Patrollers brave elements to keep mountain safe
December 15, 2003
INCLINE VILLAGE – It’s Sunday. It’s cold and windy. Lynell Heatly, a Bay Area-based optometrist, could be at home, warm in bed, but instead she’s inches away from sliding off a chairlift 25 feet above a layer of hard-packed snow on a rope 7mm thick.
“It’s great to get out here and get used to our equipment again,” Heatley said. “During the year we may do chairlift evacuations once or twice or not at all, so it’s good to know what to do when we need to do it.”
Heatley, also an Outdoor Emergency Care instructor, is one of 16 Diamond Peak ski patrollers who participated in a chairlift evacuation drill earlier this month. The goal, according to patrol Supervisor Dennis Griffith, is to bring everyone together early in the season to review procedures so when an emergency happens everyone is on the same page and the responses are second nature.
Despite their identical fire-red jackets, the patrol room is as diverse as a rain forest jungle. From life-long ski bums, to trained medical doctors, to high school students, each patroller adds a unique layer to the program.
“We have an exceptional group of people at Diamond Peak,” said three-year volunteer Ray Ingersoll. “They’re always ready to learn and improve their skills.”
Ingersoll migrated to Incline to be closer to his sons after they graduated from college. He began skiing in the Midwest, while teaching physical education in a suburb of Chicago. After retiring and moving to Incline, his wife saw an ad in the newspaper that motivated him to give ski patrolling a try.
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“I called up and talked to Lou Webb and was out training that week,” Ingersoll said. Webb, an instructor trainer with the ski patrol when he’s not piloting Boeing 737 airliners, has a story of his own, originating in Memphis.
“In 1991 I was skiing one day out here and helped out with a very serious accident. Ever since, I’ve been hooked,” Webb said.
Some of Diamond Peak’s patrol team were destined for the career, like Griffith.
“When I was young, I was night skiing at a resort in Southern California and broke my finger and went to see the ski patroller. I don’t know why, but I thought that patroller was great and since then I’ve just thought that skiing is the way of life,” he said. Griffith has been a patroller for more than 24 years.
Other patrollers are born into the profession, such as Alex Heilig, son of patroller and snow science instructor Bob Heilig. Alex Heilig began learning the tricks of the trade from his father, a perpetual outdoorsman, when he was 15.
“When he was 15 he handled his first accident,” Bob Heilig said. He said he is impressed with the level of training patrollers share at Diamond Peak.
“We all come from different backgrounds, but when we’re here we’re on a level playing field. We all provide the same level of care on the mountain,” Heilig said.
Diamond Peak opened on Dec. 18.