Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 14

Monday I’ve been feeling philosophical lately. I don’t really know what that means because it means something different to everyone. But that’s okay. So bear with me as I try to figure out a few things this week. I’ll start with life. I can tell you that the meaning isn’t found in a book. It’s […]

By Josh Allen

Mar 11 2011

Lull of Clouds
Photo Credit : Allen, Josh

I’ve been feeling philosophical lately. I don’t really know what that means because it means something different to everyone. But that’s okay. So bear with me as I try to figure out a few things this week.

I’ll start with life. I can tell you that the meaning isn’t found in a book. It’s not found in a blog, either. Sorry, I know that’s weak. But it’s true. The meaning of life is not in the handles of a toboggan, or the air beneath my dangling skis as I sit on the lift. It’s not something I can reach out my mitten covered hand and grasp. Yet, I know it’s there. When I look out at the endless expanse of cloud-crested mountains from the top of Okemo, I can feel it. It seeps deeper into me than the frozen air on the coldest, windiest days. It’s beneath cognition, and evades perception. But it’s there.

Life’s meaning is buried in the turns carved on a fresh blanket of fallen snow. It’s hidden between the impeccably placed trees of your favorite glades run. It’s there sparkling in the sunlight, piercing through the icy tipped branches of every tree, and there it is again flowing through the melting icicles as the warmth of the sun nudges winter away.

The meaning is there and you can feel it. You feel it more than your sore toes crammed into your ski boots, and more than the unease just before you leap off a cliff that’s a bit out of your comfort zone. You know there’s something pushing you along, driving you to do it. Something other than your friend with the camera yelling at you to “stop being a wimp.”

The meaning of life is vague. But even if you can’t pin it down, you can recognize that it is there. The next time you’re on top of a mountain, just look out for awhile, and you’ll see what I mean. Or discover for yourself, what you mean…

The meaning of life is out of the way. Whew. That’s a relief.

We have the meaning of happiness today. That’s a tough one, for sure. Maybe even more complicated. Rather than investigate meaning, let’s simply go after the core. The core of happiness is like the core of an apple. Especially if it’s an Empire apple — I love those. But where is happiness, besides in an Empire apple? It’s whereever you decide it is. For me, this winter, it’s been on the powdery slopes of Okemo.

Happiness has been on the chairlift, looking over my shoulder [sometimes while carrying a toboggan], and looking in silence at the beauty of the world. Well, the beauty of a tiny sliver of the world, and realizing how much more there is to see…

So happiness. Am I right to say it’s on the slopes? Partially. For me, it seems like it is there, in my turns and my challenges each day…But It’s not really out there. Its core is within every creature capable of feeling. Happiness is within us. As I ride the lift and see beauty, I am happy. This happiness lives within me, and can evolve. And then if I’m stuck inside on a rainy day, I can still have that happiness within me, if I’m determined to keep it alive.

We need to just take more time to look back over our shoulders. Whether you’re on a chairlift or falling asleep with your head on the kitchen table, you can find something worth a moment of awe. If you’re on your table, maybe it’s the month old yogurt turning blue, which is pretty crazy. Unless it’s blueberry — then it’s okay.

But happiness. Yeah, it’s there for all of us, in different places, but most of all it is within our hearts and our capacity to feel and admire our surroundings. We just need to allow it to thrive on the good days, and the not so good days. And I need to work on that. On the next rainy day I want to smile at the sky, and remember it will be sunny soon enough.

Okay, so I’m sort of over the whole philosophy thing, for now. Last night I read about the Singularity, which is the hypothesized point in time, about 30 years from now, where computers will become far more intelligent than humans. So I figure such computers can finish philosophy, instead of me. So I’m going to talk about doing what computers can’t do very well — skiing through the woods.

