Night Powder Patroller. Photo by Denny Mont
Have you skied 30 days a year for as long as you can remember? Did you ever write to Warren Miller and tell him that you were the next skiing sensation and you should be featured in his film? Have a hankering for adventure and feel that helping people on the slopes is second nature? Welcome to your new home away from home, the National Ski Patrol.
A quick read of the National Ski Patrol (NSP) website offers valuable information about the process of becoming a ski patroller.
The NSP is a U.S. based organization of approximately 27,000 members and represents the majority of paid and volunteer ski and snowboard patrollers in the United States.
Basic and wilderness first aid are required and within reach of the ski enthusiast . The NSPA provides the courses necessary for your success. The Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) course is the cornerstone of the ski patrol program. The books and the course will run you upwards of $300 once all is said and done, and the course time is approximately 80-100 hours depending if you do a weekend cram session or a regularly scheduled course program.
Edward McNamara, OEC program director, states that the OEC course is “a requirement for all individuals who are National Ski Patrol members, and becoming popular with other outdoor sports programs like river rafting guides, mountain guides, mountain bikers, etc and other agencies that become Affiliates of the National Ski Patrol system.” McNamara also noted that participants receive training which “exceeds the US National requirements for First Responders.”
Candidates for the Ski Patrol begin working with veteran patrollers to master skiing proficiency, Toboggan handling, mountain travel and rescue, plus avalanche identification skills. You choose to develop your skills depending where you are and the various ski resort standards. Ideally, you are able to ski, snowboard, telemark or cross country ski at an intermediate to advance level.
There isn’t a central hiring process. People sign up during the fall months. Most training sessions have off hill and on hill components and patrollers are ready for the post Thanksgiving ski season. Contact information can be found on the NSP website or by sifting through the yellow pages to call local ski area management. Larger ski resorts have ski patrol websites or write ups in local papers.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
It all starts with free ski passes, which is a main draw for skiers and snowboarders out there. You get to sport a cool outfit with the emblem that ski lift operators and resorts recognize nationwide. There are opportunities to ski at resorts right across the country, whether it’s Lake Placid in NY, Arapahoe Basin in CO, or Sugar Bowl in Nevada. Other benefits include promo-deals on ski and snowboarding equipment, professional development, and sports-related magazine offers., and community involvement, such as new ski run opening celebrations, booth-hosting at winter festivals, and days on the mountain with local community groups and public school students.
Andy Miller, an 11-year patrol veteran of Sugar Bowl near Lake Tahoe, spoke about the broader benefits, “being the first one on and the last one off the mountain; watching the sun go down in the west as I’m waiting to do sweep; feeling the genuine gratitude that so many accident victims express when you’re helping them; the friendships that I’ve developed with my fellow patrollers, and the trust that I have in them if I were hurt and in need.”
Many ski patrollers are volunteers that have regular day jobs. They ski or snowboard on the weekends or any other time they can squeeze in a few extra runs during the ski season. Resorts also look for dependable full-timers that want to take their love of skiing to the next level and will hire on paid patrollers. According to the latest statistics from the U.S Department of Labour, a paid ski patroller could expect to earn 10 to 12 dollars an hour or an annual average income of $20,000 depending on their skill level, position held and extra perks of the job.
Miller feels that new patrollers should dig in for the season: “If you’re doing it just to get a free lift pass, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and you’ll probably be a short-timer.” You may not always get to ski at your favorite locations, the hours are long and you may find yourself digging out snow fences for the better part of an afternoon but the friends and connections that you will establish make all the difference.
Peter Davison packed up his bags, left his really cool apartment in Toronto and is an emerging freelance writer based out of Shanghai, China. He enjoys a good cup of coffee, North Korean propaganda posters and hanging out with friends over a few solid drinks.