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For the week of Feb 5 - 12, 2002




Malone defined ski patrol standards

Patrol director retires after
33 years on Baldy

"Everybody respected Bruce because he was fair, and he was very knowledgeable about Ski Patrol business. He always looked after the well being of the patrol."

Mike Lloyd, Sun Valley Ski Patrol director

Express Arts Editor

"Bruce Malone took this patrol from being a bunch of guys doing cowboy rescues to being one of the best professional patrols in the nation." says Mike Lloyd, who succeeded his former boss as director of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol.

Free of his commitment on the mountain and with his kids grown, Bruce Malone, center, hopes to take more trips like this one, taken a year ago to the San Juan Islands. Photo courtesy Dan Collins

Last fall, after 33 years as a patrolman, slope manager, and for 24 years director of the Ski Patrol, Malone retired from the Sun Valley Co.

Consider the year Malone joined the Sun Valley Ski Patrol, 1968: low-top leather boots were state of the art, there were no snowboards, no high speed quads, no grooming to speak of, no liability lawsuits, no personal computers to track weather, few communication radios, no fleece, Gore-Tex or other materials to protect skiers from the elements.

Rich Bingham, assistant director of the Ski Patrol, who has worked with Malone for 33 years, put it this way: "We were just 20-year-old kids who ski-packed the slopes all day and carried Band-Aids and a compress."

That Malone even ended up here was serendipitous. In 1967 he was working in a rock ‘n’ roll bar at Mammoth Mountain in California. One night, the bar held a dance contest, and the couple that happened to win mentioned that they were from a place called Sun Valley, Idaho.

The next year Malone and some friends decided to check it out. He worked busing tables at the Challenger Inn for a ski pass and helped patrolman Carl Rixon build his house for $2 an hour.

Thirty-three years later the ski industry is a very different beast from what it was in ’68. It has become a high profile, big business industry. Guest services have become paramount. Mountain users demand higher and higher levels of emergency care on the mountain. Advances in technology and equipment design have enabled more, less-able skiers to venture into sometimes dangerous terrain. And, of course, legal liability hovers over the whole operation.

Malone, who became the director of the Ski Patrol in 1977, guided it through all of those changes.

One of the bigger changes Malone observed over the course of his career was the introduction of the modern binding.

"The transition year was 1971—people were going from the old long thong to the forward release binding. The average rate of ski injuries went from about eight injuries per thousand skier days to today’s rate, somewhere below two injuries per thousand skier days. And then skiers began to tear ligaments rather than fracture their lower legs," Malone said.

The other significant change he witnessed was the advent of grooming.

"Previous to the ’70s grooming was done by skiers on skis." In other words, the ski patrol was the grooming department. As Sun Valley began to groom with machines, the size of the patrol was cut in half, from about 40 to 21 workers per day. The emphasis of the patrol shifted to first-aid. "The medical care became more sophisticated," he said.

The emergency first-aid care at ski resorts took another quantum leap in 1986. It was a step Malone had a big hand in. He met with the executive director of the National Ski Patrol and the ski patrol directors from Winter Park, Vail and Steamboat Springs, Colo. He was asked to help form the Professional Division of the National Ski Patrol. Malone suggested they create an emergency care curriculum specific to the needs of ski patrols. Out of those meetings came the Outdoor Emergency Care curriculum, the industry standard to date.

Another standard Malone helped create was in the realm of lift evacuation. He and the then director of Vail’s ski patrol, Brian McCartney co-authored a book on lift evacuation techniques.

Rixon summed it up this way: "Bruce brought this patrol up to the highest level of professionalism."

During the last 10 years, Malone was very involved with the National Ski Patrol. In 1991 he was elected to be the Professional Division’s representative to the board of the NSP. In that capacity he was instrumental in communicating policies and protocols between the national board and the regional patrols. Since 1995 he has been the director of the Professional Division of the NSP.

While Malone was at the center of many of the broad changes in the ski industry on a national level, he always made sure the Sun Valley Ski Patrol maintained high standards and was a working team. Bingham pointed out that while Malone "pretty much built this whole patrol," one of the reasons he has been so successful over the years is he has excellent people skills, and was able to "spread out responsibilities. He was very good at using all of the different expertise up here to everyone’s benefit."

Lloyd added, "Everybody respected Bruce because he was fair, and he was very knowledgeable about Ski Patrol business. He always looked after the well being of the patrol."

Another veteran patrolman, Jack Parker, had another idea why Malone succeeded: it had to do with his sense of fun. Practical jokes are always a part of any ski patrol. "Bruce was one of the best. He had a very clever mind when it came to messing with people," Parker said. He relayed a time when the young patrolman Malone took some white parachute cord and anchored it in the snow near the patrol shack. He then tied the other end to Joe Maruka’s ski, the patrol director at the time. Later, Maruka hopped in his skis and took off down the steep pitch in front of the patrol shack. He got about 10 yards when the cord went tight and he exploded out of his equipment. And yes, he did have an audience.

There were other stories, of course, but you’d have to convince a patrolman, not a particularly loquacious species, to kiss and tell.

As to why he is calling it quits after so many years, Malone thought long and hard about that question. "For the longest time I had to keep defining the job up there—as the industry kept changing. There never really was a job description. And that was challenging. But towards the end, it became too much like a routine 9 to 5 job, if you can believe that."

He was quick to praise the people who worked for him over the years. "Since I quit, people have come up to me on the street and said, ‘You finally got a real job.’ But full-time ski patrolling is about the ‘realest’ job I’ve ever had. It’s a very physical, grinding routine. The guys and gals on the patrol are definitely not there for personal gain. They are told to come to work tomorrow and then at the end, it’s ‘see ya later.’ The only accolades they get are from the public. In the business world, a ski patrol is considered just a cost center."

And perhaps the best testament to Malone’s skills as a leader and effective manager is the degree to which he kept so many patrolmen together as a unit for so long. Two years ago when some restructuring of the patrol pay scales was done, it was determined that the average patrolman on Baldy had 19 years of experience, an average much higher than that of most ski patrols.

Malone was hired as the director of the Ski Patrol when he was 27 years old; he was one of the youngest ski patrol directors in the nation. Remembering that time he said, "All of the patrolman on Baldy were about the same age as I. So we pretty much grew up together on that mountain. It was a great life for 24 years."


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.