Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 11
The snowballs were quite epic today. You see, it was just warm enough to create perfect snowball conditions, and yet maintain a nice soft snow surface to ski upon whilst having a downhill snowball fight. Hypothetically, that is. I would not be playing with snowballs while performing my duties as a patroller. Well, at least until the last ride up the Northstar to the summit, after finishing up early closings at Solitude. I heard a little chatter on the radio before getting on the lift, and knew I was in for some end of the day excitement: An unknown, wary voice said, “Maybe you guys should hide,” followed by another, sinister voice that replied with, “Nah, there’s only one way up, I think we’ll be fine.” Uh oh, this might get messy. Then another hint: a lift operator riding down yelled over to Beno [another patroller] and I on the chair, “Hope you guys are ready — they have a lot waiting for you.” Oh dear. Fortunately Beno and I had acquired a few snowballs at the bottom of the lift, and were ready for action. Or so I thought. As we ascended over the last ridge, the offloading ramp came into view, or at least ordinarily it would. Instead, all I saw was an expanse of red figures with white, round objects in hand.
There was no escape. One moment the warm air was calm, clear, silent — the next, it was whistling with white snowballs flying from every direction with a common goal in mind — me. Squeezing my eyes shut, I accepted the imminent impacts and then discovered a better plan. I jumped off the chair. Don’t worry, at that point I was only a foot off the ground. Circling back around, re-engaging my elite snowball fight training from middle school, I fired a few of my own, and emerged victorious, if not a bit snowier than before. So, you see, warmer days have their good parts, even if they require more skating than usual. Just be careful not to catch that last chair…Or at least be prepared for battle.
I’m not sure if I skied too much today. But I certainly drifted quite a bit. Since I’m not a car, my drifting experience wasn’t harmful to my tires or axles. But I now know how it feels to drift down the entire length of Rimrock — a task that no car could ever hope to accomplish, even with a serious set of tire chains. It’s a rush, to say the least…because instead of my skis going where I intended, they were open only to vague suggestions. There just so happens to be quite a few trees on Okemo, including a handful situated safely off the entrance of Catnap. But when the snow has transformed into something incredibly slick and unmentionable, even if only for a short time, those trees become much more ominous. My edges were sharp, but unfortunately rather impotent in their role as a turning mechanism. My skis were unresponsive if I attempted to force them to turn, but I was able to guide myself safely down the trail by sliding from one side to the other, with a few periods of straight-lining. Drifting, it turns out, is incredibly fun. Not that I recommended doing it…in a car or otherwise…I think my edges suffered a bit in the end, but it was certainly worth taking advantage of the conditions today to learn a new method of frozen transport.
The hardest part of patrolling, in my opinion, is treating patients in a lot of pain. So when we have a day in which no transports are needed, it is a great relief…even if I know the next day will bring something different and unpredictable. Pain has never been something that I particularly fear in myself, but I can easily admit now that it is something I fear in others. When I feel pain, I know what it is, the nature of it, and the intensity. When I am the observer and the potential reliever of the pain, it is a much more treacherous creature. Many of my patients are already in visible amounts of pain when I arrive, and as I work to help them I am excruciatingly careful to alleviate it, rather than aggravate it. Unfortunately sometimes some pain is necessary to move the patient into the toboggan, or unavoidable on the ride down, even if I ski as slow as a snowy snail. Transporting itself contains a bit of a conundrum — whether to transport the patient quickly down to the warm first aid room, or to go as slow as possible to attempt to completely avoid bumping the patient. Usually the best decision is a mix of the two — go a bit faster when it is smooth and flat, and slow down significantly on steeps or when the snow may be uneven. My job and my desire is to help my patient overcome their injury and their pain, whatever the cause. My means may be limited on the hill to do that, but we have many forms of splinting and support that certainly help a great deal. Even so, it is difficult, very, very difficult, to watch someone — especially a child — go through, what to me, is an unknown degree of pain. Even though I do not know my patients outside of our brief encounters, my empathy can quickly threaten my focus. So it is a constant struggle to both acknowledge and simultaneously block out my patient’s pain while helping him or her into the necessary position for recovery and transport to safety. It is challenging to do this, but rewarding. For even though I find people in pain, which is difficult to deal with, I bring them out of that pain, or at the very least, into a circumstance with less pain. And that I can deal with just fine.
Lift rides are a part of life as a patroller. So much so that I dreamed about riding one of the base quads last night, and I’m not entirely sure why. But it was a bit different…for instance, the top ramp was actually a parking garage exit, or something. I think I need to read more before sleeping, so that such things are entirely out of my mind…But yes, lift rides are imbued within my consciousness, and are a significant part of my day. So I figured I’d comment a bit on which ones I enjoy, and why, because sometimes these little escapes are seen as regrettable. So without delay here are a few of the top lift rides at Okemo, and why…
- Morning Star — When you’re feeling tired, or just in the need for the most peaceful ride you’ll ever have, ski all the way down to the Morning Star lift below Solitude’s Epic [literally] lodge. Observe the amazingly beautiful properties as you drift turtle-like back up to the Solitude Express. But chances are you’ll enjoy that serene flight so much, you’ll just have to do it one more time
- South Face Express — Head over to the South Face lift either in the morning, or afternoon for some spectacular over your shoulder views. In addition to being one of the least busy lifts [or so rumor has it], you can listen for the eerie, yet fascinating whistle of the chairs passing you on your left as you ascend the mountain. I hear this noise only on the South Face lift…perhaps it is haunted? Oh, and keep your eyes open as you pass over Upper Wild Thing — there’s a gorgeous, gigantic owl that dwells in the area.
- The Pull — The only T-bar at the mountain is a blast to ride. I mean, how often in these modern days of high speed lifts and super duper carpets do you get to experience the classic T-bar!? Not often. So don’t pass it up next time you get the chance. Just grab hold of that rustic wooden apparatus and remember — don’t put it between your legs, unless you want to be rather uncomfortable. Also, don’t fall going up…that just looks silly.
- And finally, no day is complete without…a ride up the F-10 Carpet. No really. It’s basically the coolest lift in the history of lifts. Wait…it’s not a lift. It’s a carpet. You stand on it and it moves so you don’t have to. In fact, you can even remove your skis and walk onto it, if you feel so inclined. But remember to reattach your skis before you ski down, otherwise it’s just awkward. I think the F-10 Carpet should be cloned and placed everywhere on the mountain. Just to eliminate hiking, anywhere, anytime. That’d be the best.…thing…ever.