So, you want to be a patroller?

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Here's what it takes: Aspirants often start as volunteers, which means joining the National Ski Patrol and becoming a "candidate patroller." Candidates must be affiliated with a specific patrol squad, log a minimum of 10 patrolling sessions each year, hold professional-rescuer CPR certification, pass a short course on basics, including ski proficiency and tobaggon handling, and complete an 80- to 100-hour course in Outdoor Emergency Care. That's patrolling at its most elemental. From there, both volunteers and pros acquire an increasingly sophisticated set of skills.

What's confusing to the outsider is that despite the prominence of National Ski Patrol and its 27,600 members, less than 10 percent of NSP's ranks are paid pros. The rest are unpaid volunteers. While an organization called the Professional Ski Patrol Association does perform certification exams, there is no one governing body or official set of standards for pro patrolling across the U.S. The requirements to become a hero in red vary from mountain to mountain and are set by the patrol directors and ski area management.

Alta's Sam Howard, who is in charge of patroller training at that mountain, says good candidates for full-time patrolling have great skiing skills and the first-aid levels of an E.M.T. with the willingness to earn half as much. They come with high fitness levels, a lack of timidity, the ability to learn on their feet and a knack both for independent decision-making and highly integrated teamwork. Most of all, a good patroller has a great work ethic.

Little Glory, Big Guts