Then we participated in a Ski Patrol Ski Along at Powderhorn Mountain Resort in western Colorado.
Promoted as an opportunity to “ski or ride with the ultimate local,” Powderhorn’s Ski Patrol Ski Along provides a behind the scenes education at what ski patrol does each and every day.
In its second season, the Ski Patrol Ski Along has been especially popular with parents and children. Which makes sense, as it’s a natural fit for skiing families and a great tool for teaching the importance of on-mountain safety and responsibility(see Risks, Rewards, and Responsibility: The Three R’s of Skiing Safety).
But the program is not just for kids.
It’s valuable for anyone interested in learning more about ski patrol and skiing/snowboarding safety.
Firemen, Not Cops
As our sons became teenagers, the limited interaction they had with patrol centered on reminders to slow down, look around and be aware of other people on the mountain — excellent advice for skiers and riders of all ages (See After a Tragedy, the Johnson Family Works with NSAA to Promote Skiing Safety).
Yet while our kids, and lots of other people, may think of ski patrol as cops, Powderhorn’s patrol doesn’t find this analogy very useful or accurate.
“We’re not policemen,” shared Powderhorn Ski Patrol Manager Rondo Buecheler, as he introduced the day’s agenda.
“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.”
Five minutes into the ski along and we’d already learned something new.
Preparation, Practice, Repetition
From ski patrol’s point of view, being prepared is essential to a fast, professional and possibly, life saving, response.
Every day, ski patrol begins with a morning meeting to review the mountain status: which runs are groomed, which runs are closed, special events planned for the day, and new issues that have come up.
Next, the patrollers ski “awareness runs” on every run on the mountain.
On these runs, patrol checks and rechecks everything. They look for known hazards and new hazards. They inspect signs and fencing, moving them if necessary, repositioning them and adding markers near any new hazards.
While these runs are happening, other patrollers are digging avalanche pits and monitoring snowpack. They record each day’s information and transmit it to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, a resource for backcountry skiers.
Patrol also checks every toboggan, 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, patrol checks and documents everything, every day, just in case.
Ready to Respond
Patrollers are trained in emergency and outdoor medicine and most of the calls they get are to help injured skiers and snowboarders.
When patrol gets a call, they move quickly (hence the “grab and go” backpacks) to stabilize all injured parties, extricate them and to ski them down to the first aid room, from which they are 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.”
Practicing getting people out of difficult spots is continuously practiced by ski patrol, along with lifesaving skills like CPR and emergency situations, including lift evacuation.
Ski Patrol Safety Tips
During our ski along, I asked Buecheler to share some snowboarder and skier safety tips.
Without a moment’s pause, he said, “Know the Code.” Which is excellent advice, as the seven point Skier and Snowboarder Responsibility Code forms the basis for on-mountain safety.
As parents, we need to remember that our kids don’t necessarily understand or remember the Code when they are skiing. It’s definitely worth taking the time to review and talk about as a family. (see Talk to Your Kids: Skiing Safety and Skiing Safely)
You can find The Code at the end of this video.
More specifically, Buecheler suggests ditching the backpack.
While Powderhorn has a plan (which they practice) for rescuing people whose backpacks become entangled on the chairlift, Buecheler recommends removing your pack and placing it on your lap every time you ride a lift.
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, Buecheler recommends keeping your gear in good condition and never adjusting your own bindings. Leave that to the ski shop professionals.
The Powderhorn Mountain Resort Ski Patrol Ski Along
Powderhorn Mountain Resort offers a 2 and 4-hour Ski Patrol Ski Along program.
Each session starts with a visit to the base area first aid room. Next stop is the on-mountain patrol office where guests learn about response equipment, detailed emergency response guidance and the importance of thorough daily documentation.
Back out on the snow, participants ski a patrol awareness run, visit an avalanche pit to learn about snowpack safety and danger, and ride down the mountain in a toboggan.
Sam Williams, Powderhorn General Manager, explains the benefits 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 many 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, formerly with 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.”
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