I started skiing at the age of 6. When I think back to my early days of skiing (rope tows, T-bars and all), I remember seeing those Ski Patrol guys (and girls) and thought, Wouldn’t it be neat to be a Ski Patroller? Even though I’m now a veteran patroller (by age and tenure), I always look forward to my next day/shift with the Canadian Ski Patrol.
I’m at the hill an hour before opening to get the patrol day started. I show up with a large hockey bag (I am Canadian after all) with 2 or 3 of almost anything you can wear (pants, face covers, helmets, fleece, goggles, gloves). A weekend shift is 8 hours and I layer up and change my clothing as needed based on the day. What are the weather conditions? Super cold, windy, foggy, etc. And as the day goes on, the weather will change.
Early Morning Opening Sweep
“Opening Sweep” is the official start of the patrol day and needs to happen before the resort can open. It’s “first run” and “first tracks” on the hill, which is always a thrill. Morning sweep is highly organized and requires all patrollers to methodically ski and check all runs for any hazards. There’s a lot to do including: evaluate trail conditions, remove or note hazards, ensure that safety tape is in place, inspect patrol equipment, ensure lift tower padding is in place, check that lift loading and unloading areas are clear, and look and listen to lifts (by riding them). Will the resort be fully operational? (Are there any runs or lifts that can’t open?) What can be removed quickly? (Like a fallen branch or frozen squirrel).
We are on the clock and have less than an hour to ensure that the hill is safe before we “pull the ribbon” (open the ski area) at opening time.
From open to close, it’s all about the skiing!
Once the slopes are open to the public, we ski with other patrollers and with friends, family and the skiing public. The day is very much about the skiing! We naturally promote safety awareness and injury prevention while we ride the lifts and ski the runs at our area. Patrolling requires that we cover all areas of the resort through the day and deal with any situation that may arise.
Incidents can happen at any time throughout the day. There can actually be days with no incidents (rare, but welcomed) and—the opposite—crazy days. Most incidents happen after lunch through to closing time, when it’s the closest to “going home” and people push themselves to do “one more run.” The less experienced get brave and others naturally get tired, resulting in injuries. When someone is injured, we have the advanced first aid training and patrol specific procedures to deal with any injuries and move the person for further medical attention. During the day, we will also reunite kids with parents, keep beginners away from expert runs, provide run directions, and more.
End of Day Closing Sweep
At closing time, it’s time for the “Closing Sweep.” We take the last run down each trail to make sure that no one is left behind at the end of the day. (Last season, an injured skier was off a run in the woods at night. She was found and moved to safety). During this “sweep” of the hill, we will note any safety issues that may have arisen during the day that will require a fix prior to opening the next day.
That’s pretty much a day in the life of a patroller: first on and last off the hill!