Devon Janks was about 2 years old the first time she skied.
Her son is that same age and has already taken a fancy to the sport.
She just hopes that if he sticks with it like she did, he makes better decisions in certain respects.
Janks, director of catering operations for Michigan Dining, grew up in the shadows of Mount Brighton with a father who coached the high school skiing team there for about two decades.
She loved skiing so much she competed in high school but was injured two days before the regional competition in her junior year. Despite experiencing pain in her knee and while awaiting results of an MRI, Janks skied in the regional.
“I didn’t know (my anterior cruciate ligament) was torn at the time, just that it hurt,” she said. “I had a knee brace on and couldn’t sit on the chair lift because my knee wouldn’t bend enough, so I had to take a snowmobile ride to the top, and my dad had to stand at the bottom of the hill to more or less stop me because I couldn’t turn my knee enough to make it work.”
She won the regional competition but waited a few years before addressing her injured knee. It was not until she was a sophomore — and a member of the ski-race team at Green Mountain College in Vermont — that she took a medical redshirt year to repair the torn ACL.
Against the wishes of her mother and advice of her doctor, the following year she joined the women’s soccer team at Green Mountain. Two years later, she graduated as an All-American soccer player and captain of both the ski and soccer teams.
“And now I play hockey on a men’s league so I continue to make bad decisions,” she joked.
Despite a busy schedule with her role at MDining, Janks makes sure to find time for the slopes, and that includes following in her father’s footsteps as a high school coach. Janks has been an assistant coach with the South Lyon United team for the past five years and will take over as head coach in the fall when the 2023-24 season gets underway.
In late February, she accompanied three South Lyon skiers to Bellaire, Michigan, for the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 championships. That’s not far from where some of Janks’ earliest memories of skiing were born.
“I was very lucky that my family was into skiing, so from a very early age we would go to Boyne (Mountain) all the time and then we started traveling out west every Christmas,” she said. “I would spend summers at Mount Hood ski racing in Oregon, so I was very thankful for the opportunities my parents gave me to live a different life than other people.”
Skiing and her career in hospitality have taken Janks to places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Winter Park, Colorado; and, of course, Vermont. She not only went to college at Green Mountain, which closed in 2019, for skiing and to study hospitality, but she worked at a resort in Vermont planning weddings.
She traveled around the country working at various luxury boutique hotels before the opportunity to return to Michigan surfaced. At U-M, she oversees catering at the Michigan Union, Michigan League, Pierpont Commons and the U-M Golf Course. Events range from dropping off totes of coffee for a meeting to serving full-plated meals for hundreds of people.
“We’re a small but mighty department,” she said. “We get a lot of stuff done with the least amount of people, it feels like. We’ve really honed our craft in terms of, ‘How do we make this happen for 7,000 with so few people?’”
In addition to dozens of staff members in each unit she oversees, Janks supervises as many as 50 student workers, and that helps with her connections to members of her high school ski team.
“I try to stay hip,” she said. “What I learn at work sometimes I can bring to the (ski) hill, and they laugh at me because it’s usually wrong.”
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Janks said she is looking forward to getting started with her first full season as head coach in November with dry-land training, which includes running, weight lifting and keeping the students engaged. The season is invariably complicated by the state’s wildly temperamental weather patterns, and that was the case this past season.
“This year there were days with rain, days with cold, days with no snow, so this year was very hard for us,” she said. “We had to move a lot of races around, which is very difficult because they’re all-day races.”
Janks said she would not be able to tackle these wintertime pursuits without an accommodating supervisor and an understanding and supportive husband. She especially credits her husband, Josh, for helping carry the parenting load for their son, Harrison, especially in the winter, and she’s excited to share her love of skiing with them both.
“My husband was not able to have all the things I did, so we’re looking forward to family ski trips and going out west,” she said.