary management. (Photo Credit: Kamille Crootof.)

As a young man, and skiing enthusiast, Jeff Gildehaus needed a summer job to support his ambition to work in the ski industry. At the time he worked in the winter months as a ski patroller at Bogus Basin near Boise, Idaho. His off-winter job search lead him to his first job with the U.S. Forest Service in 1983 as a seasonal worker on the Boise National Forest.

The work wasn’t easy, installing stock tanks, fencing building and clearing trails, among other duties, but Jeff enjoyed being outdoors and continued until a permanent full-time job opened up for him in 1992 as a Snow Ranger at Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area and Developed Recreation supervisor for the Beartooth Ranger District on the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Red Lodge, Montana.

What initially led you to work for the Forest Service?

I worked winters at Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado and as a lift operations supervisor at Bogus, until 1989 when the trail crew job turned into a permanent seasonal position. I stayed in Steamboat, Colorado, working on trails, helping with outfitter inspections and was introduced to winter sports administration. I worked part-time as a professional ski patroller at Steamboat Ski Resort. I really thought I had it made, working trails and wilderness in the summer, and winters skiing! 

What preceded your job as an Outdoors Recreational Planner?

I moved to the Payette National Forest, near McCall, Idaho, but the Beartooth beckoned me back with a promotion as the Outdoor Recreation Planner, where I have been on the recreation staff for the district since 2003.  

What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?

A photo of Jeff Gildehaus teaching snow stability testing techniques at an avalanche awareness field day
Jeff Gildehaus teaching snow stability testing techniques at an avalanche awareness field day. (Photo Credit: Gildehaus family photos.)

I’m responsible for a number of programs as part of the recreation staff on the Custer Gallatin including developed recreation, trails, outfitter/guides, wilderness, winter sports, lands and blasting—using explosives to clear rock from roads and trails. For wildland firefighting, I’ve been a public information officer—the Biscuit Fire in 2002 being the biggest. Other work I’m involved in includes back country snow surveys for our sister agency the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

My favorite part of my job is winter sports administration field work where I’m out on my skis. I’m lucky enough to help the Shoshone National Forest with field administration of the Beartooth Basin Ski Area that operates on top of Beartooth Pass and extends my time on skis from Memorial Day until the 4th of July! A close second is any day doing blasting work where the results of using explosives for your work are immediately obvious.

Who or what inspired you growing up?

My twin brother, Bill. We were the first two of six kids and were pretty independent growing up. Our family lived in different places in the West including Montana, Colorado, California and Idaho. My brother and I could think of about four times as many things to do--and trouble to get into--as just one kid could!

Both of us loved to ski growing up and spent time working in the ski industry. Bill started wind surfing the same time I started hang gliding when we were both 15. I could never learn how to tack upwind, he had trouble making good landings so we went our separate ways with wind sports. To this day Bill is my best friend.

What do you like to do for fun on your free time?

I really enjoy skiing with my wife and three children. They all grew up skiing in Red Lodge and pretty much leave me in the dust anymore. Family backpack trips into the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness are my favorite stay-cation. There are so many destinations and places we have yet to get to and these mountains are hard to beat.

I have a lifetime addiction to air-time. I was jumping off anything I could growing up, both on skis and off. I started hang gliding in 1974. The first time my feet left the ground I was hooked!  Forty-two years later that feeling of taking a few short steps and lifting into the air is like no other. It’s exhilarating and yet very peaceful with the air moving over the wing and relative quietness you don’t experience in powered aircraft.

A photo of Jeff Gildehaus hanggliding
Since 1974, hang gliding has been one of Jeff’s favorite sports. (Photo Credit: Gildehaus family photos.)

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

My highest personal achievement was my longest hang gliding flight that lasted 4 hours, 40 minutes, and a distance of almost 100 miles. I almost landed twice during flight, one time within 200 feet off the ground before flying into a thermal, or lifting air, taking me back up to 12,000 feet above the ground! This flight is by no means close to the world record flights of today, almost 500 miles, but is still my most memorable flight.

Professionally, the Mystic Lake Hydro FERC re-licensing project stands out because it was the first time FERC was working to reduce the project time frame. One of the challenges late in the process was coming up with a way to deal with a small part of the inundation zone of the reservoir inside the wilderness boundary. I wrote a Forest Service condition to the License for wilderness management, the only one of its kind that I know of. 

The project was completed a year ahead of schedule. One of the projects that came with the new license is an accessible trail and fishing pier on West Rosebud Lake. The completed project was recognized with the National Accessibility Award in 2014.

A photo of Jeff Gildehaus and his family with Red Lodge Creek Plateau, Sylvan Peak, in background
Jeff Gildehaus and his family with Red Lodge Creek Plateau, Sylvan Peak, in background. (Photo Credit: Gildehaus family photos.)

How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?

I have always believed in our Agency’s name with the emphasis on service. I see my job as providing excellent service to the public and eliminating bureaucratic red tape whenever I can. 

What are your future career goals? 

I’m within a few years of retiring so my career goals are focused around mentoring and helping other employees coming into new jobs, especially winter sports where there are not many of us doing this type of work.