- Powderhorn’s Ski Patrol Ski Along Gives Guests a Behind the Scenes Look at Mountain Safety – Colorado Ski Country USA
- A Behind The Scenes Look at Ski Patrol
- Be Prepared
- Practice, Practice, Practice
- Ski Patrol Safety Tips
- The Ski Patrol Ski Along
- Ski Patrol Keeps Tussey Slopes Safe –
- On the slopes with the ski patrol
- Mountain rescue
- Make the cut
- Bowl over
- Safety on the Slopes
- Ski Patrol is all about a fast recovery on the slopes **Snow job: Local ski areas boast up to 150 National Ski Patrol members
- Ski patrol keeps us safe on the slopes
- Chuck Quillen, 67, a math teach for 30 years and a high school basketball coach in Virginia for 15 years, didn’t start skiing until he was about 50, learning at Beech Mountain Resort in Avery County
Powderhorn’s Ski Patrol Ski Along Gives Guests a Behind the Scenes Look at Mountain Safety – Colorado Ski Country USA
By Kristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
Do you know what ski patrol does? I thought I did.
And then I went on a Ski Patrol Ski Along at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.
Billed as an opportunity to “ski or ride with the ultimate local,” it is true that skiing with ski patrol will give you an insider’s look at the mountain.
But rather than sharing secret stashes and undiscovered glades, this insider’s look is all about safety, training and being prepared.
A Behind The Scenes Look at Ski Patrol
Prior to spending a morning with Rondo Buecheler, manager of the Powderhorn Ski Patrol,
I thought of Ski Patrol as the cops of the mountain.
Within just a few seconds of meeting, Buecheler set me straight.
“We’re not policemen,” he volunteered. “We’re more fireman. While we respond to incidents, we are here to make sure everyone is safe and to make sure everyone is having fun.”
This means that rather than simply cruising the mountain looking for “speeders,” ski patrol’s larger role is one of preparation, practice, repetition and response.
Yes, it’s the Scout’s motto, but it is also the mantra by which ski patrol live.
From ski patrol’s point of view, being prepared is essential to a fast, professional and possibly, life saving, response.
Ski patrol’s day begins with a morning meeting where patrollers review the mountain status: which runs have been groomed, which runs are closed, any special events happening that day and any issues that may have arisen since the previous day’s afternoon sweep.
Then, before the lifts open, patrollers ski an “awareness run” on all of the mountain’s terrain. On these runs, they check everything. They look for known hazards and new hazards. They inspect signs and fencing, ensuring nothing has been blown down or been displaced overnight. They look for anything that might cause difficulties for guests and they mark them.
In addition to inspecting every run, patrol digs avalanche pits and monitors the snowpack. This information is noted and transmitted to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a resource for backcountry skiers.
Each morning, patrol also checks every toboggan and every emergency and trauma response backpack, lift evacuation packs and backpacks with gear and instructions for rescuing chairlift “danglers.”
While many of these incidents may never occur during a ski season, or occur only rarely, patrol checks and documents everything, every day, just in case.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The next aspect of preparation is practicing what to do in case of an emergency.
Patrollers are trained in emergency and outdoor medicine. When a patrol response is needed, it is often because someone has been hurt. Working in groups, patrollers respond rapidly (hence the “grab and go” backpacks) to stabilize the injured person or people, to extricate them and to ski them down to the first aid room, from which they will be transported to medical care if necessary.
Buecheler explains the Powderhorn patrol’s response this way.
“We have to be able to quickly analyze what will work in any given situation. The longer someone is on the hill, the worse their condition, as they get colder and go into shock. It can take some serious problem solving skills to get people difficult spots.”
Thus, ski patrol practices getting people difficult spots, along with lifesaving skills CPR in a toboggan and lift evacuations.
Ski Patrol Safety Tips
As you might suspect, patrollers have opinions on what guests need to do and know to stay safe.
First, Buecheler emphasizes the necessity of “knowing the Code. The seven points of the Skier and Snowboarder Responsibility Code form the basis for on-mountain safety and are worth reviewing, especially with children. You can find The Code at the end of this video.
More specifically, Buechler suggests shedding your backpack on the lift. “Take it off and put it on your lap, so that you can get on and off safely.”
