Friday, March 8, 2013

Ode to the Ski Patrol


On any given day on Baldy, about 30 members of Sun Valley’s esteemed Ski Patrol have your back (and your knees, wrists and head). Patrol members cheerfully report for duty at 6:30 or 7 each cold, dark winter morning to make sure you are safe and enjoy the mountain—and to share the mountain culture they love so much, according to supervisor Bryant Dunn.

“Ski culture is an absolutely beautiful thing,” Dunn said. “Patrol is an integral part of the culture. We are here to enhance the ski experience as well as promote safety and take care of any of our guest’s needs on the mountain.”

People sometimes need to interface with the Ski Patrol in an official capacity. Last week, for the first time skiing here for 25 years and after logging hundreds of days on Baldy, I realized on a run down the mountain, that “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Midway down Hemingway, on a normal Monday, during my normal weekly DIVAS clinic, my bottom ski slid out from under me. One minute I was up, making what felt like a nice turn (I hope the teacher saw that one). The next minute I was rocketing down the hill, my skis everywhere except where they should have been. When I stopped myself and sat up, I realized it was time to dial those magic digits (622-6262) to summon my white (cross) knight.

Until last week, my only other interaction with Patrol, except professionally, was a few years ago when one of my daughters was skiing the “jumps” around the snow guns on College and went splat, landing face down. Noses bleed a lot when they splat, so the snow was spattered red. The Ski Patrol declared her A-OK after a brief, but thorough assessment. She cleaned up with the light pink sleeve of her ski coat and down we went for the day. Unfortunately, my tumble was not so easily fixed.

Knee ligaments can be fixed, but Ski Patrol really only gets one chance to get it right with an injured or frightened skier. What really matters is their reassuring manner, calm professionalism and warmth. In no time flat, I was having a nice chat with Rich Bauer from the Ski Patrol. He and Barry Irwin coaxed me into the sled and wrapped me in the same warm, wooly blanket they give you on the Gondola when you ride up to dinner at the Roundhouse. Only one word—surreal—properly describes finding yourself in a Ski Patrol toboggan, prone and staring up at the sky and hills from slope level.

I hope you don’t find yourself in a position, prone or otherwise, where you need to summon Sun Valley Ski Patrol, but rest assured, if you do, you will be in the best hands possible.

Ski Patrol’s roster includes 15 firefighters, 10 Paramedics, explosives experts (thank one next time a Bowl safely opens following a big snowstorm), accident investigators, ropes/evacuations experts, gunners and dispatchers, among others. They are passionate and committed, bringing hours of training and experience to their work. At a minimum, each member of Patrol is a highly trained mountain medic with an OEC (Outdoor Emergency Care) qualification. Training is an ongoing and year-round endeavor for Sun Valley Ski Patrol.

Dunn said.  “When we hire, we look for a rock solid work ethic and a passion for mountain recreation. Great communication skills are also vital. Being a member of Ski Patrol involves a lot more than simply being an expert skier with knowledge of First Aid and trauma care.”

“My” two Patrol, Rich and Barry embodied everything Dunn spelled out. Rich, a member of Wood River Fire & Rescue is an experienced Paramedic. Barry specializes as an Accident Investigator. No matter who had been closest to Hemingway when receiving the call (the closest Patrol report first), I knew I would receive the most professional, comprehensive care possible. And the kindest care possible. All members of Sun Valley Ski Patrol are empathetic, compassionate and diffuse the anxiety of the situation, just through their ‘sledside’ manner. 

Dunn said, “At its core, Ski Patrol is a job in guest service. We truly care about each and every skier and boarder who joins us on Baldy and Dollar. We work for you. Our number one boss is the public. We are indebted to our guests.”

I’m indebted to Rich and Barry for the excellent care and safe hand-off. The one thing I will probably never forget about my first (and hopefully only) ride down the hill is that Barry gave me his warm gloves because mine got wet. He skied that sled down with bare hands so that I could be comfortable.

If you’d like a behind-the-scenes look at how Ski Patrol does what it does so well, a raffle exists for the chance to attend Patrol’s morning meeting and to help them open the mountain each Saturday. Online forms for “Ski Patrol 101” are available at River Run Lodge and Sun Valley Recreation Center. It’s a great way to taste the hard, rewarding and fun work that Ski Patrol signs on for each day.

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