Despite the continued threat of global warming, skiing remains a popular pastime for millions of skiers and snowboarders each year. At the same time enthusiasm for new challenges has led to the evolution of more backcountry skiing, ski touring, and other snow sports. For the most part, skiers’ days will pass without incident but for a tiny minority, either by accident or ill-health, they will require the aid of a ski patroller. So, what does a ski patroller do? How do you get trained? What’s involved?
In both the US and the UK, not-for-profit associations organize the training and management of many ski patrollers, who work in different ski resorts. For entry and training, you must be 15 in the US and 18 in the UK. You are required to study for first-aid training, as well as on-the-job training with the ski patrol organization in a local resort. It is also possible to train for more specialized patrol duties depending on the resort location.
Ski patrollers have several responsibilities. They act to maintain and promote skier safety and they offer first-aid to casualties on the mountain. When necessary, they organize the safe transport of the injured and ill, so they can be subsequently transferred to the hospital. By its nature, ski patrolling is an outdoor role in sometimes very challenging conditions, which requires excellent interpersonal skills between colleagues and casualties.
Ski Patrol in the United States
Founded in 1938 in Stowe, Vermont, the National Ski Patrol (NSP) has since witnessed the revolution in skiing and snowboarding in the US. The organization’s role has evolved with the sport, starting initially with a service responsibility, and progressing into an international education organization as well. The growing popularity of newer snow sport disciplines, such as snowboarding, snow skating, backcountry, and ski touring, has required the NSP to further extend its safety and emergency care training programs.
The NSP today has more than 30,000 patrollers serving more than 650 patrols throughout the US. It has also transferred its systems, knowledge, and experience via consultancy and training programs to Canada, Europe, and Asia. The NSP is a not-for-profit organization. Income is raised from membership fees, donations, and corporate sponsorships. There are opportunities for full-time ski patrollers as well as part-time volunteer posts.
* I’m interested in being a Ski Patroller, is there a try-out?
If you contact the patrol director at your local ski resort, you can ask to take part in an applicant screening day. During this test day, you’ll shadow a patrol to see what the organization expects of you and how it operates. At the same time, it’s a chance for the leader of the patrol to evaluate your skills and experience.
What are the requirements to become Ski Patrol?
* Skiing Ability
Being on a ski patrol is physically demanding, requiring strength and stamina throughout lengthy incidents. Your skiing ability may be tested to the limits, while at the same time the weather can be at its most extreme. Very good all-round skiing ability within the ski resort is vital, as well as a good level of competence in more remote areas on the mountain. Transporting equipment and injured skiers by toboggan are a routine part of the training program.
What minimum qualifications do I need?
- Trainees must be 15 or older
- You need to be registered on an Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) course and have passed Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for the Professional Rescuer. The NSP has a list of approved agencies for training.
- Patrollers must be affiliated with their local ski resort and satisfy their local requirements.
Who do I contact?
Most ski resorts start recruiting new patrollers the summer before the winter season. There is a large amount of preparation to get the resort ready before the season starts. Ski patrollers often help to organize the opening of the runs and equipment, as well as search out and mitigate the number of hazards on the mountain.
What are the different levels of Certification for Ski Patrollers?
1. Certified Program
Alpine patrollers will already have built up considerable experience, which they will add to in studying for the certified program. The extra training includes the following subjects:
- Avalanche – studying the detail of the snowpack, mountain weather, and avalanche observations, that are vital for risk planning for a backcountry tour.
- Low Angle Lift Evacuation – training to understand the technical evacuation of a casualty from a ski run
- Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) – certification in first aid, as well as care prior to hospital admission.
- Outdoor Risk Management (ORM) – wide-ranging training, which includes legislation, industry practice, risk, as well as operational understanding of ski school, lift operations, lift maintenance, terrain park operation, artificial snow, and run grooming.
- Toboggan – use of the toboggan to transport casualties.
2. Senior Program
- Alpine Senior – for patrollers who are certified to use toboggans
- Nordic Senior – for patrollers who are classified as Nordic/Backcountry
- Senior Patroller – for patrollers who don’t use toboggans, but mostly work in the first aid room
3. Nordic Master Program
This is the highest level of certification for Nordic/backcountry patrollers. Participants are required to demonstrate their ability and skill in independently providing emergency care in sometimes remote locations. They must be able to prove the ability to survive in harsh winter conditions over several days. The required topics include:
- Timed Nordic skiing is the ability to ski fast enough to reach a casualty in good time
- Wilderness patient transport
- Ropes, belays, and anchors to evacuate a casualty from a complex site
- Map reading, including use of GPS
- Avalanche terrain analysis, safety, and organised search techniques
What Are The Different Roles For Patrollers?
Volunteer opportunities in ski resorts are usually part-time, one or two days a week. The roles are varied but often include working as a patroller, assisting with accidents or ill skiers, or helping in first-aid areas.
2. Full-time Patrollers
Usually employed on a full-time basis, full-time patrollers are paid to work full-time hours. As well as patrolling, full-time patrollers carry out avalanche mitigation and other tasks.
Ski Patrol in the UK
Located in Aviemore, Scotland, the British Association of Ski Patrollers (BASP) works to train ski patrollers in the UK. Often working in challenging conditions and in high-risk locations, the ski patrollers manage mountain safety across the five skiing areas including Glencoe, Cairngorm, Glenshee, Nevis Range, and Lecht.
How do I train to become Ski Patrol in the UK?
What minimum qualifications do I need?
- At least 18 or over
- Become a member of BASP (£25)
- Hold a BASP Logbook (£15) – complete with details of your first aid qualification and your skiing/snowboarding skills.
- Skiing/Snowboarding – The minimum standard is to be able to competently ski or snowboard on all pisted runs within a Scottish Ski Resort.
- First Aid Certification – The minimum First Aid qualification is a 2-day Outdoor Emergency Course or 3-day FAW (First Aid at Work) certificate.
- Mountain Experience – Mountain experiences can include hiking, ski touring (without uplift), snowshoeing, or mountaineering.
Different Levels of Patrols
Resort patrollers will have been trained and will have good experience of a specific ski resort and surrounding area. The patroller needs to work as part of a rescue team, which will include more qualified and experienced patrollers. The resort patroller must be able to carry out routine daily tasks within the resort, as well as treat and evacuate ill or less seriously injured patients.
2. National Patroller
A national patroller has a wider remit and while he will have excellent working knowledge and understanding of one ski resort, he will have the skill and judgment to apply this knowledge to any number of other ski resorts. This wider range of skills will include the ability to organize and lead a group in the aid of seriously injured or ill casualties on the mountain. While normally committed to just one ski resort their transferable skills make them of particular use during major incidents.