Behind the Scenes with Ski Patrol

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Deer Valley patrollers all look the same. That’s what we hear, anyway. We understand. With our chiseled, All-American looks, not to mention our identical red-and-black uniforms, it can be hard to distinguish one patroller from the other, or tell how many of us there are on the mountain.

It’s the question I’ve received most often: “How many of you are working today?” Followed by: “What the heck do you guys do all day?”

Here are the numbers:

  • Roughly 40 full-time patrollers at Deer Valley
  • 17 of them are rookies
  • 20-30 others are part-time or on-call
  • 25-30 patrollers are on-duty on any given day
  • 3-7 patrollers are assigned to each of the resort’s six patrol shacks

 

Together, patrol represents a varied lot, ranging from former tree-trimmers who hail from Minnesota, to former real estate developers who lived in Florida, to paramedics, firefighters, physicians’ assistants, and journalists-on-hiatus (ahem).

We’ve proven, however, a truly cohesive unit, one united by the drive to maintain Deer Valley Ski Patrol’s reputation as one of the elite patrols in North America. More on that in a future post.

Our day starts with morning meeting at 8 a.m. Picture roll call from any police procedural, and you get the idea – albeit without the Formica desks or crusty sergeants.

For about half-an-hour, we review major events from the previous day, the ski-trail grooming plan, any projects that need attention (such as opening or closing trails), and the weather forecast. If there’s time, we do a practice assessment: one patroller plays a patient, the other the first-responder – think of it as early-morning amateur theater, replete with a peanut gallery. Then we head to our assigned mountains for opening runs.

Each patroller is tasked with skiing several particular trails during openers. The main purpose is to ensure each run is safe to open to the public, a task which includes surveying the snow conditions, making sure bamboo and rope lines are firmly planted in the snow, and checking that pads are still in place on lift towers, trail signs, snow guns, and other obstacles. Opening runs are also when we plant our slow signs.

The rest of the day then proceeds much you might expect: responding to skier-wrecks, installing or removing bamboo and rope lines, performing speed control, training, and otherwise skiing around. The end of the day approaches at 3 p.m., when Empire Patrol begins its sweeps, closing that portion of the mountain and funneling skiers back toward the Silver Lake and Snow Park lodges.

Sweeps are staggered across each mountain. And in addition to ensuring that no guests are left on any runs, we also prepare the trails for Deer Valley’s overnight workers: the snowmakers and snowcat operators. We remove the slow signs we installed that morning and pull back rope lines to allow the snowcats to groom the trails. If all goes according to plan, we’re off the slopes by 5:15 p.m., just as the cats are rumbling from their garage off Ontario run.

The day flies by. With six mountain peaks as our office, how could it not? Next up: more on responding to skier wrecks, the divide between “wreck” and “project” patrollers, and The Wheel of Misfortune.