Ski Patrol: The World’s Snow Angels

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Ski patrol on avalanche control at Arizona Snowbowl. Photo Credit: Jon Miller

Ski patrol on avalanche control at Arizona Snowbowl. Photo Credit: Jon Miller

Featured Image Credit: Jon Miller

The Canadian Ski Patrol will organize an effort this week to break the Guinness World Record for making the most snow angels at the same time in multiple locations. This sounds like a fun, lighthearted attempt. But, in celebration of  Canadian Ski Patrol Day on February 4th, this effort reminds us of just how important ski patrollers are in mountain environments.

Snow Angels

Snow science: Ski patroller Nate Moody collects data at Arizona Snowbowl. Photo Credit: Jon Miller

Snow science: Ski patroller Nate Moody collects data at Arizona Snowbowl. Photo Credit: Jon Miller

Ski patrollers around the world are more than just ski bums in red jackets. A ski patroller is all at once a ski bum, babysitter, first responder, scientist, life coach, explosives expert, extreme athlete and mountain rescue specialist.

Volunteer ski patrollers will work at their resort once or twice a week while paid patrollers will be on the mountain 5 days or more for 8 or more hours a day. Both paid and volunteer patrollers have hundreds of hours of medical training and education in first aid and mountain rescue.

All of those hours on the mountain make ski patrollers among the best skiers and riders in the world. They patrol every bit of their alpine environments and they have to be physically ready to tackle extreme environments and tasks.

Ski patrol is responsible for avalanche control, keeping the mountain safe for the rest of us. Ski patrol gathers data on snowpack, sets boundaries and even works with explosives. Ski patrollers are the people making sure you don’t end up buried.

Adventures in Babysitting

If you’ve never seen a beginner skier that has gotten in over their beanies, trust me, your ski patrol friends see it on the daily. They encounter guests that walk down the slopes, are unable to get on the lift, can’t find the bathroom, go the wrong way, don’t hydrate properly and just need a band-aid for their boo-boos. It’s all too common for people to need patrol intervention after not following the rules or failing to read posted signs. But, patrollers take it all in stride, offering help, education and even moral support to fearful guests.

Meanwhile, they are also responsible for responding to, treating and evacuating the most serious injuries on the mountain. Major head trauma, altitude sickness, snow blindness, broken bones and even death are all scenarios that ski patrollers train for and encounter. These gals and guys will climb the mountain at dusk in a white-out to save your ass if you’re in trouble or missing. What’s more, they’ll get you back down the mountain to medical attention if needed.

For the Love of the Mountains

Board President, General Manager and Director of Ski Patrol Chris St. Germaine-Allen, Photo Credit: Mountain Rider's Alliance

Board President, General Manager and Director of Ski Patrol Chris St. Germaine-Allen
Photo Credit: Mountain Rider’s Alliance

With all of the training and responsibilities that come along with the job, it must pay great! WRONG! According to ski-patrol.net, glassdoor.com and payscale.com, ski patrol is among the lowest paying jobs in America. These people do it because they love it. At smaller community ski hills, ski patrol will take on multiple job titles. Chris Allen of Bald Mountain Ski Area is Board President, General Manager AND Director of Ski Patrol. If you ski the hill enough you’ll see that she is also a hell of a lift mechanic. And that’s her “part-time”, volunteer position. Chris isn’t the only patroller wearing many hats. Nearly all patrollers take seasonal work patrolling just to be on the mountains they love. For the off season it’s anything goes. From paramedic to bartender, ski patrollers are just getting by until the snow flies again.

Ski patrollers can do it all. Across every discipline of winter riding and in every mountain environment in the world, ski patrollers are there to help the public. Many are volunteers and others make the meager mountain pittance that most resorts pay. Most patrollers pay for hundreds of hours of training and education, all for the love of the mountains they patrol. They are out there wherever you ski or ride or tour. Ski patrollers are truly the world’s Angels on the Snow.

 

Ski Patrol Facebook Post – by Jon Miller, an AZ Ski Patroller
Get up at 5am. Drive up, drink coffee, get dressed. Get up top, pack your bombs. The visibility is getting better; the sky is beautiful. Start skinning up with your team. The winds pick up. Temp is -2, -20 something with the windchill. It’s hurts your face. There’s a delay on the launcher team. Gotta hunker down behind a rimed up tree. Try as hard as you can to stay warm. Seriously, your face hurts. Time to get moving again. Do your route, trust each other, make sure the slopes are safe. Good thing you have damn good route partners. The accident in squaw valley yesterday weighs heavily on your mind. Suffer a lot, ski a little. But when you do ski, it’s glorious, and it’s all worth it. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have some secret, twisted love of mountain suffering. It’s all part of the experience. #work #patrol

Many thanks to my friend and AZ ski patroller Jon Miller, whose Facebook post and pics inspired this article.

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