These are some of the nicest people you never want to meet on the hill.
Ski Patrollers are hard to miss at ski areas around the country. When on duty, they wear parkas with a prominent cross on the back and routinely cruise all of the terrain an area has to offer. They are all capable skiers (or riders) and they are all well trained in winter first aid practices. In fact, their presence has become so common, most people don’t even pay attention — unless there is an injury, of course. Then the patrol is your best friend.
A patrol person is trained to take charge of the scene of a possible injury, assess the situation, stabilize the injured person, if necessary, and get the person off the slopes, often by sled, and down to a first aid station. All patrollers have been trained for the job. Each has passed an 80-hour certification program and been accepted into a formal patrol organization. And in the United States, the service they provide is always free. If you are hurt and need care by a patrol at an area, there is no charge to the injured person.
It has been this way since the start of the National Ski Patrol at Stowe, Vt., 75 years ago this month.
The origin of the patrol has been well documented, most fully by Gretchen Besser of Morrisville, Vt., whose authoritative book, “The National Ski Patrol: Samaritans of the Snow,” was first published in 1983 and was recently updated and re-issued in conjunction with the 75th anniversary.
There were first aid services for skiers at some mountains in the early 1930s, including a first-aid “committee” set up at the North Creek Ski Bowl in 1933. These early services were usually arranged at the local hill, most often involving area folks with some medical training. If you were injured, it was up to you to get to the first-aiders.
In 1936, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole from New York City was skiing at Stowe when he broke his ankle. He was skiing that rainy morning with close friend Frank Edson and their wives. By the time they could get Dole the quarter mile down the hill, it was late afternoon.
In his memoir, “Adventures in Skiing,” Dole recalled the pain and shock he suffered in the process of being dragged to the bottom of the hill. Local doctors saw the extent of the injury and advised he go back to New York to have the ankle set. There was no train to take him from Stowe that night until midnight.
“I sweated it out with a bottle of Vat 69 and some codeine that Jane, the foresighted wife, carried,” he wrote.
By the time Dole received full medical treatment, there was doubt that he could ever walk normally again.
Two months later, with Dole still on crutches, his friend Edson died from injuries in a ski race accident in Pittsfield, Mass.
Dole, as Edson’s best friend, was asked to lead a study of skiing safety. He wasn’t received warmly in all quarters, being accused at one point of representing “sissies, spoilsports, and frighteners of mothers.” But two years later, Roger Langley, president of the National Ski Association, asked Dole to form what became known as the National Ski Patrol. His first class of recruits numbered 15. He became its first president, soon after becoming instrumental in forming the famed 10th Mountain Division, the U.S. troops that served in World II.
By the time Dole retired as its president in 1950, there were 300 ski patrols with some 4,000 members throughout the country.
Today, the National Ski Patrol has more than 28,000 members serving at more than 650 areas throughout the U.S. and at U.S. military facilities in Europe. It is the largest winter rescue organization in the world. And for its dedication to promoting public safety, it was granted a federal charter by Congress in 1980.
Donna and Jerry McGraw, longtime Clifton Park residents who recently moved to Corinth, have been involved with ski patrol in this area for more than 40 years.
Donna is the administrator of the Eastern Division of the National Ski Patrol, which involves more than 7,500 members at 230 areas from Maryland to Maine. It is the largest of the patrol divisions. Jerry, who has held a variety of positions with the patrol since first joining in the late 1960s, is a senior instructor in the Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) program, which is the heart of the Ski Patrol qualification standard, and serves as a senior training evaluator.
“Every patrol person completes the OEC program, which is an 80-hour course given by Ski Patrol instructors,” said Jerry.
“There is also a CPR training to be taken and a course on skiing skills and toboggan-handling skills on respective mountains.”
In addition to the basic education and skills needed, there is an annual refresher course that is required based on the OEC, and a mountain refresher on topics like lift evacuation.”
There is also an in-service requirement. People are affiliated with local patrols, and nationally, the standard is 10 days of service per year.
“But many of mountains have their own standards, and 20 days of service is common,” noted Jerry.
To be a regular patrol member, said Donna, the age standard is 18 year old. There is a junior patrol program for those 14 and older.
“A patrol member does not have to be an Emergency Medical Technician, but many come from health-related backgrounds. And there are many examples of multi-generation patrol membership in one family.”
While most patrollers are volunteers, there are paid patrollers, especially at larger resorts that must provide regular mountain coverage seven days a week. While over the years there has been occasional friction between the paid and volunteer patrollers, everyone must pass the same OEC training program which is updated regularly.
As Ski Patrol historian, Besser noted, “This becomes more important every year as technological advances and standards of care become greater every year.”
From the beginning, Minnie Dole insisted that all patrols be trained to the same standards. As Besser cites in her book, “a broken bone on a mini-hill hurts just as badly as a leg injured at a large, prestigious area; it has to be treated with the same expertise.”
For three-quarters of a century, the National Ski Patrol has been at the center of safety wherever people ski throughout the United States. Wherever there is sliding, they are the first on the hill in the morning and the last ones off at the end of the day.
What motivates people to invest so much time and effort?
Says Jerry McGraw: “It is based on a love of skiing and a desire to help people,” said Jerry McGraw. “There develops a great camaraderie among patrollers.”
And there is always a need for more people. To find out more about becoming a ski patroller, visit www.NSP.org.
SNOW GUNS TURNED OFF
For a second straight year, the quality of skiing in our region has been largely the result of snowmaking efforts, and in general, these have been excellent. Most areas still have solid base depths provided by the snow makers in conjunction with snow groomers who can successfully farm what the machines make.
But as we head into March, the snow guns, for the most part, are turned off for the season, used only occasionally for patch work in some places, but idle now for the most part until next fall.
There is still plenty of skiing left this season, and it is usually the best of the year with longer days and more moderate temperatures. But what you get will be largely from the combination of mountain snowfall and grooming quality. As the month goes on, be sure to check area websites to see the latest condition reports.
Now is the time to be on the lookout for early deals on season passes for next winter. This month is when many areas announce pricing for season passes for next year, and there is always a discount for early purchases.
These discounts might be unusually appealing this spring. Some include remainder-of-the-season ski privileges. But with or without, the cost will likely be an even better break than usual, as pass and ticket prices at areas will no doubt go up next fall due to higher fuel costs and higher personnel costs.
So if you are a current pass holder, or just someone who wants to get in on discounts for next year, keep an eye on offers this spring.
SKI TEAM DAY AT WINDHAM
Windham Mountain will host its third annual U.S. Ski Team Day Saturday. Athletes expected include former Olympic gold medalists Bode Miller, Phil Mahre, Tommy Moe and Diann Roffe.
The athletes will be at the mountain all day with an après ski party scheduled for those who make a donation to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation. For more information, visit www.windhammountain.com.