This week in local history: Ski Patrol to the rescue
There’s a mystique surrounding those red-jacketed patrolmen frequently seen at the Winter Park Ski Area expertly skiing the slopes.
For some, they are looked at in awe, because in the hierarchy of desired jobs for avid skiers, being a ski patrolman probably ranks at the top. After all, members of the ski patrol are paid to ski. They have power, and in the eyes of many skier, they have prestige.
That’s one way to look at the ski patrol.
But there are other people — your vacationing, once or twice-a-year skiers — who see the Ski Patrol in an entirely different light.
For them, the Ski Patrol frequently means safety, rescue and security. For them, Ski Patrol may mean the difference between a safe and fun skiing experience and a miserable one.
Consider the case of Dianne Watson of Oklahoma City, Okla., who fell on the Cranmer Cutoff Friday afternoon and hurt her lower leg.
First of all, she was in pain. But she was also self-conscious about falling, embarrassed about hurting her leg and worried because she needed to be out of Winter Park and on a flight in four hours.
Within minutes of her fall, Ski Patrolmen Ray Coffey and John Becker were at her side splinting her leg and easing her into a sled for the trop down the mountain. Coffey and Becker talked with Watson and reassured her the entire time. Although her leg hurt, she was smiling and talking as she was loaded onto the sled.
Even though she was injured, the performance of Becker and Coffey probably made the difference between a miserable skiing experience and a good skiing experience for Watson.
“Our main job is the safe evacuation of the sick and injured from the mountain,” says Jack Mason, Winter Park Ski Patrol Supervisor who has been with the patrol for 12 years.
Much of the patrolman’s job is devoted to doing just that. But the Ski Patrol has many other responsibilities that aren’t as glamorous and exciting as rescuing injured skiers.
The ski Patrol pads bare spots, marks obstacles and opens and closes trails. It also conducts traffic control, which means checking reckless or dangerous skiers and in general ensuring the safety of all the skiers on the mountain.
“People do like to see patrolman out there,” Mason says. “It’s what we call ‘showing the flag.'”
‘Showing the flag’ may be reassuring to most skiers, but for the out-of-control and dangerous skier, that presence of the patrol isn’t well-liked. It’s the patrol who tells them to slow down.
“We don’t like to be policemen,” says Charlie Thompson, a 10-year veteran of the Winter Park Ski Patrol. But he says it’s part of the job.
“It’s part of the job, but we don’t enjoy doing it,” commented Sharon Cronin, one of the four women on the patrol. “We don’t enjoy having to discipline people or have them slow down.”
Patrolmen do have the power to revoke lift tickets for fast and reckless skiing, skiing closed areas and for skiing that endangers the skier or others.
Making sure all of Winter Park and Mary Jane is adequately patrolled isn’t an easy job. It requires the efficient use of manpower and time.
There are 27 emergency phones on both mountains, three patrol stations and anywhere from 25 to 30 patrolmen on duty at any one time. The ski Patrol also has patrolmen on snowmobiles who can help with problems on flat terrain and who can verify incidents.
All calls for help are relayed through a dispatcher in the Sunspot patrol station at the top of Bradley’s Bash. When a call is received, the dispatcher determines the severity and nature of the accident report.
Verifying the severity and nature of the accidents is an important part of the dispatcher’s job because the patrol can’t afford to have patrolmen out checking faulty accident reports when it could be taking care of serious accidents.
Accidents on flat terrain are frequently handled by ski patrolmen on snowmobiles. The snowmobile can tow injured skiers in sleds.
Sometimes being a patrolman can be exciting, but sometimes it can be boring, too.
The patrolmen spent much of their time Friday, March 18 in the Sunspot station reading or playing darts and ping pong, waiting for injury calls. It was considered a slow day, compared to Tuesday, March 15, which was one of the busiest days of the season.
“Our busiest day this year was last Tuesday,” Mason said. “Our accident rate that day was 3.8 per thousand.”
The usual accident rate is 1.33 skiers per thousand.
“We had a lot of college and high school students out there then. They took lessons Monday and they went out Tuesday. They thought they knew it all. We pulled a lot of them off of the mountain Tuesday,” Mason said.
The U.S. Forest Service requires that all ski areas located on Forest Service land have a certified ski patrol, Mason said.
The patrol is paid by the Winter Park Recreational Association, which owns and operates the Winter Park ski area. But ultimately, it’s the skier who benefits from the Ski Patrol.
“Everybody that skis here pays about 34 cents off of their ticket price to pay the Ski Patrol,” Mason says.
For the skiers and the Winter Park ski area, that’s a well spent 34 cents.
-From March 24-30, 1983 edition of Sky-Hi News’ Hi-Country Living
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