Interesting anecdotes

I feel like I need to get this off my chest, and I can’t find a better place to put it, so… Have a “Tell a story” thread, everyone!

First, a little context. I’m a member of the Ski Patrol. Ostensibly, this means I’m there to take care of issues affecting hill safety, treat members of the public in distress, transport people who can’t make it down the hill without assistance, and perform regular sweeps for anything that would fall into a category above. Practically, it means that I spend the day just enjoying myself skiing, though with a radio so that people can call me to a situation if something goes wrong. In about a dozen days of skiing this season, I’ve been called into exactly two accidents, not counting this past Sunday. Some patrollers get a lot more first aid action than I do; I’m not complaining, as I’m there mostly as an excuse to get myself out of the house, and active, and somewhat social.

So, it’s this past Sunday, about half-past-three in the afternoon. The ski lift will shut down at 4:00 p.m., so, as you might imagine, what part of my mind isn’t half-asleep is fixed firmly on the end of the day. I’m in the warm-up shack at the top of the hill, resting my legs after what has probably been the best weekend of skiing I’ve had this year (and maybe last year). I remark to another patroller there that my knee has started to ache; I’ve been improving my technique, but the lateral rotation that you have to do to press your knee downward towards the hill and set your edges properly is rough on my pre-existing injury. The other patroller recommends doing stairs three times a day and, when I mention a gym, starts to recommend doing snatches and clean-and-jerks, but then concedes those won’t do much to help.1

It’s getting closer to 4:00 now, so we get our gear on for one last run before closing sweep. The run is fun but uneventful, and, when the top of the hour hits, the Patrol (about 6 of us) gets on the last chair up the hill. We can hear the other half of the hill, which closes twenty minutes earlier than our side, confirming completion of their normal end-of-day tasks over the radio.

We’re about 2/3 of the way up the hill when the lift stops. There are the usual moans and groans about this, and we hear the last patroller from the other side of the hill calling up to the people already at the top of this side. The patroller at the top responds, but only gets static back. I quip that it really doesn’t matter whether we could hear her clearly, as we know what she’s going to say: that the other side of the mountain is now fully swept and clear of the skiing public, and that she’s waiting for us at the bottom of the run linking the other side of the hill back to this side. If it had been five minutes later, we probably would have had our own sweep meet up with her, but there’s no point having her wait in the cold, so another patroller just shrugs and, agreeing with me, says that we should tell her to go ahead, to ski down by herself, and meet us at the patrol shack.

The patroller from the other side then gets back on the radio, and it turns out that we’re entirely wrong. Despite the timing, she isn’t reporting an “all clear;” rather, she has received a report of an injured skier, deep in the trees2. That’s exactly what you want to hear when you’re preparing to close the hill down and go home, right?

When the lift starts back up and we get to the top, we send a patroller to check out the incident, and the rest of us work out two scenarios. First, if no help or only minimal help is required, we can manage sweep with what we’ve got, so assignments are given out. On the other hand, if more assistance is called for, rescuing the injured skier would obviously take priority. The patroller who is first-in calls in from the scene asking for a backboard and assistance to put the skier onto it.

A standard backboard log-roll takes five patrollers. There are only six of us at the top of the hill, and four runs that need to be swept to be sure that no one else is in distress, so we put a call in to the patrollers who have just finished sweeping the other side, to come in and help us here. In the meantime, all of us who have been waiting at the top of the hill go in to assist the distressed customer (except one who stays at the top to coordinate and respond for the rest of sweep).

The patroller on-scene instructs us to bring the backboard in on foot; we would generally transport it by toboggan, but the terrain in the woods doesn’t allow us. He also asks for blankets; the skier is feeling very cold after lying in the snow for however-long. We get the toboggan into a secure configuration so that it won’t take off on its own, get our supplies out of it, and while someone else grabs the backboard, I take the blankets, and we hike it in.

The previous day, I had done a bit of skiing in the hydro cut (where the trees had been cleared to allow elevated power lines to be erected), before giving up because both the conditions and the terrain sucked (and I’m not much of a glades skier in any case). Had I fallen there, in the hydro cut, I think that at the end of the day, someone would have spotted me (especially since Patrol uniforms are bright red). This guy was considerably further into the bush, and I don’t think he would have been so lucky. Had he not been reported in to us3, we would never have spotted him, and he would have been in there overnight (or longer). At this point, the patroller in charge of the scene calls for an ambulance for the fellow, and for extra strong bodies to help haul him out.

