I hop on the 8 o’clock chair with a few Ski Patrollers at Durango Mountain Resort (DMR). I ask one of the patrollers what he thought of a recent article that seemed to suggest Ski Patrollers across the state lack in training.
“That article made us sound like a bunch of un-trained monkeys!” exclaimed TJ, a veteran patroller at DMR. “I resent that. We’re highly trained monkeys.”
The vibe here is relaxed, even on dawn-patrol. The snow has already begun to soften up on this late-March day. Festivities at the base area, known to locals as “the Beach” will include snow bowling, a pig roast, and of course, beer. Did I mention it’s college day?
“That’ll bring the rabble out for sure.” remarks Scott Clements, director of the Patrol at DMR. I’ve seen closing day at DMR before. It usually means costumes, antics, and lots of fun, so I know it’s going to be a good day to shadow the patrollers.
Despite the chuckling about the laid-back vibe of spring skiing in Colorado, Ski Patrol is diligent about their job. It’s business-as-usual in the Patrol Shack. The morning meeting begins with grooming reports, station assignments, and the typical razzing of the rookie. The only think significantly different today is sitting on a table in front of me…“Apple danish?” I’m enthusiastically offered a pastry by Skippy (last name withheld for National Security purposes). The sign on the wall warned my that I might encounter him, and now I had. Skippy’s in institution at DMR; at once renowned and a rascal. As soon as we meet, Clements is asked “Has anyone told the journalist not to talk to Skippy?”
There’s a decidedly fun vibe at DMR, but it’s clear they take things seriously. I’m informed that the danish I’m holding is special because it represents the first, and likely only day of the season that the DMR Patrol is choosing to have a pastry and some coffee instead of training in the morning. Logs on the wall show a schedule packed with everything from Avalanche Risk Reduction to Chairlift Evacuation to Boundary Line maintenance. I suppose after a season of daily drills, there’s no harm in having a donut just this once. Heck, cops do it all the time…
Safety’s been a big topic in Colorado this year. Questions have been raised as to resorts’ liability and risk mitigation. Over a few early-morning laps to survey signage, fence lines and grooming, I ask whose responsible for safety on the slopes. The consensus is that safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the Colorado Skier’s Responsibility Code is the centerpiece of safety in the state.
“Skiing’s great,” remarks Clements, “but it’s a gravity-fed sport. But the control is all yours. It’s up to you control your speed, and the events that take place from the top of the mountain to the bottom.”
I take a few laps with TJ, the self-described highly-trained monkey from earlier. Officially we’re on patrol – ready to respond to anything that comes our way from dispatch. We charge the fresh corduroy on the mountain’s front side. The skiing’s great, and the costumed revelers have begun to show up on piste. A giant penguin here, girls in bikinis there. It’s the epitome of spring skiing, and for TJ, it’s all in a day’s work.
Skier safety is ultimately up to each and every one of us out on the slopes. It’s the responsibility of the snowboarders and skiers who love this sport. It’s also great to have highly trained professionals out there with us. Folks like the DMR Ski Patrol – just like us, they’re skiers too.