All photos/art by Josh Allen
My car choked starting this morning. It sounded like a struggling antelope in the death grip of a fierce lion, or perhaps it was just cursing at me for turning the key. But I didn’t blame it, not one bit. After all, it was -24 degrees last night. Incredibly cold to be a ski patroller. But here I am writing this, so that means I didn’t turn into a giant icicle. That’d make writing pretty tricky. So I consider today a successful day of survival. Well, I suppose it wasn’t that rough. I mean, by Noon it was a balmy negative seven at the summit. If anything, it will just make all other days feel warm. Tomorrow, when it’s supposed to be in the 20s, I’ll throw on my jacket and two layers instead of six, and be pretty happy that I can move around and look less like a manatee on skis. Now, if I was really a manatee, I’d probably be pretty comfortable in today’s temperatures. But since you’re not a manatee, either [well, if you are, that’s bizarre, but let me know], I offer a few tips in case you find yourself in such frigid weather, on a ski mountain, wanting to venture out and increase the wind chill by zooming down the beautiful, empty slopes.
- Before exiting the lodge, attach two toe warmers to each foot. Expect these warmers to work for approximately ten minutes before failing, even though they claim to work for five hours. [Maybe they work for five hours on an 80 degree day, though].
- Find some hand warmers, and toss them into your mittens. Prepare to curl your hands into a tiny ball and possibly want to stuff them into your mouth because they will be cold no matter what.
- Obtain and equip a toasty neck warmer, and perhaps a face mask, if you value your nose, mouth, or cheeks. If you do not value these things, or find them bothersome, feel free to leave them exposed. After all, you won’t have them much longer
- Finally, make sure you are wearing something similar to the following [I’ll list what I had on, as an example]: Baselayers — Hot Chillis longsleeve, Techwick longsleeve; Insulative layers — EMS techwick longsleeve [thicker], Northface Fleece, EMS fleece; Softshell — Northface puffy jacket type thing; Hardshell — Patagonia Patrol jacket; Vest — Patrol vest.
Yeah, let’s count… that’s seven layers. Oh, and that’s just the top. I also had a baselayer, fleece pants, and my super toasty snowpants on. I told you I felt like, and probably looked like a very large, frozen marine mammal.
Those are just a few tips. I’m sure you’ll find more around… but the best and most important one is this — become friends with the patrol at your mountain, and hide in their warm hut after every run, sipping hot chocolate, coffee, and placing your face just over their heater. That’s the only sure way to stay warm on a day like today. And, if you do manage to stay warm, you’ll enjoy the best snow, and have the whole place to yourself.
We’ve all been injured before. It’s not fun. The idea might sound appealing sometimes, such as when you’re really tired and ready to hibernate. Maybe you get home after a long day, and think, “Hmm, if I was sick, or just had a minor injury, but still got paid and got to sit home and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy over and over, life would be cool.” But then it happens, and you sit around, and pine incessantly about working again. Working gives us motivation and energy, and doing what we love while working is even better. Thankfully, I’m not injured. But I think it’s important to talk about, because we’ve had a few patrollers injure themselves during the season already. Fortunately, these patrollers have awesome healing abilities and are just about back to 100% after a short recovery time. But I saw them struggling with their knee injuries [silly knees], and I wanted them to get better. I wanted my teammates back so I could ski with them, and mostly so they would feel empowered again. Take a patroller off skis, and he or she probably feels like a Spartan without his shield . Put us on our skis again, and we feel like a Spartan with the shiniest, hardiest shield ever — pretty epic.
As a patroller, my first and foremost duty is to assist injured guests. Another duty that we have, however, is not quite as fun-being the “bad guy,” or the “cop” on the mountain. That’s not to say cops are bad… no, certainly not. But when you’re out on the mountain skiing and having a blast, the last thing you want is to be yelled at for exploring a closed trail, or tucking down a trail with lots of small children on it. I understand the desire to do those things. It’s fun to go really fast. And it’s pretty easy to see closed ropes as suggestions, rather than as rules. People don’t like rules when they are skiing because it’s relaxing, exhilarating, and fun. Rules, most of the time, aren’t the reason we wake up excited in the morning. And we have enough of them in our day-to-day lives that we don’t want to be restrained in our free time, too. So let me admit, I don’t like enforcing certain rules on the mountain. But I do it anyway. Why? Because if I don’t, people are put at a higher risk for injury. I’d rather endure a few [okay, many] rude gestures than allow people to injure themselves when it can be easily avoided.
If I see guests without their safety bar down, for example, I don’t hesitate to gently yell ahead of me and ask them to please lower it. I know gentle yelling sounds impossible, but I try really hard to ensure I don’t sound angry. I’m not angry; I just want my fellow mountain-goers to be safe. Sure, I could look the other way and admire the view the whole ride up, and they’d probably be just fine. But I don’t feel right watching someone ride the lift without the bar down. I know something unpleasant would occur if they fell, and the bar is a great way to avoid a few seconds of air time that doesn’t end happily for anyone… except maybe the person filming the fall and getting hits on youtube. I’ll do my best to limit those videos though. I don’t like shouting ahead of me one bit, but if it must be done, I’ll do it.
Continuing on the theme of the few things I don’t enjoy, I must admit that watching guests ski under a rope I just pulled to close a trail is a bit disheartening. I mean, really, I swear they were watching me close the trail. And then while I am still within view, they lift the rope up, and ski under it, usually towards me. Am I supposed to smile and wave, and say, “Next time, please take the rope down, too!” That would probably throw them off guard. They might even hike up and do it for me. Although that might be amusing, I don’t do that.
I usually ask if they noticed the rope. I’ve heard some amazing responses to that question: “We came through the woods, and also the trail was open before!” Except there were no paths through woods. And the trail was open before… but then it was closed. Oops, gotcha! I’ve also heard the classic, “That rope didn’t have a closed sign on it!” Hmm… let’s go take a look! Yep, there’s the closed sign. Interesting. Perhaps it phased out of existence for just a moment, though.
I wish I could let people ski every trail on the mountain, all the time. That’d make me happy for them, and it’d make my end of the day more relaxing. But my job is to make sure each trail is clear of guests when the mountain closes for the night. So if someone ducks a rope after I’ve closed the trail, they put themselves at risk for being left behind. Thankfully we are very diligent when it comes to checking for this sort of thing. I constantly look uphill as I ski downhill [don’t worry, sometimes I look where I’m going, too], and make sure no one is following me like a disobedient puppy. If I do find a puppy behind me, I don’t treat them badly, because I love puppies. I mean, if I find a guest behind me, skiing on my freshly closed trail, I give them some options. 1) Hike out of the trail. 2) Ski in front of me, and don’t duck a rope again. 3) [This really only happens if they decide to make things complicated… ] Lose their pass for the day, and if it’s the end of the day and they have a season pass, well, they won’t be back for a little while. I’m pretty lenient about the whole thing, and I let people ski in front of me if they’re understanding. If they make a certain gesture involving their hands at me, and perhaps say some words that would send puppies running in tears, I might radio down to the lift where they’re headed, and ask the operators to keep the guest there to be educated. But I’m a patroller, and I want to take care of people. I just do what’s necessary. So, be good and don’t ski under the ropes.