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Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 14

Always keep your eyes down the trail, or down the line you intend to ski in the trees. This will allow you to anticipate where your skis need to go in the next few seconds, and it will enable you to avoid running into hard objects. It’s also simultaneously important to look down, sometimes, to see if you’re about to run over a rock, or fall off a cliff. But most of the time you can see those things before you reach them. Hopefully.

Skiing the trees is like doing moguls, but with trees. Yeah, I know that’s a really helpful description. But it’s true. If you’ve never been in the glades, try it out — start easy, and see how it feels. Don’t be afraid to slow down, or stop. I slow down often when in there because I like to see where I’m going. Some people charge through the trees a bit too fast, and inevitably end up with a dent in their helmet. I like my helmet, and I don’t enjoy dents, so I tone it down.

Tree skiing gives you something that can be constantly challenging, on any mountain. You can select the difficultly of the run, unlike other terrain that may, over time, feel a bit stale. So give it a shot, with a helmet on, and you’ll soon be on your way to quicker turns, and quicker thinking.

Some pretty interesting people have come stumbling, sliding, and slipping into the patrol hut over the past few days. Earlier in the week we posted a few signs advertising Okemo’s need for new patrollers next year, which quickly attracted some attention. After all, if you’re having a fantastic day skiing, and you are then greeted by the possibility that you could do it as a job, you might as well check out what it’s all about!

One man came into the hut and immediately asked, “So, what are the requirements for being a patroller here?” I replied with a simple answer, “You have to be awesome.” It doesn’t get more straightforward than that, right? And I do believe all of our patrollers are awesome, so therefore it is true, too. But what does awesome imply, you ask? A few things…

First, you must be able to take your task as a guardian of the injured seriously, and understand that your patients rely on you to get them to safety. It’s a job that is just about as serious as it gets. People’s lives are in your hands, and in your toboggan. It’s ironic, then, how many times I’ve been asked on the lift, “So are you thinking about getting a serious job next?”

But it’s not all about seriousness — in fact that part must ordinarily remain hidden. You must be able to approach each situation in a relaxed manner. If you arrive on scene and go about your assessment in a panic, your patient is going to feel scared. Patrolling requires a high degree of empathy and yet you cannot ever be overwhelmed by that empathy. You can tell which patrollers have a perfect, certain calm about them during their radio calls and it is immediately comforting to their patients. That calm, I must say, is pretty awesome.

You also need to accept cold and wetness. Today, for example, the morning was beautiful. Three inches or so of powder overnight meant perfect turns in the woods, and elsewhere. After noon, however, it turned to a lovely “wintry mix.” My jacket and pants quickly become heavy with a soaking coldness, which slowly but inevitably seeped beneath my Gore-Tex exterior. The other day someone came into the hut, saw a few of us relaxing after trail checks, and said, “So, this is a job, huh?”

Yes, it is. Especially when you’re getting whipped in the face by falling ice, and have no choice but to ski every trail, as normal, and if needed take care of an injured person as gingerly as possible. Because it is a job. An awesome job, requiring resilience, endurance, and a willingness to be tired most of the time. A good tired, though, which is important.

So you want to be a patroller? Good. Just remember to be awesome, and you’ll do just fine. And if that fails, just bring food to the hut. Lots of food — particularly of the sugary or fried variety. Then you’re in — I’ll use my power [which is considerably low] to make sure of that…

Updated Friday, March 11th, 2011

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