There are a lot of ski patrollers in Colorado. With 26 resorts, and tens of thousands of skiable acres in the state, it takes a lot of professionals in red coats to keep everyone safe.
Each year, Colorado Ski Country USA chooses one, just one, to be Patroller of the Year.
In 2013, the honor went to Jake Ziemski, an Avalanche Technician at Arapahoe Basin.
I wanted to find out more about Jake. Why did he join ski patrol? Where was he trained? What does he do? And does he have any tips for skiers and riders?
Here’s our conversation.
When did you become a ski patroller and why?
It all started when I was going to school in Duluth, Minnesota. I had to get my EMT as part of my fire science degree. My father-in-law was a patroller at nearby Spirit Mountain Ski Area and I decided I’d like to try that, too. Mostly I just wanted to use my EMT, so I volunteered for patrol.
I liked it so much that when I graduated, I moved to Colorado and took at job at Keystone. That summer, I went to Queenstown, New Zealand for an endless winter. I worked one season there and came back to Colorado.
What is your position at Arapahoe Basin?
I’ve been with A Basin for 7 years and my current position is avalanche technician. I’m part of the snow safety department. We take care of all avalanche concerns at the resort, including explosives. This starts with a daily snow forecast at 5:00 AM, followed by a plan and schedule for doing control routes on the mountain to mitigate any hazards.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a patroller? What steps do they need to take to make this happen?
First, you need to get your EMT. That’s a basic requirement for every professional patroller. You can’t even wear a coat until you are an EMT. Then, talk to the patrol director. Go in and show some interest. There is a lot of turnover in this field, so there is also a lot of opportunity.
Patrolling is a pretty unique job. There aren’t many like it. I encourage anyone who has an interest to try it. It’s a great job.
What advice do you have for skiers and snowboarders? What do they need to do to stay safe?
The first thing is to be prepared. You need the right gear and it needs to be in good shape and work properly. Next, wear a helmet and goggles. This is one of the most important things you can do.
Communicate with your friends and family. Make a plan. Tell each other where you’ll be skiing and know where to meet if you get separated.
Finally, be ready for all the elements. Some days may be sunny and you’ll need sunscreen. Others may be blowing or snowing. You need to be ready to deal with inclement weather.
What are the biggest safety mistakes a skier or snowboarder can make?
The biggest mistake is to cut a rope and go into closed terrain.
Terrain is closed for a reason. It is never closed because we “want to keep it for ourselves” as people sometimes suspect. Our goal on ski patrol is always to get the whole mountain open and get it open safely. We enjoy skiing and snowboarding just like everyone else, but we need to make sure the mountain is safe.
If you do enter closed terrain you’re on your own. Closed terrain is not swept at the end of the day. If you get hurt, we may not even know you’re in there. Plus, if you cut a rope in Colorado, you can get a $1000 fine.
Arapahoe Basin is your home mountain. Do you have any tips for skiing or riding there?
Arapahoe Basin is a pretty unique place. With a summit at 13,050 feet, it is true Rocky Mountain skiing. One-half to three-quarters of the resort is above tree line.
My best advice? Just come up and check it out.