Being a Ski Patroller is tough to define. It’s a mixture of a few things: Ski/snowboard “bum” (meaning you absolutely love to be out on the slopes—day or night, any temperature, any conditions); first responder (you know what to do with any injured person in almost any situation as a result of your training and experience); mountain rescue specialist (you can ski down the toughest run, assess the injured party on the snow covered hill, and transport them to medical aid).
The Ski Bum
When I was a teenage skier, I thought it would be amazing to ski all the time, every day. But then reality set in. Volunteer patrollers, like me, usually ski once or twice a week, maybe 8-12 hours. Paid patrollers are usually full time, 5 days a week, 8 hours or more per day. Over the course of the season, volunteer patrollers will hit 100-200 hours of skiing; paid will be in excess of 400 hours. I’m not sure what the definition of a ski bum is but that’s probably close from a time perspective. The average recreational skier or boarder will be well below 100 hours.
Ski Patrollers are first responders and provide first aid (immediate and temporary care) for injured persons. The success of a first aid provider depends largely on applying learned skills to assist an injured person. First aid training and learning are ongoing and provide the knowledge to assess a situation and administer first aid as needed. When something happens, the hours of training kick in to perform treatment protocols and techniques. First and foremost, however, Ski Patrollers promote safe skiing and snowboarding (to prevent injuries in the first place).
Mountain Rescue Specialist
This is the part that gets extremely specialized. Skiing or snowboarding is one thing. Being an advanced first aider is another thing, especially with the added complexities of being outdoors or on the side of an active ski hill on a winter day.
On-Snow training is required for patrollers to develop patrol specific skiing/riding, toboggan handling, incident site management, use of evacuation equipment and area procedures. Skills are necessary to allow the patroller to safely patrol the ski area, respond to incidents and to move and use toboggans safely, both loaded and unloaded.
Each ski area has its own nuisances and challenges. Larger mountains multiply the challenges. And then there are missing persons, search and rescues, lift evacuations, and avalanche rescues.
On top of all of that, physical fitness is a must. Patrolling requires long days and physically demanding work so you need to be in decent shape and always ready, willing and able to respond.
The Ski Patrol is about having fun and being outdoors on a ski hill. It’s also about being a ski bum, first responder and mountain rescue specialist (as well as helping others and making a difference). Start a conversation with a Ski Patroller the next time you are at your favorite resort. For more information on joining the Ski Patrol, visit the National Ski Patrol (United States), or the Canadian Ski Patrol.