The Endless Pursuit of Awesomeness.

Patrol

 

Each patroller has their own morning routine. At a time that feels like it is never welcomed, most greet it with their first of many breakfasts before beginning the long trek from a warm bed to 8000′ feet. For me, it starts by nudging the dog off of my feet, and most of my morning is spent arranging his home for the day. It’ll be 12 hours before I can expend my last budgeted energy tiring him out. Boiling coffee stirs wisps of steam into the frigid night as I crunch through the old snow of my Squamish home to the car.

I arrive in a silent parking lot to wait only moments for a select few weary patrollers to arrive for our carpool. In the mix are fresh patrollers itching to get back up there, and yet another bunch that are sorely managing their Friday, having worn and abused their bodies in the usual chaos inherent to the job.

The sun doesn’t start to show signs of its promised return until we shake the snow off our jackets at the top of the lift. I frigidly clutch my thermos which has been losing the war on the ride up. Despite the ungodly hour, there are ski patrollers already in action, another thousand feet above, prepping bombs to throw as soon as sunlight switches from its twilight blue to confident beams of yellow, exposing our historical avalanche paths, given human characteristics and names like chainsaw, pillowbiter, or cougar.

In the few moments before our morning briefing, the most glorious moments of the job happen in just minutes. I stand overlooking Whistler, not a soul in sight, crystals of ice clinging to my face. Groomers buzz and beep in the distance as they return from a long lonely night. Few chairlifts have yet to turn. Pristine feathered snow seems to hover effortlessly over cliffs and drowned trees. Jolted to attention even if you were prepared for it, almost orchestrated with a magnificent sunrise, the first ripping thunder of a blasting charge echoes through the bowl. Your ears can pinpoint the ripples of shockwaves as they shatter off of every Cliff, Spine, and Ridge. The day has officially begun.

What makes Ski Patrolling such an interesting job is its diversity. There is no limit to its description. From the detailed science of weather observations and forecasting, to the brute courage of helibombing and ski cutting, Calculated alpine rescue, concerned and direct medical response, torturous digging of tower pads and endless ropelines, to simply picking a struggling child up and plopping them back on their skiis – this is but a short list of what we do.

What makes a patroller different is their seething responsibility to their team, and each one has a unique and irreplaceable role in it. Every one of them is dialed in on their skill or task, and to watch it in action will lift hairs off your neck. Not a day of ski patrolling goes by without returning to the locker room without some new hobble in my step or feverish need to stretch out some kinks. Each day is a step in the right direction in finding new value, skills, and the need for sleep.

 

– “Keep it real, while keeping it safe.”

4 Responses

  1. Nancy Dahmer

    Am I supposed to be surpised by your love of trauma? You have Jamieson blood – we love blood guts and gore – and the worse it is the greater the rush. I think you now understand my passion for critical care and especially emergency nursing. Nothing better than a trauma or a code blue!
    A few comments on your reflections.
    *I am thrilled by your passion to help people. You are altruistic (look that word up). Yes the paycheck is important, in fact essential, but it is the work, helping people, that is what it is all about. I miss that in my work now.
    *Training is so important and in the work you are involved in, I can’t stress this enough. Sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be a bad thing especially if it leads to over confidence. Learn Learn Learn, trust me, your brain will soak it in and you will get an adrenalin rush because you love what you are learning. Practice, practice practice, seek out opportunities to learn from your colleagues so that you can be the best you can be. The first responders play a critical role and can make the difference in a patient’s outcome ie appropriate assessment and intervention to prevent further injury for example, think about a spinal cord injury – if you suspect, and manage appropriately from the beginning, it can make the difference between someone walking again or being a quad!
    *Patient’s need to know that you have confidence and know what you are doing even if you don’t. Caution with the little white lies! Always look them in the eyes, tell them your name, get their name, speak with confidence and compassion and above all let them know that you can help them.
    *A word of caution, don’t underestimate the severity of fractures!! In addition to pain, they can cause significant hemorrhage. (especially femur and pelvis!!! Very dangerous) It takes alot of force to break a humerous, so a significant break with potential for complications – especially circulatory and nerve. So she whined and screamed alot – lots of pain, fear and can also be a cultural thing.
    *I understand the protective instincts because you put your heart and soul into the rescue. It is such a let down when the medics arrive and take over YOUR PATIENT! Do you ever wish you were the one taking over?
    You have the instincts and passion for the work – I am so pleased and proud. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and learn more. It can only make you better at what you do and love! I know you will love it!
    MOM

    March 2, 2010 at 07:46

  2. Such gorgeous photos! So bright. The night ones are my favourite.
    I like your words as well.

    February 24, 2014 at 18:59

  3. Thanks Rachael!!! :)

    February 24, 2014 at 19:03

  4. Chris Mackay

    God bless all the ski patrol , wilderness SAR coast guard SAR techs paramedics that help injured people out of the hospital.

    February 24, 2014 at 21:04

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