He also cautions guests at Powderhorn (where tree skiing is an important part of the local culture) to always ski with a buddy.
“Don’t get hurt by yourself in the woods. If you get into trouble, you can be uncomfortable and alone for a long time. You can die.”
Finally, Buechler stresses that no one should adjust their bindings themselves and that everyone should check to make sure their equipment is in working order and properly maintained before heading out to ski or ride.
The Ski Patrol Ski Along
Powderhorn Mountain Resort offers a 2- and 4-hour Ski Patrol Ski Along program.
Each session starts with a visit to the first aid room at the base. Next guests go up the lift to the on-mountain patrol office where they learn about response equipment, detailed emergency response guidelines and the importance of thorough daily documentation.
From here, guests ski an awareness run with patrol, visit an avalanche pit to learn about snow danger and safety, and ride down to the bottom of the mountain in a toboggan.
2018 is the second winter for the program and participants have ranged from local law enforcement with whom patrol closely coordinates (think sheriff’s deputies, search and rescue and USFS rangers) to parents with children.
Sam Williams, Powderhorn General Manager, thinks of the Ski Patrol Ski Along this way.
“Most of the time ski patrol works in the background and people only see them if they are injured. This means most people don’t understand their primary role in mountain safety and taking care of our guests. It’s a great program for skiers and snowboarders to go through and get a better understanding of what ski patrol really does.”
The idea for the Ski Patrol Ski Along came during a brainstorming session with Mistalynn Meyeraan, marketing manager for Visit Grand Junction. She believes the success of the program highlights the importance of local cooperation.
“The Ski Patrol Ski Along program at Powderhorn Mountain Resort is a prime example of how a ski resort can effectively collaborate with the local destination marketing organization,” explains Meyeraan.
“My husband is a ski patroller and I genuinely enjoy skiing with Powderhorn’s patrol. The idea is new, creative and gets the attention of customers, which is exactly what the ski industry needs.”
Ski Patrol Keeps Tussey Slopes Safe –
This winter it may have felt a little warmer than expected, but up on the slopes of Tussey Mountain, the snow has been in good shape to ride, and all winter long the ski patrol has been monitoring the slopes prepared to respond at a moment’s notice to help injured skiers and snowboarders to safety.
Keeping those cold-weather recreation lovers safe is important. After all, sliding down a steep, snowy mountainside can be dangerous, and when something goes wrong, it is imperative that help can get there fast.
“Our basic job is that we are trained in the assessment and the stabilization, packaging and transport of any injuries in the outdoor environment,” said longtime pro ski patrol member Joe Horvath. And that means skiing down the mountain, sometimes in heavy snow storms, down difficult terrain, in order to make a rescue.
“Being able to help people in a really hairy, sticky situation, to get them safely off the mountains, that is what we are doing,” said Horvath. “People who we help went from having the most fantastic day on the mountain to being the worst day in a matter of seconds. When an accident happens, it is our job is to get down there and help relieve the anxiety and issues of what is happening.”
But even with the “really, hairy, sticky situations,” the ski patrol is a labor of love for the crew of snow enthusiast who work to keep the slopes safe for all, and there are many perks that come with the job — namely skiing — after all, that is their job.
Tussey’s ski patrol gets to open the mountain every day, meaning they are the first ones to lay track in the new and fresh snow. Other perks include lift passes and discounts when patrol members visit other nearby resorts.
“Every day is great on the mountain. You get to ski in all types of conditions,” said Horvath. He has been part of ski patrol for decades, and since he retired from his day job recently, he is up on the mountain as often as possible.
“That is the difference between us and other ski professionals,” Horvath said. “We have to go where everyone else fears to tread.”
Tussey Mountain Ski Patrol is a nonprofit organization providing emergency response and is National Ski Patrol and Professional Ski Patrol Association affiliated. The National Ski Patrol boasts more than 30,000 members from more than 600 patrols around the country, and is one of the largest outdoor safety organizations in the country. The crew up on Tussey is 48 members deep.
Patrol members are broken up into two categories — pro and volunteers — with the pro group getting paid to work the daylight hours on the mountain and volunteers work the nights and weekends.
During the day, there are typically three pros on board and at night, Tussey runs with seven to eight volunteers. But for the most part, the people are interchangeable.
