Have you ever heard the maxim, “You should love your job so much you’d do it for free”?
Well, that seems to apply to the ski patrollers at Sandia Peak Ski Resort, and it’s almost time to clock in.
There are two kinds of ski patrollers — Pro patrollers are usually employed on a full-time basis by a resort for an entire ski season. Volunteer patrollers dedicate their time for the love of skiing in addition to their day jobs, which makes sense at Sandia Peak, since they only open three days a week — the BEST three days of the week for the entire Sandia Peak Ski Patrol.
However much fun it is to spend your days on skis, being a ski patroller is serious business. Their most important responsibility is serving as first responders for any incidents, medical or otherwise, on the mountain. Typically, ski patrollers are trained to the National Ski Patrol’s (NSP) Outdoor Emergency Care certification, or they have Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license. There are additional certifications that allow toboggan transport and avalanche mitigation, among other things. After a patroller gets their certifications, they participate in pre-season refresher courses every year on about 1/3 of the NSP book in addition to brushing up on basic skills (like splinting). Every three years, they have covered the course completely.
Long before the season starts, the Sandia team is up on the mountain practicing their lift evacuation skills, learn-ing medical protocol changes, and getting hands-on experience with new equipment. Kim Linder, a ski enthusiast who has been a patroller, OEC Instructor AND a ski instructor for more than 23 years, calls the day “On the Hill”, and she says it’s usually the first time everyone gets together in anticipation of the new season.
“We are really like one big family on and off the mountain,” she says. “It’s important that we work together like clockwork when the season is in swing, so we have a lot of respect and responsibility to one another.”
So what’s a day in the life of a Sandia Ski Patroller like? The 12-15 patrollers start the day by 8:30 before the lifts are open to the public. They all ride up and take different trails down, looking for debris that may have fallen during the night, signs that might need to be cleared after a new snowfall, and making sure boundary ropes are in place and visible.
Throughout the day, they take turns manning the upper and lower patrol rooms and constantly skiing the trails, making sure someone is always in the right place at the right time and able to respond as fast as possible to incidents.
At the end of the day, they all start together at the top and do an evening “sweep” looking for straggling skiers, clearing boundaries for the snowcats, and making notes of trail conditions. They meet at the bottom to account for everyone, and they call it a good day.
“The important thing for me, “says Kim,” is the opportunity to give back to the ski community and a sport that has given me so much joy throughout the years. I love to help people discover a passion for skiing and provide a safe and enjoyable experience for them.”
An off-season activity that is unique and critical to the operation of the Sandia Peak Ski Patrol is their sponsor-ship of the annual Ski Swap in Albuquerque every October. They are their own nonprofit, and they raise all of their own funds for new equipment and supplies exclusively through the Ski Swap. It’s an incredibly well-organized event where skiers can exchange or consign outgrown or unused equipment and clothing.