Diary of a Ski Patrolman Week 5
This week I’m going to write about something a bit different. I enjoy writing about my days and what occurs on them, but while riding the lift this morning, I had a sudden realization that a ski mountain is full of perceptions hidden just beneath the surface. Well, hidden beneath that surface, and beneath the rocks that are thankfully still not poking through after a bit of warm weather. As I rode the lift, I heard so many things and consciously registered just a few. But even those few were enough to make me feel surrounded by something beautiful. Humming from the chairlift as it drifted up the slope mixed with the relentless rushing sound of snowmaking, combined with the crisp sound of sharp edges carving into snow, created a startling wintry symphony. And then another ride, it was silent. Silence deep, pervasive, penetrating. It was as if I was the only person on the mountain, if only for a few seconds, and it gave me a sense of calm, and appreciation for where I was. There is so much going on around me at the mountain. I know, there’s always a lot going on around us that we don’t really record. But maybe we should try harder, sometimes, to listen. If making snow and a mechanical lift can create a relaxing melody, what other sneaky opportunities for aural delight are out there? And better yet, sometimes we’ll find silence, and comfort, before returning to our busy days.
So I’ve talked a bit about what the mountain sounds like. And now I’ll talk a bit about what it feels like. Muscles straining to control my toboggan, the burn crippling in my quads as I sideslip down a steep incline with a tearful patient in my sled, intense responsibility for an injured guest melting my nerves, and my training reinforcing them immediately into solid steel. Dramatic, sure, but pretty darn close to what’s going through my body and mind during a transport. Well, throw in a bucket or two of sweat, followed by a nice lift ride of that sweat evaporating, causing seriously chilly fingers and toes, and you’re almost there. Okay, maybe I’ve only covered the intense part…but there’s also those moments of colossal calmness, too. Riding a lift at the beginning of the day, a calmness permeates my mind, brought on by the anticipation that everyone will be just fine today. Of course, that might not happen, but there is that glimmer, that spark each day, and whether it ignites or not, I always have that moment the next day, too. Boredom. That’s rare, but it happens. It happens if I let myself get too warm, too satiated, and that’s when my fellow patrollers step in, and throw me back out into the cold. And I say thank ya, and wake up as soon as my feet sink into my bindings, and prepare to hold me in by just my heels and toes as I fly [safely, of course] down the mountain, on the lookout for any guests needing my attention, or perhaps the occasional orange disco turned the wrong way.
The South Face of Okemo is the quietest, least busy spot on the mountain. It also gets the most sun, so the snow stays soft even into the afternoon. What I mean to say is steer clear of the South Face. Yep, you certainly don’t want to ski over there. You’ll probably end up stopping because the view is so awesome on Rimrock, in fact, that it’s hard to keep skiing past it…So now that I’ve successfully deterred you from skiing in my favorite area [and hence, keeping the snow over there even better] I can recap a bit of my day. As I opened up the South Face lift this morning, I was struck by just how the snow shimmered and sparkled brilliantly in the morning sun as it glared down, coating the mountain in its golden glow. The snow almost seemed unreal as I glided across it, it was as much a mirage as something solid, an almost fiery glow overpowering my eyes coming from the millions of shining crystals. In the afternoon I knew it wouldn’t be quiet the same, but for now it was perfect beauty. From the lift it was difficult to see, but as a skier, it was impossible to miss. Skiing on a shifting blanket of tiny stars is quite amazing, and if you want to try it sometime, well, you know just where to go.
My perceptions of the mountain, and on the mountain have changed. As I’ve gotten to know the inner workings of Okemo, I’ve come to understand how it operates with more clarity, and in turn come to recognize just how many people are involved in each step of that daily operation. But more startling for me is how my vision has become finely tuned for certain stimuli, for things that in the past likely went undetected. As I ride the lifts, or ski down a trail now, I constantly look from side to side, examining my fellow skiers, the constantly changing terrain, the location of objects that patrol is responsible for, and of course as I pass the waffle cabin I am searching desperately for an abandoned waffle. Well, that last part is true, but I’m not proud of it. Nor would I actually take a waffle, even if it was left on the table…probably. Anyway, one of the biggest shifts has been in how I react towards seeing unsafe skiers. I distinctly recall watching someone fall and “yard sale” at a mountain several years ago, before I was a patroller, and joining the other people on the lift in clapping. Of course, the person was fine, and looked up and cheered, and skied away. Now, however, if I see anyone out of control, or actually fall, my heart instantly accelerates, my hand begins to move towards my radio to call in a “possible incident on trail X,” and I forget all about being cold, or being hungry, or perhaps needing to pee. The downside is that I’m not sure, even if I am skiing at another mountain, not working whatsoever, if I’ll ever be able to see someone yard sale and simply clap. No, I’ll probably either go over there and help, or try to make a call on my non-existent radio. “Patrol 9 to Hut,” “Patrol 9 to Hut!” Gah, why aren’t they answering!? Oh right …I think that change might be permanent. But that’s okay. Clapping is good for people that achieve sometimes, but probably not the nicest thing to do for someone that just lost their poles, skis, gloves, and helmet on a cold, icy slope.