Horvath said it just depends on who can work which shifts.
PREPARED FOR ANYTHING
Sitting in The Roost, the ski patrol’s shelter, high atop the mountain above the slopes, the crew is usually nice and toasty, sipping coffee on a sunny winter day, but there are times when it is not so pleasant in the small cabin.
“Some days there is three to four inches of snow and ice on the window and you can barely see anything, and the wind is whipping around at 30 miles an hour and you are just sitting, waiting and ready to go,” said Horvath.
On a typical day, one of the crew members is sitting in The Roost ready to respond with a toboggan to transport an injured skier, while the rest are skiing the slopes, on the lookout for hazards.
They may be extra observant of a youngster who looks they are skiing for the first time and will keep an extra eye on them, or follow a ski team from the high school down the slopes to make sure everyone is safe.
A big part of the job, said Horvath, is anticipating where a problem could occur.
“You just have to be prepared for anything. We are skiing, looking for hazards and, in the event there is someone injured, we respond to that and the first aid training kick into gear,” said 9-year ski patrol member Aaron Potzner. “You never know what you are going to find.
Typically, it might be a shoulder injury, an arm injury, knee injury, and basically what we are doing is a patient assessment … stabilizing. So we find someone, and in the event it is a head injury or back injury, we put them on a backboard. We carry all that stuff in the toboggan.
It is no easy task to get an injured person off the mountain, and it is impressive to see the patrols negotiate the toboggan down the steep slope. A crew member in the front and one in the back work the sled gracefully down the grade, guiding it smoothly to level ground. Patrol members agree that it takes a lot of strength and skill on skis to do it safely.
Up in The Roost at Tussey Mountain, Joe Horvath goes through a ski patrol training manual with patrol members Bennett Hoffman, Rob Griggs and Aaron Pontzer. Photo by Vincent Corso | The Gazette
CHAIR LIFT RESCUE
The crews get a multitude of trainings, from first aid and CPR to ski training, so they can make it to injured people on the mountain. The crew at Tussey has earned a bit of ski patrol fame for having performed a chair lift evacuation after the lift malfunctioned on opening day in December 2018.
Ski patrols train for the procedure twice a year, but not many have had to perform the operation, and although it was a difficult day, Horvath said the crew at Tussey performed well, followed their training and prevented further injuries.
That day, a mechanical malfunction caused a chair slip leaving five chairs crammed together full of recreation seekers near the top of the mountain, on a very step section below the lift. With the help of the Boalsburg Fire Department and Tussey Mountain Outfitters, the crew was able to get all the people down as safe as possible.
“You go through that training and you hope you never have to use it … there was a lot of people that day and the lifts were full,” said Potzner.
He wasn’t on shift that day, but was called in because other ski patrol members were on the lift. “I was , ‘oh my goodness, now we have to do this for real with the public up there.
’ I think it worked out as well as it could. In about two hours we had everyone down.”
“It is an event that you train for ad nauseam, and there are some patrols who will never go through an active chair evacuation, but now we have done it,” said Horvath.
“Everywhere I go, people are , ‘Tussey Mountain … you had that chair lift evacuation.’ Everybody remembers it,” said Potzner.
Horvath said even as far away as the state of Colorado, people bring it up.
The crew credits the management at Tussey Mountain for fixing the problem quickly and getting things back in safe working order promptly after the accident.
“This our office,” said ski patrol veteran Joe Horvath while standing with fellow patrol members. Pictured, from left, are Bennett Hoffman, Horvath, Aaron Pontzer and Rob Griggs. Photo by Vincent Corso | The Gazette
AMBASSADORS OF THE MOUNTAIN
Rob Griggs is in his second year with the patrol, so he is still learning from seasoned pros Horvath and Potzner. But he is enjoying his time on the mountain.
“What I about what we do here is that we are small, but we are prepared, and the other thing that we do, from what I’ve learned, is that we are kind of the ambassadors of the mountain too, so we are always out and we are always skiing, and when someone falls we don’t need to scare you and come up to you and overreact, but we can help you up. We can walk people down if they are just not feeling comfortable. We can make people feel better about the people from Tussey and let them know the ski patrol is a group they can trust. So, if something were to happen, than we can build up some credibility,” said Griggs. “It is one of the best feelings when you go up to a kid who has fallen, or an adult, and you help them get down the hill. Those are the things that make you feel really good about it.”
