Downhill patrol gives lessons in team spirit

It’s Thursday morning at Killington. I am wailing in the hills. This might have something to do with the conditions—or being on vacation for two weeks. This is the 11th season I’ve run the…

Downhill patrol gives lessons in team spirit

It’s Thursday morning at Killington. I am wailing in the hills. This might have something to do with the conditions—or being on vacation for two weeks. This is the 11th season I’ve run the Ski, Base Camp, 3 Ave. shuttle. In each of the past years I have car-pooled from the cabin above Snowmass to nearby Olympic Valley at least three times. And this is also the 11th year we’ve had a normal snow season.

As the ski areas face the possibility of another low-ratio season, I am reflecting on my experiences of ski patrol, beginners’ programs, dog sledding and alpine “playgrounds.” Sure, we handle injuries, but what about the valuable time we all spend together? I will not look away.

Squaw Valley’s Annual “Days on the hill”

More than 30 years ago, I joined an Alpine Professional Ski Patrol team for an abbreviated season. Since then I have been a full-time member of the Santa Rosa Alpine Patrol, the Norah Rock Ski Patrol (Hasley Mountain), as well as international patrollers for the IOC, the USOC, and Alpine Skiing, the sport’s governing body.

Now I’m part of the current staff at Squaw Valley, working with students, families, community volunteers, and curious tourists—and oh my, what a fantastic group of fellow patrollers we are! As of yesterday, ski patrol is back in business after a brief winter hiatus.

When I tell people I started a ski patrol in the basement of a medical building in a San Francisco neighborhood, they go “Wow” again and again. Over the years, young ski patrol members have become a community of friends. But, on the weekends, all of us are out there at Squaw Valley to defend our sport of skiing, in the best way we know how: As the athletes we are.

Ski patrol attends to injuries as they happen. If the slope is bad, things are going to go wrong. But sometimes you have to go out there into the elements—the slush, the fog, the rain—to make sure people are safe and can ski safely.

Sure, we handle injuries, but what about the valuable time we all spend together? I will not look away.

This year, most of our tasks include traffic control and patrols on the lower area of the slopes, especially this weekend. One challenge is that the mountains are covered with trees, but sometimes that’s part of the outdoor experience. When the web of tree branches interferes with a skier’s takeoff or descent, the thin blanket of fir, spruce, pine and other conifers becomes invisible.

Although the conditions have already become difficult, I cannot be more excited about going out there again. After the Sonoma County fire, when fellow patrollers and I applied water and dirt to lift a stranded man out of the snow, I felt like a mountain man again.

You can’t outrun Mother Nature, but you can always learn from her. Ski patrol will be working in the mountains once again when I return home in a few weeks.

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