A hybrid of daredeveil and rescue worker
A wacky and boisterous bunch, Heavenly ski patrollers are a hybrid of daredevil and rescue worker.
Patrollers are often seen enforcing slow zones, making sure warning markers are in place and playing public relations representative. But inside ski patrol lodges is a different story.
Patrollers have a tight bond built on years of shared experience. They joke with each other like family and will behave like free-spirited kids one second and like trained professionals the next – most are certified as emergency medical technicians.
Inside the lodge -amongst a mild atmosphere of chaos – a dispatch patroller waits by the phone for emergency calls, which can range from sprained ankles to severe trauma and even death – and so goes the job of ski patrol at any resort.
Ski patrollers are the first on an accident scene, the folks in charge of search and rescue, and for those on “dawn patrol,” responsible for avalanche control, which includes skiing sketchy snow and using explosives. They have omnipotent power to shut down any part of the mountain deemed unsafe and in rare circumstances can make a citizens arrest.
“In this job you can be put into terrain and situations that no sane person would go into,” said Buck Browning, an eight-year-veteran of Heavenly ski patrol.
“The hardest part is just the shear physical labor that goes into doing (this job) well,” he added.
Working 60 plus hours a week, ski patrollers are not in it for money or status, but for adventure, friendship and pride.
“I love to ski,” said Anthony Gasporra, who has patrolled Heavenly for seven seasons, “The camaraderie is really good, and I have a lot of friends who I trust with my life.”
It is also a job that requires a calm head in the face of danger and disaster.
“It can affect you, but you take a step back and take a deep breath,” said Anna More, a third year ski patroller at Heavenly.
After years of experience on the slopes, patrollers have seen accidents they will never forget, which is why counseling and debriefing are provided after critical incidents.
“Everybody has their own breaking point,” Browning said. “I have not crossed mine yet.”
Patrollers have to ski on extreme terrain and in avalanche danger areas. For this skis are preferable because snowboards, which do not release, act like anchors in the heaving wake of snow – no one buried more than 2 meters in an avalanche has ever survived.
Snowboarders on patrol or boarder patrol, as they are called, are definitely in the minority – and for certain situations such as avalanche control must be able to ski.
“You pretty much have to prove your a decent skier before they let you on a board, and then you got to be able to do (the job) on a board,” said Aarron Grove, a boarder patrol at Heavenly for two seasons.
A hardy bunch, working seasonal jobs, many of Heavenly’s ski patrollers spend the warmer half of the year working for the U.S. Forest Service, others take jobs such as stone masons, wood carvers, landscapers and river rafting guides.
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