“We are not the cops. People seem to think we are highway patrol, but we are not cops. We are rescue personal,” said Horvath.
“One of the things is that we always kid around about is that you could be very irritated by some of the shenanigans that goes on, but you are not helping anybody out if you are irritated.
As long as they are safe and not a harm to anyone else, you have to let them have fun,” said Griggs. “But I also think how you talk to people is important, because we want them to enjoy it, and we don’t want to sit there and be the grumpy old dudes or ladies.
We don’t want to be the judgmental ski experts because there are way better skiers out there.”
“It is great, especially here at Tussey Mountain, because we have a great crew. You get to ski a lot — a lot more than I was before doing this,” said Pontzer. “It is just great to be a part of the mountain … part of Tussey.
This is a great place we have here. I think it is a gem in Centre County.
It is a small local mountain, so you get to know the people well, from the other employees to the people skiing here all the time to the school groups that come out every day of the week.”
Horvath said Tussey Mountain is a pretty special ski hill because being in a college town, it is a place where many people learn to ski for the first time, and Horvath said, “You always remember the first place you ski.”
How many rescues they perform in a day is determined by a lot of factors — the conditions, the weather, the ability of the skiers on the mountain — and the patrols do a lot a observing and communicating to help keep things safe.
“Ski areas change daily as far as conditions, and conditions can make something nice and safe or you can have pretty treacherous stuff when you have ice and rain,” said Horvath. “So it is a whole bunch of variables that determine if you have a few accidents, a whole bunch of accidents or just minor stuff.”
And they have to be prepared to be ready for rescue in all conditions, so Horvath recently sent Griggs down an icy run to test the conditions.
“There is nothing that can prepare you for that. I don’t care how good of a skier you are and there really wasn’t anybody skiing, and I remember looking “why do I want to do this?,’” said Griggs with a laugh.
“By the end of the run, I was convinced this wasn’t a sane thing to do, but I was convinced that if you are going to ski on the sunny beautiful days you have to ready to do down on Thursday nights on the ice humps, even if there is no one out there because that is what you signed up for.
“But it really got me to understand how I would respond if something would happen. How would I get a sled? How would I stop it on the ice? How would I treat an injured person?” said Griggs.
But it is all worth it for ski patrol members — after all they love the snow, the mountain and, of course, their crew. Horvath stood and stretched his arms wide to show the entire mountain seemingly in his embrace.
“This is our office,” he said. “Can’t beat that.”
Anyone interested in joining the ski patrol can contact director Ted Hovermale at [email protected].
On the slopes with the ski patrol
Ski patroller Chris Halsey knows his sport can be dangerous. He’s dealt with twisted ligaments, lacerations and broken bones. He’s even witnessed a couple of fatalities – one caused by head injury, the other where a skier was impaled on a tree.
But nothing prepared him for what he found in the snowy woods of Aspen Highlands in March 2013. Earlier that day a snowboarder had made a grisly discovery and called the emergency services. Halsey was one of those sent out to investigate.
‘I was first on the scene,’ the 48-year-old recalls. ‘Even when I saw the body I didn't suspect what had really happened. I thought the guy must have skied into a tree. His body had since been mauled by animals so it was unrecognisable.’
It was when Halsey spotted a gun that he realised this was no skiing accident. Tragically, the man – a local wine dealer called Jeff Walker – had shot himself. Apparently he’d come to the Aspen Highlands to spend his last moments in a place of beauty.
Although incidents this are rare, Halsey’s job involves its fair share of drama.
As one of Aspen Highlands’ 40 or so ski patrollers, he is trained to rescue injured skiers in a whole spectrum of scenarios ranging from sprained knees all the way up to avalanches.
His job is a curious combination of policeman, paramedic and mountain rescuer. Some of the tasks are fairly mundane, such as patrolling the slopes for fallen trees before the start of each day, and for fallen skiers at the end of each day.
‘We ski around, yelling,’ he says. ‘That way, if there’s someone lying in the woods with a knee injury, they’ll hear us. But we have to be really attentive. There are places on this mountain where you could hide a marching band. It would take a thousand people to sweep every inch.’
