Their red-and-white jackets with crosses are as ubiquitous across the skiing landscape as chair lifts, snowmaking guns and lanes of well-groomed corduroy.
They’re a social, loquacious mountain-loving bunch.
To a majority of the snow-loving public, they’re seen as enforcers with the power to pull a lift ticket if they deem necessary. They’re on the slopes and trails for rescue and at times recovery.
But they’re also like ambassadors, sharing local knowledge of their preferred resort while also dispensing advice on skiing and riding safely.
They want to be seen, and interact with guests as simply as stopping to help a parent who is having trouble putting their child’s skis on.
They’re the ski patrollers.
Dedicated to their craft and their mountain, ski patrollers come from all walks of life, their white and blue collars hidden from view as all are decked in red and white.
Some are paid, some are volunteers happy with skiing privileges for themselves and family. Some live nearby, while others are committed weekend warriors from away.
I’ve spoken to a number over time during my skiing and snowboarding outings and many are attracted to the pursuit because they love skiing, snowboarding, being outdoors, helping others and giving back. What keeps them returning is the camaraderie of a close-knit alpine community.
They love to have fun, and encourage others to do the same, safely, through Your Responsibility Code — always stay in control, people ahead of you have right of way, stop in a safe place for you and others, when starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield, use devices to help prevent runaway equipment, observe signs and warnings and know how to use the lifts safely. They may suggest to stay hydrated and refuel, replacing lost calories. Stop skiing before you’re tired or if flat light, particularly in the afternoon.
They do administer first aid, but there’s a lot more to the job.
The patroller’s day begins well before skiers and snowboarders get to the mountain. They’ll clear the lift, making sure it’s safe to ride. They do have the trails all to themselves, a glorious perk, and do their sweeps, checking for obstacles that need marking while also putting up signs that tell of closed and ungroomed sections. They might also put some helpful touches on any rough snow that was left behind by the groomers.
Tossing sticks and picking up trash along the trails are also done. They check the orange snow fencing and safety pads around the lift towers to see they’re in good order. They help set up race courses.
Then there’s the paperwork, filling out forms about trail conditions and the weather. As the day moves on, they’re on call, answering the radio and being dispatched around the mountain, dealing with changing conditions and dropping ropes on trails deemed fit to open. They respond to first aid calls and pick up dropped guest items from the lifts and such.
And they train, improving their skiing, snowboarding and medical skills. They do mock lift evacuations, and refine their equipment skills.
First to show and last to go, they end their day doing final sweeps, making sure all the guests are off the slopes.
Sound like something you want to do?
Generally, you should be able to comfortably ski all the trails at your favored resort, knowing that you’ll eventually be carrying equipment, pulling a toboggan and navigating terrain in unfavorable conditions.
Basically, patrollers must pass a medical course with focus on outdoor trauma through the National Ski Patrol. Then there is toboggan and lift evacuation training plus mountain-specific training that can vary from ski area to ski area. Depending on the candidate’s motivation, this can take a couple of seasons.
Though ski patrollers are found skiing throughout resorts, there is one place they always congregate — the ski patrol cabin. Call it a hut, shack or something else, they largely contain basic kitchen necessities and furnishings along with a woodstove. You might be surprised to learn that’s it’s OK to pop in on occasion. You’ll be welcome, and the visit can be a way to break down some of the misconceptions the skiing public has about patrol.
You may learn that they don’t really want to yank your ticket, but would rather educate you.
And if you are ever in a toboggan or involved in a lift evacuation, just remember two words many advise: stay calm. They’re there to help.