Day in the life with ski patrol

Pika avi dog on the chair lift at Telluride Ski Resort looking down at the town of Telluride
Pika avi dog on the chair lift at Telluride Ski Resort looking down at the town of Telluride(KKCO / KJCT)
Published: Mar. 12, 2023 at 10:55 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - For many skiers and snowboarders who take to the slopes, ski patrol is constantly patrolling the mountain. However, while many see ski patrol on the slopes, there is a lot more that they do that many do not see.

Coming from Telluride Ski Resort, the ski patrol always starts their day with a morning meeting to discuss the weather, terrain, and more. At Telluride, there are two meetings. The group going to the highest parts of the mountain will attend the first and the remaining group attends the second meeting. Ski patrol will start to set up all the signage that skiers and snowboarders see on the slopes, including trail mergers and slow signage. Lifts will only open if ski patrol gives the all clear, and some may not open due to weather conditions like wind. The same applies to the different runs, as weather can cause certain areas on the mountain to stay closed for the guest’s safety.

Safety is always ski patrols’ number one priority, and they will do whatever they can to ensure all guests have an enjoyable experience. However, you never know what you can encounter on the slopes. One thing that can happen suddenly, is extremely dangerous, and has caused death, is avalanches. Therefore, ski patrol will conduct avalanche mitigation at anytime, mainly before opening the mountain to the public. Avalanche mitigation is where ski patrollers will use any means of equipment to purposely trigger avalanches to lower the chances of them occurring during the daytime. “A big part of the ski patrols job is to go out and assess for the avalanche danger, and then mitigate that either by using explosives or sometimes we can do it with just ski checks. Sometimes we use helicopters because it’s too dangerous to get right in the middle of it,” said Scott Clements, Telluride Ski Resort Patrol Director.

Avalanches still have a chance of occurring even after mitigations have been completed, and if anyone is caught in one, it can be life-threatening. Ski patrol undergoes rigorous training on handling people caught in avalanches. One of their best tools is a four-legged furry friend, the avalanche dog.

Avalanche dogs undergo intensive training to be certified. They start out at six months old as a puppy. Ski Patrol will bury items in the snow for them to retrieve and are rewarded in the end. Once they become very good at that, ski patrol will build “dog caves”, where someone will climb into them and the dog has to find the person and take down a barricade that covers the entrance. “Training gets stepped up from anywhere from one person to three people buried in three different places. Their requirement is to find two people buried in less than five minutes to be certified,” said Gary Richard, Avalanche Dog Coordinator at Telluride Ski Resort.

While dogs are a great asset in assisting those caught in an avalanche, other injuries that are not avalanche-related can occur. According to Clements, there are a lot of collisions at Telluride, and some cause harm. Other injuries can be skiing or snowboarding through the trees, resulting in someone ending up in tree wells or crashing into trees.

Regardless of the injury, ski patrol has to be ready to assist in any situation, with some being unconscious and not responding but still having a pulse. Ski patrollers train in these scenarios and are prepared to tackle any problem. It can be challenging; having to ski from a run as simple as a green to the more difficult black diamonds. “We put a high emphasis on skiing, we require that you be an expert skier when you come to ski patrol. And that’s not just that you can ski a black diamond, you have to be able to ski double blacks in extreme terrain, and in a professional way in the event that you need to help somebody who needs help on that terrain,” said Clements.

Ski patrollers go through extensive trainings, and one is medical training. According to Clements, they must complete the National Ski Patrols Outdoor Emergency Care Corps as their baseline for training. They also have other various degrees of certifications up to paramedic.

Ski patrol is vital to any resort, as they have so much on their hands to ensure the public stays safe. According to Clements, many ski areas can have an app that allows you to look at locations better if you need to know where you are. If you ever end up in a situation where you are attending to someone else, you should put your skis in an X pattern and notify the ski patrol of your location and the ongoing incident. training