March 2, 2013

Skiing in Maine: The hills are alive with customer service


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History tells us that by 1964, patrollers had already tobogganed a quarter of a million ankle-sprained, shoulder-separated, leg-fractured victims off American ski slopes. Over the next 40 years, NSPS membership grew from 10,000 to more than 25,000, including an elite corps of paid patrollers who were able to care for the growing number of midweek skiers at the major resorts as weekend volunteers were unavailable,

Thanks to improved grooming and marked improvement in ski design and release-binding, injuries are rare indeed as we seldom see a toboggan headed down a trail today to retrieve an injured skier or boarder, whereas longtime skiers remember the days when rescue sleds were a common sight.

Although the patroller is someone we'd rather not see unless we need his or her assistance, the fact is that caring for injured skiers is a very small part of the modern patroller's work. In fact the list is almost endless. Trail check in the morning before the lifts start to turn? Bamboo warning poles in place? Towers padded? Hydrants shielded? Ropes up? Downed branches cleared? Surfaces groomed or otherwise safe? Thin spots or dangers marked? Signs in proper places? Nets secure? Slow signs up?

Then during the day it's riding the lifts and skiing the trails to ensure they're safe, repacking toboggans that might have been used the previous day and checking all their gear. At day's end, trail sweeps are coordinated to be sure everyone's safely off the mountain.

That's the behind-the-scenes stuff on the average day for the modern patroller, not to mention hours spent in both on- and offseason training.

So next time on the slopes, give a nod to the unsung heroes that contribute so much to your enjoyment and your safety.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at:


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