If you are a resort skier or snowboarder, you might not realize exactly what Ski Patrol does to make the ski resort as safe a place as possible. There are a lot of behind the scenes efforts that take place prior to a resort opening up for the season, as well as maintaining it throughout the season. Ski patrol plays a big role in this effort.
Early season before the resort opens, Ski Patrol has a lot of work to do. They ski around dragging unruly tower pads to each lift tower. These are often four or five feet across and six feet high. They must be strapped onto each tower of each lift to protect the public in case someone crashes into it. Then they ski to the boundary areas, with a huge spool of rope. One person will ski the end of the rope down the slope until they run the length of the area. Another group of patrollers will ski down carrying a large stack of bamboo to place at intervals along the rope line. Then another person will come down and tie a clove hitch with the rope onto each bamboo pole. They must do this for the entire boundary line of the resort. They must also carry stacks of wood signs and place them in front of areas that are closed for lack of snow or for cliff areas. These signs can be quite heavy.
Imagine skiing around without poles all day, carrying heavy objects! It is not suprising then that injuries can and do occur to patrollers. Broken bones, torn knee ligaments and other injuries can be common occurrences.
Once the resort is open for the season, the most dangerous part of the Ski Patrollers job comes in the form of snow control, also known as avalanche hazard reduction. This takes place when there is a lot of snow and wind, making conditions dangerous. The patrollers will get up really early and each has specific jobs to do. Several will make the hand charges, or explosives, for the entire patrol. Most will have specific routes to throw hand charges along and ski cut. Some may shoot artillery type guns to reach far areas. All of these jobs are very dangerous. Those throwing hand charges can easily be caught in an avalanche, some of which have not survived.
The part of the job most people are familiar with is that the Ski Patrollers are also there to help any injured guests. They will provide medical care and transport folks down the mountain in toboggans. Not an easy feat in challenging terrain.
With all the duties that Ski Patrol is charged with, it makes sense to respect their position on the mountain. If an area is closed, respect that it is closed for a reason. It could be that the snow coverage is low and rocks are everywhere, it could be cliff hazard, or it could be an area that is difficult to control for avalanches.
The next time you are at a resort, think twice about the folks wearing the Ski Patrol cross. Better yet, thank them for all their efforts to make the mountain safer for everyone.