Originally Published in Connections magazine: Honesdale, PA: February 2014
You are cruising down the ski slope one day, enjoying a fun-filled day with friends and family when all of a sudden something goes wrong. You’re not sure if you hit something, or caught an edge, all you know is that you are on the ground and that you are in pain. Within a few moments a group of red-jacketed folks are surrounding you, asking you questions, checking you over, and packaging you up. They load you into a toboggan and they speed you off to the first-aid room. Like it or not, you’re the latest customer for the local ski patrol.
The vast majority of patrons to a ski area probably have few if any encounters with patrollers other than possibly sharing a chairlft with one on the way back up the mountain. Part medic, part cop, and part customer service agent, ski patrollers fulfill an eclectic range of duties depending on what the resort needs them to do and what the demands of the day might bring. Regardless of what ancillary assignments are laid upon their table, a patroller’s primary mission is to provide medical care to skiers and snowboarders. While some ski areas utilize professionals the vast majority of patrollers are volunteers and members of the National Ski Patrol, a non-profit organization that provides medical, rescue, and ski/snowboard skill improvement programs throughout the country.
While some who have prior extensive emergency medical training my opt to take a challenge test, the majority of patrollers complete minimum of 80 hours of instruction that covers first-aid; outdoor and weather related contingencies; rescue; and patient transportation. Each year they undergo a one-day refresher clinic; keep their CPR training current; participate in rescue drills that involve chairlift evacuations; and pass a test handling a toboggan while on skis or a snowboard. The annual training cycle typically begins weeks before the ski areas open for business and for rookies, their medical course may start as early as the summer. Typically, most who complete the course then go through a candidacy program for a season where they learn the protocols of their resort and improve their skills.
Training doesn’t stop there. Beyond the basic level, patrollers may advance to a senior level where they must show proficiency at managing emergencies and show greater skill maneuvering over difficult terrain. The most adept and dedicated may then choose to become a certified patroller, a classification reserved for only those with extensive knowledge of operations, rescue techniques, and patient transportation. Additionally, almost every weekend throughout the ski season, supplemental trainings and skill-building courses are held at many resorts where patrollers can build their repertoire.
Locally, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, National Ski Patrol members serve everywhere from the larger resorts such as Elk Mountain and Montage to the smallest ski-hills such as the one in The Hideout. There is even a specialized team of patrollers that are dedicated to keeping the cross-country trails safe in the Promised Land State Park and Delaware State Forest area. It’s not an easy task. Good patrolling takes dedication to both becoming a better skier or snowboarder as well as a desire to serve others. If you think you have what it takes, then stop by the patrol room at your favorite resort and inquire within.