The Pursuit – EP131 “Come Sail Away” w/ Micayla Gatto Adam X Sauerwein
Written by: Emma Renly
Soft snow and blue skies marked the end of my first season as a ski patroller. It was full of trials, tribulations, and non-stop learning. Around the crew, I thought out loud, “I wish I went into this season knowing everything I do now.”
In return, I recall getting a chuckle with the reply, “That’s what your second year is for!”
And dang, that was right. I’ll be honest – never in a million years did I think I would be qualified enough to give advice about being a ski patroller. My rookie year was full of mistakes, but that following year many of those experiences turned into learning lessons. Since then, I’ve scoured the internet for articles regarding what it means to work on a ski patrol. There’s information on the certifications and hard skills needed, but nothing really hit the nail on the head for the advice I wish I had. So here we are Five things I wish I knew as a rookie ski patroller.
I’ll begin with the cardinal rule to being a rookie: Be. The. First. Out. The. Door. To me, this means being ready to leave at a moment’s notice from dispatch. Helmet on, backpack nearby, and gloves within arm’s reach. This sort of puppy-dog eagerness can lead to more learning opportunities on patrol whether it’s learning to dig a full pit profile or being shown secret spots on the mountain.
For a rookie, any task is an important task – whether it’s de-rhyming the rope line along the boundary or responding to a possible wreck on the mountain. The last thing anyone wants to see is a senior patroller taking down a courtesy ride over a younger one.
Someone once told me, “It takes a village to raise a rookie.” I agree, and I kind of love this sentiment.
There are quite a few specialized skills that patrollers learn, from the basics of running a sled to the complexities of snow science. It takes a lot of energy and time to train someone enough to be proficient in any of the tasks. Training a rookie is an investment and everyone’s interested if the investment is worth the cost. Is this just a three-year stint or will you be coming back for the next twenty?
Not to mention, training never ends beyond that rookie year. Get ready to be under a bit of a microscope those first couple of years, the next couple of years after that, and then some.
There is a wealth of knowledge to learn from. There are a diverse set of personalities in the mix. Sometimes, and honestly most of the time, it’s best to sit back, observe, and listen.
One of the cooler aspects of working on patrol is mitigating avalanche hazards. It means early morning sunrises on the mountain, handling explosives, and ski cutting in steep terrain. First turns on the untouched snow are the cherry on top. It’s a huge privilege to go on the route and represents the team’s trust in your abilities.
To me, earning that trust always felt like a wax-on-wax-off Karate Kid situation that goes far beyond a beacon test. Running difficult wrecks along the mountain shows an ability to stay calm in the chaos. Shoveling snow outside of Patrol Headquarters after every storm has a similar disposition to digging out a route partner in case they get caught. Doing these small menial tasks, whether you think there’s someone watching or not, is pertinent to gaining the trust of the patrol.
5 – Go skiing!
The best part of the job is the wild amount of time that’s spent on skis. Asking fellow patrollers to take some laps is so important to learning the mountain terrain and the history that comes with it. It also allows a stress-free environment to get to know your fellow patrollers on the chairlift ride back up.
While it’s a common myth that patrollers only ski the best of the best snow, I can absolutely guarantee I’ve more often skied the worst of the worst. It all goes hand in hand. Much like I’m grateful for those incredible snow days, I’m grateful for the bad – being on patrol always means taking the highs with the lows.
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