The mountains are calling and must be visited on vacation. While many people are enjoying some time off, sliding down snow whooping and hollering with joy, the ladies and gents who wear red with white crosses are working triple overtime to hold down the fort.
Ski patrollers all over the world are on the hill before sunrise making sure things are marked with signs and controlled with explosives as best as possible. They learn to ski with a human’s worth of dead weight in a sled in order to pluck injured people off the mountain, and spend more time in ski boots in a single weekend than many people do all year. Here are a few things they wish people would understand in order to have a better ski experience.
Respect the Mountain
Despite having chairlift rides and delicious snacks and marked areas for certain activities, ski areas are still mountains. They necessitate ownership of actions and some level of situational awareness greater than what is required to get an autograph from somebody in a mouse costume.
Stopping in blind spots and losing control are two of the biggest reasons for fatalities and injuries at ski areas and are (for the most part) completely avoidable. Taking a rest is fine, but pull over and look uphill to see who might be coming down.
Skiing fast is fine, but take into consideration how changing conditions can affect stopping ability. The freedom of the hills deserves some respect.
Closed Areas Are Closed for a Reason
When an area of an amusement park is roped off, it is likely undergoing renovation or being repaired. On the hill, there can be any reason for an area of the mountain to be roped off.
There might be too little snow and the rocks might bite you from below. Or there might be too much snow and there’s avalanche danger. Or it could also be that that area of the mountain does not have any lifts running. It could mean that patrol has already done their final sweep of that area for the day and might not be by again to check on a tired skier who crashed in flat light. Or it could even be a temporary rope line while a large rescue is being performed. (The list goes on and on.)
Either way, crossing a rope line at a ski area should be treated the same as crossing lines on the road. Also, patrol doesn’t close areas of the mountain so they can enjoy it for themselves. Upper management puts the heat on patrol to open more terrain for paying customers and spread out crowds.
People who lie about ducking ropes or try to play it off as ignorance only end up making things worse for themselves when caught by patrol. If there’s a dropped glove or ski pole from the lift in closed terrain, just ask for help before becoming a hazard to yourself. If it’s a cellphone, know the necessary info off the top of your head to track it and patrol can find it in a matter of minutes in most scenarios.
Ski Slower and More in Control (More Often)
Accidents happen, that’s a fact of life. And skiing fast is fun (which is a cooler fact of life). However, skiing down a mountain is not a roller coaster designed by engineers. It’s an on-the-fly process without seatbelts, and discretion of where to open it up (and when to do so) makes skiing what it is.
Could be useful to take a lesson to tune into those details. Also, trees win 100 percent of the time in an altercation with an out-of-control skier or snowboarder. (Just a head’s up.)
Ski Patrollers Are Not the “Mountain Cops” or “Fun Police”
Patrollers want to do their job. They want to take care of the mountain and help people enjoy their vacation. Ski past them, ride the lift with them, and tell jokes with them. However, telling kids that ski patrol is the mountain police is a terrible idea for two reasons: For one, it is not the truth. On the other hand, it makes both police and ski patrol seem like the enemy. Hard to ask for help from the enemy when it is really needed and they are your only real choice.
Ask a ski patroller if they ever really want to clip a ticket. If the answer is “yes,” it’s probably deserved for blatantly disregarding rules and other people.
Keep Your Skis On, and Be Honest
In terrain steeper than comfortable, or stuck in deep snow, please keep skis attached to feet and ask for help rather than fake an injury just for a toboggan ride down. Metal edges grip the snow better than ski boots and staying in one place off to the side while waiting for help is far better than nervously trying to hike up or down the hill to friendlier terrain.
Taking skis off when stuck in deep snow only reduces the available surface area to stand on, making the problem literally thigh deep. Stay put and get help by asking a passing skier to get patrol for you or call the mountain. A faked injury takes resources and energy away from a real injury, as more specialized equipment has to be brought to the scene of faked injury and subsequent paperwork needs to be filled out detailing why a patient refused medical assistance.
Dogs, Their Handlers, and the Rest of Ski Patrol Are Working
The dogs used at ski areas for avalanche rescue purposes are highly trained animals at work, akin to a police K9 unit. Skiing up to them and offering pocket snacks or trying to play fetch is the fastest way to get dirty looks from their handler and a sharp request to “stay away.”
Petting and selfies are generally fine with an avalanche dog, but ask the handler for permission first and leave skis and poles behind. Carelessness and sharp ski edges has sent more than one rescue dog to the vet. After a selfie session with an adorable and highly trained member of patrol, the worst thing that can be said is "so you just ski around with a cute dog all day for work when you're not sitting around in this hut?"
Ski patrollers are people too, and demeaning their work like that is similar to telling firefighters that it must be nice to sit around all day eating chili waiting for a fire to happen, or telling somebody who works indoors that it must be nice to sit around all day tapping away at a keyboard.
The ski area is probably open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with patrollers being on the hill from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a light day. There are few occupations that require 40-plus hours of time in ski boots per week. A simple “Thank you for all that you do” is the fastest way to get a smile out of one of the guys or girls in red.
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