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Ski Patrol

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Fresh soft snow, sunshine, and everyone enjoying themselves safely. That's how some ski patrollers describe a perfect day on the slopes.

The National Ski Patrol (NSP) is demanding. The association's 28,500 members represent 98 percent of the nation's patrollers -- both volunteer and professional. "A significant majority are volunteer," says Mark Dorsey with the NSP.

"Anybody who comes this way with the idea that it's free skiing is likely not to stay long, because there's nothing free about it other than that you don't pay for a lift ticket," says patrol veteran John Leu.

Leu says ski patrol volunteers can expect to undergo about 80 hours of training in the classroom and on the slopes. They are also asked to commit to 20 days on patrol each winter. "That's a fairly large commitment for a volunteer."

"It's a great group of people I enjoy being with," says Terry Komisak, candidate training officer for the Southern California Nordic Ski Patrol.

Komisak says the NSP provides patrollers with ongoing education, starting with its award-winning outdoor emergency care program, as well as toboggan handling and avalanche rescue. "What we were doing last weekend was helicopter rescue."

Ski patrol volunteers must be 18 years of age or older, although some areas allow junior patrollers to assist in ski patrol duties. And if you love to snowboard -- no problem! The NSP certifies snowboarders for volunteer patrol.

"In the mid-1990s, the NSP recognized that snowboarders could complete their tasks [and] evacuate a person from an emergency situation," says Dave Schutz, one of the first snowboard patrollers in the NSP. "Now most, but not all, mountains allow patrollers to use snowboards."

Whether you ride or ski, your duties as a volunteer patroller are the same. And it's more than helping injured skiers. You must uphold and promote responsible skiing and alpine activity. That might mean answering questions about the weather, reuniting a lost child with his mother or showing a tourist in difficult terrain the easiest way down.

"I've side-slipped [skied sideways slowly with a weaker skier] down more runs," says Elizabeth Oldfield, a volunteer ski patroller. "And once you get them through it, they're so impressed that they did it!"

"If you're interested in helping people, and you enjoy skiing -- in that order -- then by all means apply," says Waddell.

In 1981, Elizabeth Oldfield's husband broke his leg. It was a stroke of luck -- at least for her. "I was really impressed by the way the situation was handled by the ski patrol. I thought I'd like to be like that person!"

The following ski season, Oldfield volunteered as a ski patroller. What started as an act of admiration and gratitude quickly became a pleasure. "It doesn't have to be broken legs and that kind of stuff. There's immediate and positive feedback in just about everything we do," she says.

Walter Geist patrols the Mount Pinos and Angeles Crest ski areas for the Southern California Nordic Ski Patrol. "People will come in to our hut and say: 'What are the best clothes to wear?' right up to 'What should we bring in?' and we're there to help."

Mount Pinos has no ski lifts, but the area is a favorite destination for back-country skiers, snowboarders and tobogganers. Surprisingly, it's the people with toboggans and sleds who suffer the worst injuries.

"A lot of young people or children get hurt like that very easily. They leave half an ear on a tree, which is kind of gross, but that's the way it is sometimes. I've had people with spinal injuries."

Ski patroller John Knieriem has had to deal with spinal injuries and worse. "In two years, six people have died in this area. The ice climber was the worst I'd ever seen. He fell 1,000 feet and smashed into rocks."

Knieriem was also the first to find a lost hiker who had fallen and broken both bones in his lower leg. "He was suffering from hypothermia, so I wrapped him in the clothes I had." Knieriem also set the hiker's leg when it was time to move him -- not a job for the squeamish. "He screamed a little. But that doesn't bother me."

Knieriem points out that the hiker he helped made a full recovery and wrote two thank-you letters. "I do it because I like the emergency medicine field. It's wonderful doing it when people can say thanks."

How to Get Involved

If you're interested in volunteer ski patrolling, you likely already have a favorite ski area in mind. The patrol director for that mountain or area will have a specific list of requirements for patrol candidates, including what level of skier or rider you have to be.

"Chances are they offer training in the summer and fall," says Dorsey. NSP ski patrol candidates have to pay a nominal fee for first aid training, materials, textbooks and membership dues.

"Members pay $27 a year," says the NSP's Judy Over. "And the course fees are really minimal for members."


National Ski Patrol
133 South Van Gordon St.
Lakewood , CO   80228


The Ski Patrol Home Page
Winter safety, first aid, weather information and lots of other links

Dave's Snowboard Patrol Home Page
One of the first snowboard patrollers in North America

Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol -- Tucker and Huntington Ravines
Keeps visitors to the area updated about safety and conditions

Yahoo! -- Directory of Ski Patrol Home Pages
Links to sites around the world

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