Generally, we would have lain a blanket onto the backboard and rolled this guy onto the blanket, but, in this case, the guy was so cold that we rolled him up in a blanket first, and then rolled him again onto the board. I’m not going to go into the backboarding process any further, except to say that it pretty much went the way we were trained to do it.

So, the injured resort patron is now on the backboard securely, and our job is now to get him back to the toboggan — about 100 metres away, mostly uphill, on a narrow path, with snow that is alternating between firmly packed down and a thin crust over knee-deep powder. Luckily, we have someone who has been on the patrol for a few decades, and who was a firefighter before that, so he takes charge of this part of the extrication, to tell us when to move together as a team, when to rest, the hazards ahead of us, etc.

The call is made to lift the patient for the first time, and I get into position hastily: I’ve had time to retrieve my mittens and secure the straps around my wrists, but not to actually don them, so I’m just wearing glove liners. We start moving, and by the time the first rest is called, I’m already feeling the first stage of frostbite on my hands (pain and stiffness). Immediately after the backboard is on the ground and stable, I shove my hands back into my mitts — there are those single-use chemical heat packs in each of them, but those have died hours ago, so my hands don’t immediately get much warmer.

We resume our slow trek, having to pause often as legs sink into the snow. The other patrollers are joking around as we go, so, as the patroller on the other side of the board is the guy I was chatting with in the warming shack, I remark, "And you said that a clean-and-jerk wouldn’t be useful."4 His eyes widen and he looks at me, and replies with "Holy shit, that was only twenty minutes ago!"5

One of the hill staff has the excellent idea of bringing the toboggan to the top of the ridge, between us and the exit. Exhausted (it’s three rest-stops later and my hands, previously freezing, are hot and sweating in my mittens at this point), we load the backboard in and strap it down. It becomes apparent just how good an idea it was to bring the toboggan in pretty quickly: there was no way that there was room to us to have supported the board from the sides when walking through that last, very narrow gap back onto the main, groomed run.

At this point, my part in the story pretty much ends; I put my skis back on and make my way back down; there are already several patrollers waiting in the clinic to do further assessment and monitoring, and to transfer the patient onto something more suitable to spend hours on, while he waits for the x-rays to rule out a spinal injury.

I sign out at this point. At this point, signing out on a typical Sunday, I would normally get myself out of my ski gear and into my car as quickly as I can; this time, I decide to take my time and let myself settle. While awaiting sweep, I was afraid that I’d have to stop a few times to keep myself from dozing off on the drive home, but now I’m completely awake, so much so that my main concern is that the adrenaline will give me a lead foot on the accelerator. Eventually, though — a small bowl of meatballs (from a batch left by another patroller as lunch for the group) and a full bottle of water later — I get my stuff together and set off.

On the drive home, I get myself most of the way back to the highway before I feel the need to start replaying the whole thing, start-to-finish, in my head. My final assessment is that while I certainly could have done better in a couple of areas, my performance throughout the scenario was solid (and, when I hit the “twenty minutes ago” line, that was somehow a lot more funny on the first replay in the car than it had been at the time or has been since).

The whole thing is still occupying my mind quite a bit (part of which is because it was such an unexpected and stressful event; part of which is just because my shoulders still ache a bit from not lifting entirely from the legs). Hopefully, writing all of this out and sharing it will help get some of that off my mind.

Does anyone else have any interesting stories they’d like to share?

1I promise this will become relevant later.
2The hill I patrol at also has mountain biking trails which are technically off-limits in the winter, but the hill's official policy is "Ski at own risk," meaning the hill takes no responsibility for ensuring those trails are safe, and that anything that happens in there is the skier's own fault. Naturally, we weren't going to *leave* the person there once we knew about him, but the hill, and we, had no actual responsibility for sweeping that area.
3Initial reports said that he was skiing with a friend, who found the patroller who; later, that patroller said that it was just a random person skiing through the woods who had spotted him. If that's the case, dude was really, *really* lucky to be found.
4Told you! Okay, not really *relevant*, but funny, at least!
5Looking back, that had to have been closer to an hour, but in that kind of situation,6 I'm not surprised that it felt like less time to the other patroller.
6Not that I can really say anything anyway; even in a typical situation, my time sense is the worst, so I have no right to criticize anyone on theirs.