Women Only: Volunteer Patrollers Refine Their Techniques
Men on the lift were jealous and curious.
Why was some chump, who didn’t even look injured, getting carted down Heavenly Ski Resort’s East Bowl by a group of female ski patrollers? One boarder on the lift said in a sarcastic tone, “Don’t worry, you’ll make it.”
The answer is simple. Being a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, I was able to infiltrate a women-only patroller training clinic. And, so I could get the full story, they picked my 200-pound-plus body to pack into one of their sleds.
The bright blue sky and about 10 inches of fresh powder enhanced my slide over an endless series of buried moguls. A pleasure for me, but all exertion and finesse for the volunteer patrollers.
Trudy Nye, senior National Ski Patrol instructor, has organized the clinic the last four years. She’s a patrol proficiency instructor, or someone certified to teach others.
“For many women, I’d say sled handling is the hardest part of training,” Nye, whose been a volunteer patroller since 1978, said.
“I’ve heard complaints that training is very male-dominated and that some of the women have been intimidated by the training. And women do need some specific help. We are shorter and have a lower center of gravity. I realized I had to do something about it. And since I’m a proficiency instructor I can get it going.”
The clinic, which is free and usually held each year at the end of February, is open to all women active in ski patrol. This year, eight women attended, three volunteer patrollers from Sierra-at-Tahoe and five from Heavenly.
The group spent the morning running sleds down the face’s steep terrain. In the afternoon, an expert instructor from Perfect Turn schooled the women in advanced ski techniques.
Marilyn DeCillis, a Sierra-at-Tahoe patroller, had a smile from ear to ear as she worked with the other women.
“It has truly improved my (performance),” she said. “They explain it in a way I can understand. Not that men don’t. But a woman can’t muscle. Our strength is more in our legs.”
Kimberly Ranalla, a patroller at Heavenly for 15 years, said she hopes the clinic will eventually interest more women in the job. “See some people don’t think they can handle it,” she said. “We have different techniques than guys, instead of learning from guys they learn from the girls.”
At Heavenly these days, the number of female volunteer ski patrollers is down. Nye said it’s about 90 percent men and 10 percent women, which translates to about 15 to 20 women. Also small is the number of female professional patrollers, meaning those women who are paid to patrol the mountain. That breaks down to about 95 percent male and 5 percent female.
Breakout: Interested in becoming a volunteer patroller for National Ski Patrol? Attend a tryout March 11 at Heavenly or one scheduled the second weekend of March at Sierra-at-Tahoe. The tryout is used to assess the abilities of each person interested in ski patrol. For information about the National Ski Patrol at Heavenly, contact Kimberly Ranalla at (775) 901-1129. For information about National Ski Patrol at Sierra-at-Tahoe, call 530-659-7453, ext. 200.
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.