For this job you have to be able to handle explosives, provide first aid, and ski too

Dec 6, 2013

ALERT Helicopter from Kalispell Regional Medical Center comes to meet with ski patrol during training at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Credit Katrin Frye

It’s not quite the ski patroller Olympics I was hoping for; skiing backwards, jumping through hoops, blindfolded…

In fact, when I showed up to the Whitefish Mountain Resort patrollers are inside, practicing specific stretches shown to them by a local physical therapist.

President of the Big Mountain Ski Patrol Incorporated Ryan Friel was, however, wearing ski boots.

“We don’t have an actual on-snow test” Friel said Ski Patrol Director Terry King determines whether people meet the requirements.   Friel said King often hires from people he knows from working on, in, or around the resort, and already knows of their skiing ability.

“There are certainly requirements as far as a certain amount of weight that you have to be able to lift, and you have to be in a certain physical condition because we are skiing in adverse conditions, rocky conditions, white outs, heavy snow, 250 pound men or women in a ski toboggan, down steep slopes,” Friel said.

He said most patrollers at Big Mountain are either Level One, Two, or Three, but some resorts have patrollers up to Level Five. It has to do with the number of years on the job, and particular training.

“Blasting certificate, wilderness first responder or higher level of first aid medical training. Most of the patrollers will have their OEC- Outdoor Emergency Care or higher, some of them are paramedics; it’s not a requirement, but certainly every level of expertise in the medical field you gain is a good thing,” Friel said.

So, no backflips, but there are explosives, and a helicopter.

For training, the ALERT medical helicopter and crew meet with ski patrol. During training they can land in an empty parking lot; but during the season this lot will be full, they’ll be landing on a spot marked out on a slope by a patroller.

“As you guys all know- the report you get, you know; wrecked skiers, well you get up there, well yeah, he wrecked, because he had a heart attack and then passed out and then wrecked; the story that you get initially, and the story that develops is not always the same thing, so if you guys can kind of give us a concise picture of what happened, and when it happened, it makes all the difference in the world as far as what our next step is,” said flight nurse Tony Willcut.

This years training class of ski patrollers are men, women, lots of gray hair, some gray hair, and no grays. “It’s the kind of job where the majority of patrollers have been- you know, the senior patrollers, there’s a dozen or so that have been here 15 to 20 years, and it’s just a lifestyle, love the lifestyle,” Friel said.

Friel said they have about 25 patrollers total, and 12 working on a given day.

The Whitefish Mountain Resort opens up this Saturday, December 7th. Patrollers have already been out marking open and closed terrain, as well as hazards. Friel said with training behind; the main test comes during those first weeks on the job.