There are more exciting duties, too – blowing up stuff. As with many ski resorts, avalanches can be lethal, burying unwary skiers alive. Ski patrollers pre-empt them by using explosives to dislodge loose snow in a controlled way.
This is mostly done pre-season, before the skiing public arrives. First off they use canons mounted on the side of the hill to shoot missiles up into the avalanche-prone areas. Then they move in close and throw small grenades.
Make the cut
Another method they use to trigger avalanches is something called ski-cutting. ‘We zip across the potential path of the avalanche in a zigzag, to dislodge the loose snow,’ Halsey. ‘This knocks the energy a potential avalanche.’
Backing up the team of human ski patrollers are four dogs trained in snow rescue. The three labradors and one Australian shepherd search out avalanche victims buried beneath the snow. ‘They can smell through really deep snow,’ Halsey explains. ‘During a drill I was once buried beneath two metres of snow and the dog was on me in seconds.’
Up to ten times a week, Halsey and his colleagues find themselves attending to injured skiers – springtime, when the snow is hard and fast, is most dangerous – and have to be prepared for everything from minor collisions to skiers that have crashed off the piste altogether. Halsey remembers one Italian tourist who had lost control and skied straight off the edge of a cliff.
‘He ended up tangled up in the trees with a back injury. It was super-steep terrain, we couldn't get a good footing, the ground underneath was frozen and we had to make sure he didn’t slip away from us.
’ The patrollers eventually managed to move him into one of their toboggans and transported him down the mountain to safety but not without an endurance-sapping climb down to him and a few hairy attempts where the skier started to slide closer to the drop.
Fitness is crucial in this job. All patrollers must be able to ski expertly in deep snow, across any terrain; manoeuvre toboggans with injured skiers aboard; and be able to hike to the top of the Highland Bowl (3,774m at the summit) with 20kg of gear and skis on their back.
But the toughest fitness test of all is right at the start of the season when the patrollers spend a whole month compacting the fresh snow in the Highland Bowl so that it’s secure to ski on – a process known as boot-packing. They spend five gruelling hours a day, five days a week, marching around often in deep snow.
‘That’s more strenuous than any workout I’ve ever done,’ Halsey says. ‘In total it amounts to 700 man-days of boot-packing.’
Although very few of the patrollers do gym work (‘We get our workouts on the mountains’), Halsey says there’s proof that many of them are super-fit.
Every year a race called the Highland Bowl Inferno is staged in Aspen, with competitors required to run 260m through the snow up to the top of the Highland Bowl before skiing down 800 vertical metres to the bottom of the mountain.
Halsey says there are often as many as five patrollers in the first ten people across the line. The course record is under 26 minutes.
The strongest among the patrollers is a local legend called Brian Johnson. ‘Nobody’s faster than Brian,’ Halsey says. ‘He’s a world-class athlete. For training he once did ten laps of the Inferno in one day. That’s hardcore.’
Thanks to Aspen Snowmass resort, Helly Hansen clothing and The Little Nell hotel.
Safety on the Slopes
Our ski patrol is composed of numerous professionals who come from all around the Southeast. Beech Mountain Resort Ski Patrol is a member of the National Ski Patrol System, Inc.
, Southern Division, Blue Ridge Region, Carolina Highlands Section.
Beech Mountain Patrollers are trained in Outdoor Emergency Care, Toboggan Handling Skills and other specialized areas, including mountaineering, lift evacuation, and other advanced techniques.
Skiing can be enjoyed in many ways. At ski areas you may see people using Alpine, Snowboard, Telemark, Cross Country or other specialized equipment, such as that used by disabled or other skiers.
Regardless of how you decide to enjoy the slopes always show courtesy to others and be aware that there are elements of risk in skiing that common sense and personal awareness can help reduce.
Observe the code listed below and share with other skiers the responsibility for a great skiing experience.
