Safeguarding The Slopes

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Hello skiers and riders of the southeast, and welcome to the ‘Ber months of the calendar.

It might be a tad early to “think snow” but it certainly is not too soon to plan ahead to the next season. Sure, most of us have begun to initially consider when and where we might be, I mean ski, this winter. However, we might not yet be diving deeper into the planning stages for logistics, equipment, and perhaps a pass purchase. It is always better to be early than late after all.

What if I say that right now there was an opportunity to lasso a lot of these aspects together, plus much more? Would you give greater consideration to a valid solution for these necessities? It does come with free lift access, winter clothing, and lots of runs…

Now before I jump into the elevator pitch, I would like to divert your attention slightly by saying that this read is about a first-hand experience that occurred last March on the closing weekend of Beech Mountain Resort and the information gathered from it. After all, if I am to write a story about Ski Patrol, I might as well do so with a place that arguably has the most experienced personnel on the entire planet.

Yes, the full-time and volunteer members at Beech have centuries worth of hours logged in. Some of their patrollers have beyond five decades of service, and in fact, one of them will be knocking on the remarkable 70th anniversary platinum jubilee door very soon. That achievement is very remarkable considering that the National Ski Patrol just hit their 85th year in 2023.

Please note that other ski areas come with ample amounts of expertise as well, and we are thankful for all of their efforts every day.

So, you might be wondering what it is that Ski Patrol does, or why it is important. In a nutshell, they provide necessary trail markings, slope safety, and initial medical treatment to anybody that sustains an injury while on the premise of a ski area. They may act behind the scenes and before the first chair, or they might be present in real-time on the open trials to remind patrons to traverse at a safe and controllable speed.

When it comes to medical trauma, they move quickly and efficiently so that a patient is not harmed any further than whatever level of damage they just sustained. They break it down into two key steps which are to assure that someone’s vital signs are stable first, also known as Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC), and then get the victim prepared for Outdoor Emergency Transportation (OET) to an appropriate care facility, even if a helicopter or ambulance is necessary.

This concept is not limited to what happens on the slopes only, but instead it is all encompassing for the entire ski area. Whether it be someone falling down a flight of stairs, cutting themselves on the sharp edges of their board while unloading from the roof rack, or acute sickness, just to name a few, ski patrol is there to answer the call. And yes, they have a first aid room with hospital beds, supplies, and crutches.

It should be noted, according to what they said on that day, that their medical duties parallel that of an EMT or paramedic, but the one exception is that they are not allowed to administer drugs or medications. This includes over-the-counter remedies such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol.

Fortunately, each patroller goes through a multitude of training hours with numerous exams to ensure that they pass and are certified. Their educational programs are year-round and are considered the industry standard that is recognized throughout the nation. They certainly know a thing or two about tying knots, splints, and administering CPR.

More than that, the folks are a tight knit work-family that are ski bums in uniform. I say that in all sincerity because their building setup resembles that of a fire station with lockers, a kitchen, and dining areas. Just add the additional racks for jackets, skis, boots, and ropes to the mix and you will have an idea of what this place was like. Oh, and numerous tubs of Starburst candy where the yellow lemon-flavored ones appeared to be the most prevalent after months of duty.

Appropriately, and very similar to our heroes at the local brigade, at a sudden moment’s notice there could be a call over the radio and these champions with courage spring into action for immediate help.

Distressing moments were the bulk of stories these gifted individuals shared with me, but it was not necessarily the lacerations and fractures that were the focal points of their chronicles. It was the totality of the alertness, the training, and the teamwork that shined through. Hearing how an accident could create a very horrific setting where time is a very urgent factor, but by the grace of their efforts, the outcome is a life saved and the humbleness that comes with it.

Doing this line of work is not always glamorous though. One must be capable of remaining calm and level headed at all times, even if one is faced with extraordinary challenges. Fortunately, they have each other’s back alongside the knowledge to execute a plan where leadership and charisma can conquer catastrophe.

Fittingly, they shared with me a compelling story about a patrolman named Jim Hunter that unfortunately passed away almost two decades ago, but it was the symbolism from a photograph that is hung on their wall near the dining area that captured my attention. In the photo shown below, we see several of their comrades descending the slope at once while snow is falling. The plan was to have them all gather up top and then go in formation to spread his ashes simultaneously.

Apparently, this was one of those gray and gloomy days that one could have during the winter months in the southern Appalachians. Lots of rain, wind, and an overall yucky feeling. However, it was at this precise moment while they were in motion that rain drops changed to snowflakes, and the skies above opened up just enough so that beams of light illuminated their precession. It was silent and somber. Everything was united.

So here is the elevator pitch… you could be one of them, and there is urgent demand for more people like you to join. The skill sets you would learn last a lifetime, and so would the memories. Having this experience on your resume would place you above others. What they do is commendable and celebrated.

The welcome mat has been placed, and they are actively hiring new talent. Can you ski and do you want to save lives?

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