A lot of us think we do, but when we start talking about what patrollers actually do all day, some misperceptions may come to light. For example, my son used to think that ski patrol existed only to thwart his fun. This is because while visiting a resort, he took an unsafe jump off a roller, without a clear view of the landing. Ski patrol saw this, stopped him and gave him some tips about being safe.
In his mind, ski patrol became the mountain police and he didn’t like them. This all changed when he had an accident and broke his arm. Ski patrol responded, took care of him and got him off the mountain safely, quickly and professionally.
With this experience, ski patrol went from the “bad guys” to the “good guys.”
The Role of Ski Patrol
Colleen Finch is a ski patroller at Showdown Montana, a small ski area in the northern Rocky Mountains. She is the current Outstanding Patroller of the Year, as recognized by the National Ski Patrol in the United States.
“Our main mission is safety on the mountain,” shares Finch. “And everything we do is to keep people safe. Our goal is to be proactive and fix problems before someone gets hurt.”
Greg Dumas, a patroller at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, elaborates, outlining three primary things patrollers do each day.
“First, patrollers provide medical response for on-hill and on-premise emergencies,” explains Dumas.
“Second, patrollers do trail work every day as far as establishing rope lines, closures, signage, and marking obstacles.
“Third, patrollers help with guest services as far as sharing information on the mountain with guests and being an information resource.”
What doesn’t ski patrol do?
“We aren’t up there just to ski all day and goof around,” laughs Finch, correcting another common misperception.
And she and Dumas agree that patrollers don’t like being thought of as “snow police.”
“Some guests think we are just out there trying to find people doing things wrong so we can enforce the rules,” says Dumas. “This couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Being charged with keeping a ski resort safe is no small task, and becoming a patroller requires a lot of training and education.
On the medical side, classes in Outdoor Emergency Care and Wilderness First Responder training are required, with some patrollers taking this a step further to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or paramedics.
In addition to all of this education, patrollers also have to know how to get injured people off the mountain or to evacuate a chairlift in an emergency. These skills take practice and patrollers are always practicing, which is why you’ll see them on the mountain simulating treatment and skiing down with sleds.
In areas with high avalanche danger, patrollers are trained in avalanche mitigation, learning to assess snowpack, and determining which slopes are safe on any given day.
How Parents Can Help Ski Patrol?
Ski patrolling is a big, busy and ultimately rewarding job, although for most patrollers, it’s a volunteer, not a paid, position. Patrolling is their labor of love and method of giving back to a their favorite sports.
This makes it important for all ski resort guests to help patrol do their jobs. For parents, this means modeling your best on-mountain behavior and also talking to your kids about safety.
Start by reviewing the the FIS Rules of Conduct with your kids. Read them aloud, discuss specific scenarios, ask them what mistakes they think they’ve made, and let them tell you what you do wrong, too.
Next, since skiing and snowboarding are activities we share with other people, Beckett Stokes, Communications Director for National Ski Patrol, suggests educating children about how their actions on the mountain impact other skiers and riders.
For example, if someone is skiing too fast or is out of control, explain how this can be a danger to everyone on that run.
Stokes also recommends ski school for all skiers and snowboarders. “Having good instruction makes a huge difference in terms of learning to ski safely and confidently,” she says. “Plus, it’s fun!”
Colleen Finch offers further guidance to parents.
“Since parents only have control over themselves and their children, I think it’s really important to encourage awareness,” says Finch. “Help your kids understand where the car is parked versus where the chairlifts are. Point out on-mountain signage, and talk about where you’re going, so that no one gets lost.”
She also encourages parents to prepare their kids for the day by making sure they are appropriately dressed, warm, dry, well-fed and hydrated.
Finally, Dumas emphasizes teaching children how to identify ski patrol and contact them.
As you are skiing, point out patrollers in uniform, trail phones, and ski patrol buildings.
Put the number for ski patrol in your phone contacts and do the same for your kids, if they ski independently.
If someone is hurt, make sure your kids know to stay with the injured person, to take off their own skis and make an “X” with them. If they can’t call patrol they should ask another skier or snowboarder — who may be a stranger — to go get patrol.
Even if no one is injured, patrol is an excellent resource for everyone on the mountain, available to answer questions about the weather, terrain, snow conditions, and to recommend runs for each ability.
Patrollers truly are the “good guys.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hailing from Colorado (USA) Kristen Lummis, or as she is better known, the Brave Ski Mom, is an avid skier and true family mum in every sense of the word. www.thebraveskimom.com