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
The highlights of the bill are as follows: A skier/snowboarder shall have the following responsibilities:
- To know the range of the skier’s/snowboarder’s abilities to negotiate any ski slope or trail and to ski within the limits of such ability;
- To maintain control of the skier’s/snowboarder’s speed and course at all times when skiing/snowboarding and to avoid other skiers/snowboarder’s and obvious hazards and inherent risks including variations in terrain, snow, or ice conditions, bare spots and rocks, trees and other forms of forest growth or forest debris;
- To stay clear of snow grooming equipment, all vehicles, pole lines, lift towers, signs, snow making equipment, and any other equipment on the ski slopes and trails;
- To heed all posted information and other warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner which may cause or contribute to the injury of the skier/snowboarder’s or others;
- To wear retention straps, ski brakes, or other devices to prevent runaway skis or snowboards;
- Before beginning to ski/snowboard from a stationary position or before entering a ski slope or trail from the side, to avoid moving skiers already on the ski slope or trail;
- To not move uphill on any passengers tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person’s ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or by the use of any narcotic or other drug or while such person is under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic or any drug;
- If involved in a collision with another skier/snowboarder or person, to not leave the vicinity of the collision before giving his name & current address to an employee of the ski area operator, a member of the ski patrol, or the other skier/snowboarder or person with whom the skier/snowboarder collided, except in those cases when medical treatment is required; in which case, said information shall be provided as soon as practical after the medical treatment has been obtained. If the other person involved in the collision is unknown, the skier shall leave the personal; identification required by this sub-section with the ski area operator;
- Not to embark upon or disembark from a passenger tramway except at an area that is designated for such purpose;
- Not to throw or expel any object from a passenger tramway;
- Not to perform any action that interferes with the operation or running of a passenger tramway;
- Not to use such tramway unless the skier/snowboarder has the ability to use it with reasonable safety;
- Not to engage willfully or negligently in any type conduct that contributes to or causes injury to another person or his properties;
- Not to embark upon a passenger tramway without the authority of the ski area operator;
- If using freestyle terrain, to know the range of the skier’s/snowboarder’s abilities to negotiate the terrain and to avoid conditions and obstacles beyond the limits of such ability that a visible inspection should have revealed.
Smart Style Program: See the Video
- MAKE A PLAN – Every time you use freestyle terrain, make a plan for each feature you want to use. Your speed, approach and take off will directly affect your maneuver and landing.
- LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP – Before getting into freestyle terrain observe all signage and warnings. Scope around the jumps first not over them. Use your first run as a warm up run and to familiarize yourself with the terrain. Be aware that the features change constantly due to weather, usage, grooming and time of day.
Do not jump blindly and use a spotter when necessary.
- EASY STYLE IT – Know your limits and ski/ride within your ability level. Look for small progression parks or features to begin with and work your way up. Freestyle skills require maintaining control on the ground and in the air. Do not attempt any features unless you have sufficient ability and experience to do so safely.
Inverted aerials are prohibited.
- RESPECT GETS RESPECT – Respect the terrain and others. One person on a feature at a time. Wait your turn and call your start. Always clear the landing area quickly.
Respect all signs and stay off closed terrain and features.
Ski Patrol is all about a fast recovery on the slopes **Snow job: Local ski areas boast up to 150 National Ski Patrol members
Greta O'Donnell was just looking to have some mid-week fun earlier this month with friends and parents.
The teenager from Riverton, N.J., an avid skier, decided to try snowboarding and took a lesson at Blue Mountain Ski Area in Palmerton.
“I tried snowboarding for the first time,” she said while getting warm by the fireplace in the main lodge. “The board got caught and I just fell.”
Even though she had paid attention to her instructor on the proper technique when falling, O'Donnell stuck out her hand to break her fall. Instead of a nice, cushioned fall or a sliding, force-dispersing fall, O'Donnell went straight down on her right wrist, which was wrapped in a splint as she sat by the fire, commission for the rest of the day.
“They don't know if it's broken because I haven't gone for an X-ray,” she said, “but I hope it's just a sprain. If it still hurts later, I'll go to the emergency room.”
O'Donnell is one of thousands of participants who receive injuries while skiing, snowboarding or snow tubing that require treatment from a member of the National Ski Patrol.
Two Lehigh Valley ski areas — Blue Mountain and Bear Creek Mountain Resort and Conference Center — use more than 320 members of the National Ski Patrol, who are trained on and affiliated with their respective mountains.
“I have between 140 and 150 members,” said Brent Watts, ski patrol manager at Bear Creek. “We have five full-time, and with the volunteer roster, it goes to about 140 or 150.”
At Blue Mountain, the numbers are a bit higher.
