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.
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 like 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.
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 out of difficult spots.”
Thus, ski patrol practices getting people out of difficult spots, along with lifesaving skills like CPR in a toboggan and lift evacuations.
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.
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.”