Skiing through trees [okay, not through but around], is a heck of a lot of fun. It’s kind of scary, too, depending on how far apart the trees are spaced, and what sort of incline the trail possesses. If it’s really steep, rocky, and the trees are so tightly packed that every turn you feel a stab of fear, you’re in the right place. At least, if you love tree skiing as much as me, and many of our other patrollers. You won’t find these trails easily. They’re sneaky, hidden, and dark. They’re dangerous. You don’t want to go on them…unless you do.

Tree skiing is exhilarating. Every tree is an obstacle that you can gracefully avoid, using your skill and anticipation. Or each tree can also smack your goggles, or sting your face, or even worse. The only way to get better at tree skiing is to do it, and to constantly push yourself to take more difficult trails. It’s okay to start with widely spaced trees, and slowly advance to the tighter stuff.

Always keep your eyes down the trail, or down the line you intend to ski in the trees. This will allow you to anticipate where your skis need to go in the next few seconds, and it will enable you to avoid running into hard objects. It’s also simultaneously important to look down, sometimes, to see if you’re about to run over a rock, or fall off a cliff. But most of the time you can see those things before you reach them. Hopefully.

Skiing the trees is like doing moguls, but with trees. Yeah, I know that’s a really helpful description. But it’s true. If you’ve never been in the glades, try it out — start easy, and see how it feels. Don’t be afraid to slow down, or stop. I slow down often when in there because I like to see where I’m going. Some people charge through the trees a bit too fast, and inevitably end up with a dent in their helmet. I like my helmet, and I don’t enjoy dents, so I tone it down.


Tree skiing gives you something that can be constantly challenging, on any mountain. You can select the difficultly of the run, unlike other terrain that may, over time, feel a bit stale. So give it a shot, with a helmet on, and you’ll soon be on your way to quicker turns, and quicker thinking.



Some pretty interesting people have come stumbling, sliding, and slipping into the patrol hut over the past few days. Earlier in the week we posted a few signs advertising Okemo’s need for new patrollers next year, which quickly attracted some attention. After all, if you’re having a fantastic day skiing, and you are then greeted by the possibility that you could do it as a job, you might as well check out what it’s all about!

One man came into the hut and immediately asked, “So, what are the requirements for being a patroller here?” I replied with a simple answer, “You have to be awesome.” It doesn’t get more straightforward than that, right? And I do believe all of our patrollers are awesome, so therefore it is true, too. But what does awesome imply, you ask? A few things…

First, you must be able to take your task as a guardian of the injured seriously, and understand that your patients rely on you to get them to safety. It’s a job that is just about as serious as it gets. People’s lives are in your hands, and in your toboggan. It’s ironic, then, how many times I’ve been asked on the lift, “So are you thinking about getting a serious job next?”

But it’s not all about seriousness — in fact that part must ordinarily remain hidden. You must be able to approach each situation in a relaxed manner. If you arrive on scene and go about your assessment in a panic, your patient is going to feel scared. Patrolling requires a high degree of empathy and yet you cannot ever be overwhelmed by that empathy. You can tell which patrollers have a perfect, certain calm about them during their radio calls and it is immediately comforting to their patients. That calm, I must say, is pretty awesome.

You also need to accept cold and wetness. Today, for example, the morning was beautiful. Three inches or so of powder overnight meant perfect turns in the woods, and elsewhere. After noon, however, it turned to a lovely “wintry mix.” My jacket and pants quickly become heavy with a soaking coldness, which slowly but inevitably seeped beneath my Gore-Tex exterior. The other day someone came into the hut, saw a few of us relaxing after trail checks, and said, “So, this is a job, huh?”

Yes, it is. Especially when you’re getting whipped in the face by falling ice, and have no choice but to ski every trail, as normal, and if needed take care of an injured person as gingerly as possible. Because it is a job. An awesome job, requiring resilience, endurance, and a willingness to be tired most of the time. A good tired, though, which is important.

So you want to be a patroller? Good. Just remember to be awesome, and you’ll do just fine. And if that fails, just bring food to the hut. Lots of food — particularly of the sugary or fried variety. Then you’re in — I’ll use my power [which is considerably low] to make sure of that…