A Day on Patrol


A Day as a Volunteer Ski Patroller at Mt Washington Alpine Resort

  A day on ski patrol is generally anything but typical. There are a few elements of a day on duty as a member of the Mount Washington Ski Patrol Association, a volunteer ski patroller (often referred to as a “volly”), that are consistent from one duty day to the next. The day starts out at 8am as the volunteers on duty head out from the chalet to the top of the Eagle lift for the morning meeting with the paid patrol staff. At the morning meeting, the volunteers are briefed on the day’s events and tasks, the weather, and the news from the previous day. Assignments for the day’s “Bump” and “Sweep” are filled and the patrol heads out for the morning sweep of the mountain.  The day ends with a final sweep of the mountain. What happens between that first sweep and the last sweep can range from a calm and uneventful day to a day of constant calls for help.

  Those typical elements of the day include the “Bump” duty and the “Sweep” assignment. This is an assigned block of time in one of the three patrol Bump locations at the top of the mountains – the Eagle Bump, the Sunrise Bump, and the Boomerang Bump. The Bump trailer contains emergency gear and equipment and the assignment is to insure that there is always a patroller available to deliver emergency gear needed at any patrol incidents on the mountain.

The morning sweep assignment is a ride down the runs on the mountain to make sure they are safe and ready for the public. Each patroller does a few of the runs with the entire patrol on duty making sure all of the runs are inspected in the morning. The end of the day sweep starts after the lifts stop running. The patrollers on duty ski or ride down all of the runs to make sure everyone has made it off of Mt. Washington safely.

What happens between those two sweeps depends on several key factors that change from day to day.  The weather, the number of people at the resort, the snow conditions, and the time of day and the day of the week are all critical factors that often determine the tasks and incidents handled by ski patrol. On a clear day, the morning sweep is a run down the slopes to check for grooming conditions. After a night of heavy snow, the morning sweep includes cleaning off boundary and other ropes that mark off areas for skier safety and usually involves digging out and lifting up the boards that hold up the rope. The transport toboggans (T-Bogs in patrol language) outside of the bumps have to be cleaned off and clear of snow and ice so that they are ready to respond to any accidents requiring transportation of an injured skier or snowboarder.

Few words get the adrenaline pumping and focuses the attention of a ski patroller more than Patrol Dispatch making the radio call “Attention all patrol radios, we have a report of a …. “  The call may be a request to help someone with a broken binding or a broken wrist, a lost ski or a lost child. The call goes out and available patrollers report back with their location so that the dispatcher can send out the nearest patroller to deal with the incident and position other patrollers to respond with any equipment or additional help needed at the location of the incident.

Caring for injured skiers and snowboarders is a key responsibility, and the primary motivation, for volunteer patrollers. When an injury, a “1050” in patrol code, is reported to Dispatch in the First Aid Room (FAR), the call goes out “Attention all patrol radios, we have a report of a possible 1050 at …. “  The nearest reporting patroller is sent to investigate the incident. After arriving at the incident, the patroller goes through their First Aid ABC’s and examines the patient and the injury. The patroller then calls dispatch to inform them of the gender and age of the patient, the injury and any additional equipment or resources required at the exact location of the incident. All patrollers on duty pay attention to this report in case additional patrollers are needed at the scene quickly to handle a serious incident.

The most common “1050” call is a snowboarder with wrist injury and the second most common call is a skier with a knee jury. Those two injuries make up about two-thirds of recorded first aid calls for patrol. Although injuries can happen throughout the day, from before the mountain opens to the final ‘all clear’ call at the end of the final sweep, a curious pattern has emerged over the years.  Dispatch tends to be fairly quiet in the morning until about 10:30am. A typical day often has a number of incidents happen between 10:30am and 11:30am and then it tends to quiet down again until about 2pm when the calls to FAR start happening again for another hour.  The most common location for a patroller to respond to an injury is at the lodge, especially during the afternoon. Mountain guests often injure themselves and ski or ride down on their own before calling for help.

When handling a 1050, a patroller goes through a prescribed pattern prescribed by First Aid training.  All patrollers are certified for Occupational First Aid Level 3 (WorkSafeBC certification) or Outdoor Emergency Care (National Ski Patrol certification) or other certifications that are considered equivalents or a higher level of training. On the scene, the patroller will make the primary assessment of the patient, treat the injury as required, and secure the patient for transport to the First Air Room (FAR).  The FAR building is located just below the Hawk Lift. Transporting a patient usually requires a ride in a toboggan with the patient strapped in and wrapped up to protect them during the ride down. With a patroller in the handles guiding the toboggan down the mountain and a patroller behind holding a tail rope to help control the toboggan, the patient is safely transported as quickly and carefully as possible to FAR.

On arrival, the patient is brought into FAR where the patroller re-examines the injury, records the patient’s vital signs, and conducts a thorough secondary assessment.  The patient receives first aid treatment of the injury to help prepare for the next steps. For example, the patroller may splint a broken wrist to stabilize and secure it for the trip to the hospital. Once the injury has been treated, the last step is completing the patient assessment and incident paperwork to record what happened and how it was handled by the patroller. It typically takes about an 1 ½ to 2 hours from the time of the initial call to the time a patient is released from FAR to go home or to the hospital. A volunteer patroller responds to a 1050 about eight to ten times during a typical season. This means that a patroller may handle someone with an injury once every two or three duty days.

Most of the day for the patroller involves quite a bit of interaction with the public on the mountain. Most people are quite happy to chat with a patroller and often have a lot of questions for patrollers on the ride up the lift. Questions such as – “What are the conditions in the Outback?” or “What time is it?” or “What’s the best way for a beginner to get down the mountain?” – are common. Many people are curious about what patrollers do and what is required to be on the ski patrol. We are always happy to answer questions about what it takes to join the patrol and consider the chats on the chair one of the best recruiting times available to us.

A recent study of the motivations of Mt Washington volunteer ski patrol showed that serving the public is the primary motivating force for the patrollers. Successfully assisting an injured person off the mountain and helping them deal with an unexpected problem is a tremendously intrinsically satisfying feeling. The camaraderie of working with fellow patrollers and interacting with the public on the mountain is the reason why our volunteers get up early in the morning looking forward to another day at Mount Washington.