Fresh soft snow, sunshine, and everyone enjoying themselves safely. That's
how some ski patrollers describe a perfect day on the slopes.
The National Ski Patrol (NSP) is demanding. The association's 28,500 members
represent 98 percent of the nation's patrollers -- both volunteer and professional.
"A significant majority are volunteer," says Mark Dorsey with the NSP.
"Anybody who comes this way with the idea that it's free skiing is likely
not to stay long, because there's nothing free about it other than that you
don't pay for a lift ticket," says patrol veteran John Leu.
Leu says ski patrol volunteers can expect to undergo about 80 hours of
training in the classroom and on the slopes. They are also asked to commit
to 20 days on patrol each winter. "That's a fairly large commitment for a
"It's a great group of people I enjoy being with," says Terry Komisak,
candidate training officer for the Southern California Nordic Ski Patrol.
Komisak says the NSP provides patrollers with ongoing education, starting
with its award-winning outdoor emergency care program, as well as toboggan
handling and avalanche rescue. "What we were doing last weekend was helicopter
Ski patrol volunteers must be 18 years of age or older, although some areas
allow junior patrollers to assist in ski patrol duties. And if you love to
snowboard -- no problem! The NSP certifies snowboarders for volunteer patrol.
"In the mid-1990s, the NSP recognized that snowboarders could complete
their tasks [and] evacuate a person from an emergency situation," says Dave
Schutz, one of the first snowboard patrollers in the NSP. "Now most, but not
all, mountains allow patrollers to use snowboards."
Whether you ride or ski, your duties as a volunteer patroller are the same.
And it's more than helping injured skiers. You must uphold and promote responsible
skiing and alpine activity. That might mean answering questions about the
weather, reuniting a lost child with his mother or showing a tourist in difficult
terrain the easiest way down.
"I've side-slipped [skied sideways slowly with a weaker skier] down more
runs," says Elizabeth Oldfield, a volunteer ski patroller. "And once you get
them through it, they're so impressed that they did it!"
"If you're interested in helping people, and you enjoy skiing -- in that
order -- then by all means apply," says Waddell.
In 1981, Elizabeth Oldfield's husband broke his leg. It was a stroke of
luck -- at least for her. "I was really impressed by the way the situation
was handled by the ski patrol. I thought I'd like to be like that person!"
The following ski season, Oldfield volunteered as a ski patroller. What
started as an act of admiration and gratitude quickly became a pleasure. "It
doesn't have to be broken legs and that kind of stuff. There's immediate and
positive feedback in just about everything we do," she says.
Walter Geist patrols the Mount Pinos and Angeles Crest ski areas for the
Southern California Nordic Ski Patrol. "People will come in to our hut and
say: 'What are the best clothes to wear?' right up to 'What should we bring
in?' and we're there to help."
Mount Pinos has no ski lifts, but the area is a favorite destination for
back-country skiers, snowboarders and tobogganers. Surprisingly, it's the
people with toboggans and sleds who suffer the worst injuries.
"A lot of young people or children get hurt like that very easily. They
leave half an ear on a tree, which is kind of gross, but that's the way it
is sometimes. I've had people with spinal injuries."
Ski patroller John Knieriem has had to deal with spinal injuries and worse.
"In two years, six people have died in this area. The ice climber was the
worst I'd ever seen. He fell 1,000 feet and smashed into rocks."
Knieriem was also the first to find a lost hiker who had fallen and broken
both bones in his lower leg. "He was suffering from hypothermia, so I wrapped
him in the clothes I had." Knieriem also set the hiker's leg when it was time
to move him -- not a job for the squeamish. "He screamed a little. But that
doesn't bother me."
Knieriem points out that the hiker he helped made a full recovery and wrote
two thank-you letters. "I do it because I like the emergency medicine field.
It's wonderful doing it when people can say thanks."
How to Get Involved
If you're interested in volunteer ski patrolling, you likely already have
a favorite ski area in mind. The patrol director for that mountain or area
will have a specific list of requirements for patrol candidates, including
what level of skier or rider you have to be.
"Chances are they offer training in the summer and fall," says Dorsey.
NSP ski patrol candidates have to pay a nominal fee for first aid training,
materials, textbooks and membership dues.
"Members pay $27 a year," says the NSP's Judy Over. "And the course fees
are really minimal for members."
National Ski Patrol
133 South Van Gordon St.
The Ski Patrol Home Page
Winter safety, first aid, weather information and lots of other
Dave's Snowboard Patrol Home Page
One of the first snowboard patrollers in North America
Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol -- Tucker and Huntington Ravines
Keeps visitors to the area updated about safety and conditions
Yahoo! -- Directory of Ski Patrol Home Pages
Links to sites around the world