Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Life on Ski Patrol

I'd like to take this post to share my experience with - and love for - my ski patrol job. My experiences and duties are unique to my mountain and the east coast, but you'll find many similarities to other mountains and resorts across the country and other regions. The comeraderie and dedication this group contains is present everywhere.

: : : : :

(Ignore my finger to the left)
Gooning with the drill on our way up the lift
I love my second job. I love the job duties, I love the mountain, but most of all I love all of the people I work with. They're hard-working, driven, and fun-loving. It is a really great dynamic to be around so much.

Our days start with boot-up around 7:30a. We're on the lift and headed up the mountain by 8a. This gives us an hour to assess all of the trails to determine what should be opened and what shouldn't; what man-made objects need marked, padded, protected, or moved; what conditions are like for individual slopes; what signage needs to be placed around the mountain on trails and at lifts; determining whether or not the snow cats may be out grooming out man-made snow that was blown over night; and what weather conditions are expected to be so we can further predict things we'll need to do throughout the day.

Morning sweep to check trail markings and protection.
The mountain opens by 9a. The lifts are open for ski schoolers, courtesy patrollers, and the general public.

Depending on the day, we may have further "farm" work to do once the mountain is open. If they've blown a lot of snow and groomed it out on a trail that we haven't opened yet but will soon be able to open, we head out to mark obstacles with bamboo poles, build pop-fence as guardrails along steep edges, pad out any poles or snow guns, and put up necessary signage. Its sometimes strenuous work (i.e.; digging out pop-fence that has been buried in man-made snow is TOUGH - add a snow gun that is actively blowing snow on you while you're doing this and it becomes a whole new realm!), but its totally worth it.

We all have radios on us at all times while we're on the mountain working. The radios connect us to what is going on no matter where we are on the mountain. If something needs done (farm work, helping out a customer, responding to an accident) we're able to respond in a quick, timely manner.

Ages of folks on our patrol range from 18 to folks in their 70s. Many are medical professionals in their "other" life off-mountain. There is SO much experience in so many different realms. There is always information to glean from one another as we spend time together. The wealth of information available for me to learn is incredible.

A lot of days, we spend time honing our rescue skills in some manner or another.We practice ways to sling, swath, splint, and package injuries we may be presented with. We discuss hypothetical scenarios and what you would do "if this happened". We discuss differences in old and new ways to do things. We practice methods that, while improved upon in recent years, are still valuable to know "just in case" a crazy situation occurs.

Honing skill with a new tool
We share new ideas and methods for potentially improving our efficiency in a big situation. We discuss, we bicker, we expound upon a myriad of potential methods for any given situation. And, of course, we goof off some. But the beauty of the type of person that ends up in this position is that despite our innate ability to be silly, with a few key words over a radio transmission everyone flows into action, fulfilling critical roles that need to be filled like a well-oiled machine.

We spend a lot of time working on our ski skills. Its one of my favorite aspects of patrol - free skiing lessons! I'm always working on something and gaining instruction from some of the best available. Its not always easy, it often makes me sore, but damn is it worth it! Its worth it on a personal level because my abilities grow with each passing day on the mountain, but its also worth it for work. When a call comes across the radio about an incident you need to get to QUICKLY, you can get yourself there in a quick, efficient, safe manner because of the skills you've been bestowed with.

Lounging in the sun at the top of the mountain on a pretty day;
ready to fly into action at a moment's notice.
In addition to ski skills, we work a lot on our skills with a toboggan (sled) because on our mountain we take injured folks to the aid room in a sled not via snowmobile or some other method (once at the aid room further transport is arranged if the case warrants it). We've got specific ski skills we utilize for when you're in the handles of the toboggan. Its absolutely critical to learn, practice, and hone these skills often. Getting someone off the mountain quickly and efficiently is CRUCIAL.

Every year we take time to train new, interested folks to do all of the above. Their time with us begins in the summer months pursuing the required Outdoor Emergency Care Technician training, a 180 hour program that is similar to Basic EMT training. The candidates spend every other weekend from August to December learning and practicing skills and concepts. If they pass the test (written and practical) in December, they spend another several months on the mountain with us every weekend honing their ski and toboggan skills in conjunction with their first aid and rescue skills.

One of the most enjoyable perks to the job, aside from everything mentioned above, is first and last run on the mountain each day. Days I get to spend watching the sun rise and set on this mountain are some of my favorites. Canaan Valley is a beautiful location.

If you think you'd like to join Nat'l Ski Patrol, look into what options may be around you. Its an incredible group of people wherever you go. The start of it is a time commitment, but the end result is more than worth it. You'll meet some of the most amazing people you've ever come across, challenge yourself in ways you'd never dreamed, overcome things you never thought you would, and have the time of your life.

No comments:

Post a Comment