“We've got 10 members who are employed,” said Ed Kupillas, risk manager and head professional ski patroller at Blue Mountain. “I believe we have 185 registered members for this season.”
Trained in first aid, rescue
The ski patrol at each mountain is an integral part of skier/boarder safety as well as first responder to accidents on the slopes.
Kupillas estimates that ski patrollers will have to respond to about 1,500 accidents or injuries at Blue Mountain this season, dealing with everything from bumps and bruises and hypothermia to Med-Evac situations.
“Of that 1,500, I would say 150-200 of them leave in an ambulance, and probably four or five leave in a helicopter, so that doesn't happen very often,” he noted.
Ski patrollers are trained in several areas of first-aid and rescue, and the training takes about a year. All members must be certified in OEC — outdoor emergency care — which gives ski patrollers in Pennsylvania the same status on the EMS scale as first responders.
“Our first-aid training is almost exactly the same as an EMT course,” Kupillas said, “but what's different is that we don't practice pulling people cars and things that. We practice extricating people from extremely steep and slippery slopes and unwrapping them from trees. We probably do a little more on hypothermia and how cold weather and exposure affects injuries.”
Blue Mountain starts its OEC classes in May and Bear Creek begins its classes in September.
After successfully passing the course, potential ski patrollers are trained in OET — outdoor emergency transport — where they undergo ski and toboggan training to pull the big toboggan that transports the injured off the slopes.
Bear Creek and Blue Mountain ski patrols also act as safety patrols. While many slopes have a separate safety patrol, Bear Creek and Blue Mountain combine their forces. Ski patrollers at the mountains can write citations for reckless skiing or snowboarding. Depending on the violation, a culprit could lose his pass for that day or longer.
For information on joining the ski patrol, call Blue Mountain at 610-826-7700 or Bear Creek at 610-682-7100.
Ski Patrol Open House: Camelback Ski Area is holding a ski patrol open house at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the top of Sullivan Lift. Learn about what it takes to become a member of the ski patrol.
Breast Cancer Awareness Day: Jack Frost hosts the Race for the Cure Breast Awareness Day on Saturday with a dedication ski run planned for 11 a.m.
Scout weekend at Blue Mountain: Members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies and Cub Scouts and their families will receive half-price lift tickets, rentals and lessons March 7-8 at Blue Mountain.
Directions, hours, prices, ski conditions, photos and more
Ski patrol keeps us safe on the slopes
MARS HILL – For any teenager, the usual summer dream job is lifeguarding at the beach or an outdoor pool, looking cool, soaking in the sun and the admiration of youngsters, even with a thick white slab of zinc on the nose.
Eighteen-year-old Indigo Hollister has taken that summertime lifestyle to the chilly winter ski slopes as one of the few women on the Wolf Ridge Ski Patrol.
“You can compare us to lifeguards. We have CPR and advanced life support training,” said Hollister, a native of Wolf Ridge who lives down the road from the ski area and started skiing at age 2.
Ski resort managers in Western North Carolina say their operations could not run without the many ski patrol members, some of whom get paid, and some who volunteer, much volunteer firefighters.
Patrol members are not just excellent skiers and snowboarders, they are the first line of emergency rescue for the multitude of injuries and illnesses that can occur on the slopes, from fear to frostbite.
Since Hollister was homeschooled and lived so close to the slopes, she said, her mother brought her and her brothers quite often.
“When I was 4 or 5 they stuck me on a snowboard and I’ve been snowboarding ever since,” Hollister said.
She raced in snowboard slalom with middle school and high school teams and in slope style competitions. Due to her stellar snow and board handling skills, Hollister said she was encouraged by friends to join the ski patrol. She started at age 16, patrolling by snowboard.
Becoming a ski patroller first requires stringent training, she said.
“You have to go through a course, from summer and into fall, read a ginormous textbook, meet with your course instructor, and then you’re considered a candidate,” she said. “Then you have to go through scenarios, make sure you’re not putting yourself in a compromising position, and make sure the scene is safe.”
The experience of using first aid skills, including CPR, stabilizing broken bones and extricating injured skiers off the mountain by toboggan, has led Hollister to consider studying medicine in college at Appalachian State University in Boone.
