Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 12

Monday It’s holiday vacation week. Vacation week means a flood of action for us patrollers. There was rarely a dull moment today, and the voices on the radio were continuous, sometimes unsettled, and symbolic of a different atmosphere for the mountain. Mid-week […]

By Josh Allen

Feb 25 2011

Early Morning Hut
Photo Credit : Allen, Josh

It’s holiday vacation week. Vacation week means a flood of action for us patrollers. There was rarely a dull moment today, and the voices on the radio were continuous, sometimes unsettled, and symbolic of a different atmosphere for the mountain. Mid-week days bring fewer people, and thus fewer chances for incidents. There are accidents, always, and we are there to respond. But the weekends and holidays are when the real test of patrol arrives. Multiply the population on the slopes by a factor of eight or ten, and naturally more incidents occur. A week like this is when I gain more experience, more rapidly than any other time. But it takes some adjusting, for sure. Last Monday I probably had time to eat a fairly leisurely lunch. This week I anticipate scarfing down lunch on a chairlift, at least once or twice. Let’s just hope that it’s not too windy while doing so… But this is what keeps the job fun. Unpredictability. Every day, particularly vacation days, bring new adventures, and challenges to our tables…and toboggans. I’ll just have to wait and see what the next few days unveil…I bet I won’t have to wait long…

Today the wind was harsh. Unrelenting. And beautiful.

Why beautiful you ask? Because it’s days like today, days with howling, fierce winds, that reveal just how resilient human beings are in pursuit of what matters. Skiing matters. Skiing with your family matters. And I saw plenty of families today skiing together, braving the harsh winds up the Jackson Gore Express lift, and smiling as they departed down the slopes side by side. Well, maybe I imagined their smiles, since the vast majority of people were intelligently covered up completely. I think if you didn’t start the day with a facemask, you certainly ended with one…I hope, for your sake, anyway.

As a patroller, one of my favorite observations is to see kids with their parents enjoying the outdoors. There are many things to do in our modern world that might not give kids a great outlook on life and the outdoors. But skiing, I believe, is a fantastic way for a family to bond and overcome adverse conditions as a unit. Especially when it might take a group effort to skate across windswept flats and return to the calmer regions below. Skiing offers something that some other activities do not — bonding time on the chairlift. After each run, you get to discuss it with your friends, or family, and plan your next move. This doesn’t happen in other sports very often. Skiing offers a way to test yourself, your family, and it allows this group, in particular, to gain something great. An appreciation for the power and wonder of nature, of winter and most of all, for what we as human beings are capable of braving together.

The snow has been hard and fast lately, but there’s more powder in the forecast for Friday. I, for one, am pretty darn excited by that prospect. Powder might mean a bit less speed, but it means more satisfying skiing. It means more terrain, more fluffy turns, and perhaps a more intense burning in one’s quads, but that’s always a good thing, right? I used to be a lover of speed. I was a ski racer for several years, and was trained to go as fast as possible over the hardest snow possible. But these days, as I observe the young speedsters flying by on their specialized skis, I worry. I worry that they’re missing out on an essential part of skiing. The slower part. Making turns can be a meditative experience, a catharsis, a release from one’s worries and stress. Racing is inherently competitive. Nothing is wrong with competition, and it is certainly healthy for kids and adults to compete — but when it becomes solely about speed and nothing else, something is lost.

Powder gives us a chance to slow down. It gives us a chance to fall and lose our skis, too…but after some digging we usually find them again. Even if every powder day meant losing my skis, I’d gladly take it over days of relentless speed.

As a patroller, I see what speed does to the body when things don’t go quite as planned. It’s a bit worse than losing one’s ski for a few minutes, that’s for sure. If we all slow down a bit, with the help of powder perhaps, we’ll not only preserve our health, but we’ll discover things that we otherwise miss out on. We’ll see the beautiful view that much longer, and feel the terrain more acutely. Speed may heighten one’s senses, but heightened senses focus so intensely on single details that you miss out on the larger environment. So next time you’re out there on the slopes, whether the snow calls for speed, or suggests temperance, make just a few slower turns. Extend your time down to the lift, and experience skiing not as a competition, but as a release from necessity and must-doing. Just be, as you ski…And perhaps you’ll gain something unexpected back.

This week has been busy — really busy — for us on patrol. Unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of head-related injuries, due to the hardness of the snow, but that should all change with the foot of snow we’re getting tomorrow [I say that with certainty to make sure it happens]. Which brings me to the topic of ski helmets, and why they’re so great.

Ski helmets protect your head. Period. Now, you may think, “I’m way too awesome of a skier or rider to need a silly helmet!” And I’d say true…until you need it. People don’t go out of their way to fall on their heads. But it happens. It happens fast, and when it does, you’ll be thanking yourself for keeping your ears warm and your brain protected. Everyone’s head is worth protecting. Even if it’s the head of the fellow that asked me for the best route to trails located at a different mountain [true story]. Even if it’s the parent that is more interested in their son’s progress in the day’s lesson than the fact that he is injured. Ski helmets protect. So I tell everyone that I can: “Wear a helmet.”

You might never need it, but you’ll still look like a modern day armored knight, with a few less spikes and more comfortable padding. And who doesn’t want that? But the day you do need it, the day that your amazing skiing ability fails you just for a moment, you’ll have a helmet, and it will make all the difference between a potentially serious injury or just a bit of rest. I recommend taking the shorter recovery, and the warmer route of a helmet. And if you have a helmet and ask me a terribly silly question on the slopes, I won’t ask you to remove it…I’ll just nod and wave, and be glad for one thing, at least.

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