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Ski patrol brushes up on rescues at Heavenly

Mary Thompson

It was a weekend of “what-ifs” at Heavenly Ski Resort. For example, what if a ski lift breaks down on a Saturday when the line is full of powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders?

The scenario is highly unlikely but still possible, said Jimmy Lawrence, Heavenly’s director of risk management.

“A mechanical failure on a ski lift usually isn’t a major catastrophe, it could be just a minor thing that keeps the lift from moving,” Lawrence said. “With the way technology is now, it’s becoming uncommon these days to see lift evacuation but it’s good to prepare and practice for what you don’t do very often.”



Practice it was, for the some 100 National Ski Patrol members who volunteer their skills at Heavenly Ski Resort in exchange for a few mountain perks – such as free lift tickets.

The patrollers, who come from as far away as Connecticut and as close as South Lake Tahoe to keep the slopes of Heavenly safe, practiced lift evacuation and other mock emergencies during their annual refresher course held Saturday and Sunday at the Stagecoach Lodge.



“They worked on adapting first aid skills to the ski area environment,” Lawrence said. “It’s one thing to treat someone with injuries in town and it’s another to package them up and take them from 10,000 feet to 6,000 feet.”

In addition to treating fake lacerations and broken bones, patrollers also tended to the bizarre and uncommon situations.

“We practiced a mass casualty accident with a simulated barbecue explosion on the Sky Deck,” said John Shield, assistant director of Heavenly’s National Ski Patrol. “We had one guy pretend he had a fork impaled in his chest and another had ketchup all over him and it looked like blood but he wasn’t supposed to be hurt in the scenario and the patrollers had to figure that out.”

Care Flight, an emergency response helicopter operating out of Gardnerville, also paid a visit Sunday to address helicopter safety and landing zones.

Lawrence said Heavenly uses Care Flight’s services to transport patients to Washoe Medical Center in Reno any time there is significant head trauma or an unconscious patient.

“We call them maybe a dozen to 15 times a year,” he said. “My feeling is that we may be using them more often because they’re so close and their response time has dropped from about 25 minutes to about five. It’s a great emergency tool.”

Shield said Heavenly will be recruiting candidates for the National Ski Patrol in a ski evaluation test on Dec. 4. He said anyone who is interested in becoming a volunteer ski patroller should show up at the base of Heavenly’s tram at 7:15 a.m. on Dec. 4, ready to ski.

According to Shield, potential patrollers should have completed or should be currently enrolled in an outdoor emergency care class or be a certified Emergency Medical Technician. They also should be able to commit to working a minimum of 10 days on the hill during the season.

“They also have to be able to ski comfortably in all terrain and conditions,” he said. “They don’t have to look pretty but they have to be stable.”

In return for their time spent on the mountain, Shield said Heavenly’s volunteer patrollers earn ski-pass privileges for their families.

“We get all the same benefits that an employee would,” he said.


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