Indigo Hollister, 18, prepares a rescue sled to give a demonstration on how people are transported down the mountain at the top of The Bowl at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 201. Hollister is a member of the ski patrol who give immediate assistance to hurt customers on the slope. (Photo: Angeli Wrightemail@example.com)
The minimum age for the patrol is 16, but patrollers range into their 70s.
Wayne Morgan, ski patrol director at Cataloochee Ski Area in Maggie Valley, said the 120 ski patrol members at Cataloochee must be certified through the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Care, the ski industry’s standard for first aid.
“The course is 120-160 hours. We start late May and run through middle of November,” Morgan said. “We teach basic EMT skills with an emphasis on the outdoors, advanced level of CPR and AED (automated external defibrillator), first aid, stabilization of injuries and get them to hospital if they have broken bones.”
Once candidates get their certification, they typically take a season of ski and toboggan training, practicing maneuvers such as snow plows – a braking wedge, where they keep their ski tips together to slow down.
Patrollers must take annual refresher courses in first aid and ski and sled proficiency, and a fitness hike, Morgan said.
Rick Bussey, owner of Wolf Ridge Ski Area, said Ski Patrol is the backbone of the slopes.
“They’re the police on the slopes and the EMTs, they’re very well-qualified and they’re crucial to the business,” Bussey said. “They are skiing all the time, from top to bottom, they are very quick to get someone down who is injured or looks injured, and they handle any rowdy skiers or snowboarders and make sure people are adhering to the rules.”
And all of this for a starting salary of minimum wage.
Morgan, of Cataloochee, said each certification gives patrollers a slight bump in pay, but it’s not a job where you can expect to get rich.
Chuck Quillen, 67, a math teach for 30 years and a high school basketball coach in Virginia for 15 years, didn’t start skiing until he was about 50, learning at Beech Mountain Resort in Avery County
“I always had an interest in skiing. I was a volunteer fireman and that got me interested in first aid. The two went hand in hand. Every time I went to the slopes and I saw how well the patrollers skied, I wanted to get that level. When I retired from teaching and coaching I had time to learn those skills.”
Indigo Hollister, 18, gives a demonstration of how hurt skiers are transported down the mountain on a sled that she pulls on her snowboard at Wolf Ridge Ski Resort on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Hollister has been working on the ski patrol of two years. (Photo: Angeli Wrightfirstname.lastname@example.org)
Quillen now works at Wolf Ridge, patrolling on skis, tackling all sorts of injuries from removing splinter from hands, to assisting skiers banged up in falls and taking them down the mountain by sled.
He said he remembers only one chairlift accident with minor injuries. He said in spite of recent reports of treacherous falls at ski resorts out West, they are very rare.
“We are the medically trained people on the mountain. We’re the medical first responders, for accidents and illnesses in the lodge and on the mountain. We respond to automobile accidents, and slips and falls in lodge.”
What keeps Quillen going at such a strenuous job in his retirement years is the drive to help.
“I that I’m able to be outside and do a sport that I really love. This is a hard place for me to get away from. I really enjoy the ski community and helping people,” Quillen said.
Morgan said the life of a ski patrol member, who work morning, nights, weekends and holidays, draws every type of snow sport enthusiast, from PhDs and MIT grads, mail carriers, teachers, firefighters, students, farmers, park rangers, judges, etc.
“The National Ski Patrol has done research and surveys on what people about being on ski patrol and the No. 1 thing that always comes up is the camaraderie, the friends and family you develop,” Morgan said.
“The job we have is amazing,” Hollister said. “Most of us do it just because we love helping people.”
Ski and snowboard safety tips:
- Take a lesson from a certified instructor who will do more to get you prepared than well-meaning friends.
- Always stay in control. Wait until you’re ready and can ski or snowboard under control before you try to get on steeper, more difficult terrain.
- Seasoned skiers can always improve their skills. You're never get too old or too good to learn new things. It’s a lifelong sport. You can always improve.
- Observe the skier’s code and warnings posted at most ski slopes – read over those rules.
- Always wear a helmet. Snowboarders should wear helmets and wrist guards for additional safety.
- Skiers ahead of you always have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
- Before entering a slope always make sure no one is coming down.
Source: National Ski Patrol and Chuck Quillen of Wolf Ridge Ski Area
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