Crisp mountain air tingles your nose as you ride the lift up the mountain. Pristine snow below glistens in the sun. It’s 7:30 a.m. on a powder day and your team is headed to the patrol room at the top of the mountain. Floating down the first run of the day is one of the perks of being a member of the ski patrol.
To the public, the ski patrol is an often visible, yet hopefully avoided, part of the skiing experience. While it’s easy to think that the patrol is there to police what goes on across the mountain, their job each season encompasses so much more. Keeping skiers safe is the most important part of their daily routine.
A trained first responder, ski patrol members like Rondo Buecheler at Powderhorn Mountain Resort spends long days ensuring the safety of skiers through training, maintenance of equipment and communication with surrounding communities. “After we finish our morning meeting we load the lift, ride to the top patrol room, check in with patrol dispatch and do run checks,” says Buecheler. “Run checks involve checking the grooming and making sure all of our safety signs and ropes are in place.”
A Ski Patrol Routine
On a powder day, patrollers are the first people to glide down the mountain, enjoying the soft snow before chill and frequent use sets ice into the ground. Responsible for staffing the Mountain Operations Dispatch Center at the top of the mountain, two patrollers stay at the summit to quickly respond to incidents.
Following fresh snow, the ski patrol is responsible for digging snow pits and distributing findings to the Colorado Avalanche Center. A snow pit, or snow profile, is dug vertically into the snowpack. Each day patrollers observe how snow layer occurred throughout the storm and test stability of the pack. Over 80% of the day is dedicated to maintaining the mountain and protecting it from avalanche-prone conditions. As the weather warms, patrollers are responsible for skiing troubling areas or belaying to pack down moist snow.
Beyond mountain maintenance, the ski patrol members are fully trained for medical or other emergency situations. “Every incident is different which makes you think,” said Buecheler, “especially when you throw in the challenges of being outdoors and the weather.” Medical training is completed weekly, similar to how a fire department might operate.
During monthly reporting meetings, the patrol team discusses interesting cases and evaluates with a physician what was done correctly and how things could be improved in the future. While it’s important to hope you are never on the receiving end of this care, a well-trained team ensures that injuries are quickly attended to and the health and safety of all skiers is most important.
Throughout the season patrollers practice less common procedures, including full lift evacuations and how to handle removing a guest quickly from a lift. A full evacuation must be completed within 2 hours from the time the lift stops. All resorts throughout Colorado train with the same equipment to ensure both safety and consistency.
Long cold days are the earmark of a hard day at the office for a member of the patrol. A physical job, patrollers must stay in good shape and on point with their skiing skills to ensure that they are prepared for any situation. Throughout the day, the ski patrol sweeps runs to confirm that everyone on the mountain is enjoying their day safely. Injured skiers are attended to and when necessary, taken via toboggan down to the foot of the mountain for further treatment.
As the sun begins to set on the mountain and lifts slow to a stop, the patrol members on duty sweep each of the named runs to ensure all guests are safely off to an après-ski. A wrap meeting with a daily debrief closes the day and patrol members head home to get a good night’s sleep.
Experience the Patrol for Yourself
For those looking to learn more about what it is like to be a part of the ski patrol, Powderhorn Mountain Resort outside Grand Junction offers a Ski Patrol Ski Along for both children and adults. Ski along’s are 2-4 hours long and include a demonstration of how injuries are handled on the mountain. Ski Along packages cost $75 per person for two hours or $95 per person for four hours. Reservations may be made by calling Powderhorn Mountain directly at (970) 268-5158.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article about year around activities you can experience in Grand Valley beyond skiing.