Should on-duty ski patrollers be allowed to ride snowboards? Although the National Ski Patrol has already amended their rules to incorporate snowboarders, some mountains are hesitant letting patrollers work on snowboards. Although the discussion in this matter involves a number of issues, contenders tend to take a strong stand on one side or the other of the issue. The following is a look at the debate from both angles.
Jack Mason, ski-patrol director at Winter Park Ski Resort in Colorado for the last thirteen years, is president of the National Ski Patrol. Although he supports National Ski Patrol’s efforts to include snowboarders in its ranks, he will not allow snowboarding patrollers at Winter Park unless they use ski equipment in the execution of their duties.
In Mason’s words, “We know that our clientele wouldn’t feel right about being treated in a medical situation by a snowboard rider.” He acknowledges that snowboard patrollers may be appropriate at other resorts, especially if a high percentage of snowboard riders are guests. But Mason believes Winter Park shouldn’t allow snowboard patrollers even if the rider can fulfill all patrol duties.
However, other U.S. resorts have a different perspective. At Loon Mountain, New Hampshire, Patrol Director Dan Healy welcomes the addition of snowboarders to the patrol. “It’s not a matter of equipment, it’s a matter of preparation and performance. If a person gets their medical certification and can perform all duties required, I don’t care if they’re wearing Alpine skis, a snowboard, or telemark skis.”
At Snow Summit Ski Resort in California, Paul Romero is assistant director of the patrol. He is the snowboard advisor to the Far West Division of the National Ski Patrol, and is a full-time EMT for the Bear Valley Paramedics. Romero hasn’t skied in six years; he rides a snowboard for fun and as an integral part of his job at Snow Summit.
“When we decided to allow patrol to use snowboards, we went after it full-bore from day one,” says Romero. “There were no preset restrictions. Our Director Terry McDonald is very open-minded, and he could see the value of snowboard riders on patrol.” Romero adds that the patrol’s role goes beyond their function as rescue or medical staff. They are an integral part of guest service and setting a good example for all mountain users.
Romero’s work with the National Ski Patrol has been instrumental in developing its snowboarding policies. “We knew there would be an influx of riders interested in being on the National Ski Patrol. The concern was appropriate training procedures, so the National Ski Patrol formed a committee to study the issue and recommend any necessary changes.”
In what amounts to a modern record for the National Ski Patrol, the Snowboard Committee determined in less than a year that very few training procedures needed to be developed specifically for snowboard members. The basic program works regardless of equipment used.
Romero says that most National Ski Patrol procedures and practices are performance oriented, not task specific. In other words, the outcome is more important than the steps to get there. If a person on a board can pull a rescue sled with the same safety considerations and outcome as a person on skis, there is no reason they can’t perform that task as a member of the National Ski Patrol.
Romero adds, however, that it is each resort’s prerogative to allow riders to serve on their patrol. It is not within the domain of the National Ski Patrol to make that determination for individual areas.
Even hardcore snowboard patrollers concede that there are situations where boards are not suitable in the execution of patrol duties. At Kirkwood Ski Resort in California, ski-patrol member and longtime-rider Matt Stewart says that it’s really not practical to use a snowboard for patrolling at a resort like Kirkwood. “We have so much hiking and traversing involved in avalanche-control work that a snowboard isn’t effficient.” Stewart adds that the Kirkwood staff is so small, everyone must be able to fulfill all patrol duties. Were the resort large enough, it might be possible to have some patrollers on snowboards and leave the avalanche control work to others.
Another oft-cited disadvantage to patrolling on a snowboard are long traverses. Lengthy flat stretches that require a skier to skate with a rescue sled are a problem for a patroller with both feet bolted to the same block of wood. At some resorts, terrain layout would clearly constitute an obstacle to efficient rescue service.
Proponents of snowboard riders on the patrol point out that the issue goes beyond the functions of medical and rescue work. Snow Summit’s Romero notes that all employees at the resort are involved directly and indirectly with guest relations. And even more importantly, they serve as role models.
“Results readily acknowledge that snowboard patrollers are important for relations with guests who snowboard,” says Romero. He adds that disciplinary action in particular can be most effective when meted out by a fellow rider. “It takes a lot of wind out of their sails when the person pulling a lift ticket for reckless behavior is on a snowboard.”
Perhaps more important is the image that snowboard-riding patrollers bring to skiers. For those guests who still view all snowboarders as serial killers, patrollers on boards are an obvious reminder that stereotyping any group of mountain users makes no sense.
Most snowboard patrollers share a common desire for full-integration if a patrol is going to include snowboarders. Having riders named to a patrol whose sole duties are public relations is generally viewed as a mistake akin to tokenism. If a patroller can’t fulfill the duties of medical assistance, rescue, guest education, and discipline, then don’t put a cross on their back. Let them work for marketing.
The issue may well be addressed over the long-term as a logical reaction to the maximization of available resources. As the ski/snowboard industry evolves, the talent pool of workers willing and able to use snowboards instead of skis will grow. Resort managers will need to use that talent. And after all, having your injury patched up by a qualified medical person on a snowboard beats the hell out of laying in the snow until a skier can be found.
The fact is, some riders (just like some skiers) make excellent patrol members. There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of equipment. The merits of snowboarders serving on the patrol will ultimately be determined by their performance, not what they ride.