Diary of a Ski Patrolman: Week 9

Monday It’s a good thing that I was dispatching today. You see, I had the bright idea to try snowboarding yesterday afternoon. I made it down without falling on two runs. For the other six I think I fell more frequently than I stood upright. I’ve never had so much fun falling over and over […]

By Josh Allen

Feb 04 2011

Half pipe
Photo Credit : Allen, Josh

It’s a good thing that I was dispatching today. You see, I had the bright idea to try snowboarding yesterday afternoon. I made it down without falling on two runs. For the other six I think I fell more frequently than I stood upright. I’ve never had so much fun falling over and over again. I paid for it when I woke up this morning, feeling a bit like I had been hit by a truck. A small truck, perhaps, but still a truck. It didn’t help that I’ve had a cold for the past few days, either. But that’s all just fine, because attempting to snowboard for the first time with no lessons or advice was tremendously enjoyable. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and it was exciting because of that. And terrifying, particularly when I started to pick up speed, only to realize as I raced closer and closer to the trees that I wasn’t really sure how to stop. It looked easy enough from the lift, though! Luckily I managed to avoid visiting the First Aid room as a patient. I wouldn’t have enjoyed that… even if I think toboggan rides are something everyone should try [not injured, of course].

I can’t honestly remember learning how to ski. It just feels like I am on my feet, when I click into my bindings. And I’m kind of glad…but at the same time, I feel as if I’m missing something important. It’s important to remember the beginning of one’s skill development, because then you can look back a few days, weeks, or months later, and pat yourself on the back for sticking with it. You can pat yourself on the back, and be glad that you’re no longer gingerly touching bruises because you’re falling three times a run, instead of three-hundred. I was humbled by the experience. I don’t think of the bunny slope as easy anymore. Honestly, I think the term bunny is pretty misleading, because I swear, on a snowboard, it was more like a tiger-leaping-at-my-face-in-the-dark slope. I can appreciate beginners of all sorts better now. After being laughed at by guests above me riding the lift, I think I better grasp just what each of us goes through in the beginning. Whether you learn to ski or snowboard in the future, or continue to struggle with either, or an entirely different sport, or discipline, or simply are trying to get better at shuffleboard [not sure exactly what category that lies under…], stick with it. We’ll have bruises together, and we’ll conquer them together. May I suggest though, acquiring a stability ball to use as a chair. It’s really soft where you’ll need it most.

Until today, I thought I’d pretty much covered all the toboggan skills available to a patroller. I’d taken a friendly [albeit apprehensive] volunteer down moguls on Sel’s Choice, I’d preformed chest compressions on a “patient” while barreling down the steep on Sapphire, and hauled real patients across seemingly endless flats at the Jackson Gore base area. Each of these techniques were different, and challenging. But I never felt like moguls were scary…

And so today, because there just haven’t been enough scary moments as a patroller, another first-year patroller, Charlie, and I were hauled away into the woods. We were to learn how to transport a patient in a toboggan between the trees of Forrest Bump and Loose Spruce. Since that wasn’t challenging enough, we were gifted with a fresh inch or two of snow to cover up the moss-covered rocks and slippery fallen logs strewn across our only path. Charlie and I took turns between tail-roping, or holding the toboggan back from sudden acceleration and doom, and being in front of the toboggan, or guiding our passenger safely between trees, roots, stumps, and unfortunate amounts of jagged rock edges. It went pretty smoothly, considering the tricky dynamics of what we were doing — guiding a two hundred pound plus sled through a densely packed forest on skis that barely fit between the trees while side-slipping.

It was easy enough, I thought, and then we came upon a cliff. Now, it was only a small cliff, of ten feet or so, but I was presented with an interesting task. I was going to belay the toboggan, with my fellow patroller still in the sled, down the face of the cliff. Hmm, I thought, now that will end either safely, or with me careening off the cliff headfirst, the toboggan scattering into the woods in front of me, and perhaps the need for a real transport…Carefully, I braced myself against the weight of the task and looped the trail rope around a nearby tree. One hand and then the other gradually released tension on the sled, and it moved inch by inch down the cliff, the skegs on the underside nearly scraping the rockface directly. At one point, Charlie asked how much rope was left. I replied, and said there was plenty. And then it began running out…and I couldn’t tell where the toboggan was in relation to the ground.

Luckily, we made it. Just barely. As the sled touched flat ground, the last bit of rope was in my hand. We meant to do that, to make it just a bit more exciting, I think. And it was exciting, and encouraging. Even if we’re in the woods, and encounter a cliff, we can handle it. I’ll just make sure not to overestimate the rope’s length…I wouldn’t want a real patient wondering why the last three feet felt a bit faster than the first…

Snow fell in big, fluffy blankets today. It was so deep in certain spots that I completely stopped moving while attempting to ski straight down the hill. At one point, I inadvertently skied into a massive, camouflaged snow drift and was promptly buried in snow up to my chest. I stood there and felt a bit like a turtle stuck on its back. Using my poles, I eventually dislodged myself from the snowy prison. I can’t remember the last time I was in snow that deep…and I really wanted to pop my skis off and build a snow tunnel. I resisted this inclination, however, because having a snow tunnel in the middle of a trail might prove to be a bit of an obstacle to our guests. I’m sure some would find it fun, but nevertheless I chose to hit tower pads with my poles instead, clearing them of snow and revealing the bright blue beneath the endless white. Snowy days are a blast for us patrollers. Not many guests are on the mountain. There’s almost no bamboo to set up. We anticipated this storm and raised our discos on the side of the trails preemptively. So we got to ski. And ski some more. And help a few injured guests. And then…ski more. I love powder days, hooray!

Read more entries from The Diary of a Ski Patrolman