Details, Wintergreen Resort
A crowd descends on him in the examining room, like something out of “ER” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” minus the matching scrubs. The ski patrol members peel off several layers of the boy’s clothing, careful not to jostle the arm that seems to be the source of his pain.
Ebling’s diagnostic guess: a fractured wrist. Ouch.
It’s exactly the kind of injury you’d expect at a ski resort. This one will probably be a “long form,” the crew’s euphemism for broken legs, concussions and other similar injuries that require a sheaf of paperwork.
Yes, even in a job as sexy-sounding as ski patroller, there are plenty of i’s to dot and t’s to cross.
Part medic, part traffic cop and part supreme winter athlete, each member of the Wintergreen Ski Patrol is a highly trained ambassador of the mountain. The crew responds to slope-side emergencies while doing everything in its power to prevent calamity from happening in the first place. The corps consists of about 140 patrollers, including 40 paid staffers who work mostly midweek, when the volunteers have to take care of those boring things we call day jobs.
By at least one measure, the Wintergreen team is pretty good at what it does. Twice the National Ski Patrol has named it Outstanding Large Alpine Patrol, most recently for 2010-2011. I wanted some insight into this elite group, which agreed to let me, an intermediate skier at best, be a hanger-on for a day. I just hoped that I wouldn’t be one of the casualties towed off the mountain by the end of it.
Tools of the trade
At about 7:30 on a Saturday morning, I’m already falling behind, and we haven’t even hit the slopes yet. After hustling through the resort parking lot, I arrive slightly winded at ski patrol headquarters, where the daily muster had started at 7:15 a.m. This is when the patrollers receive their assignments and learn about slope conditions from director of ski patrol operations Tucker Crolius, who starts trawling the mountain as early as 5:30 a.m. to survey the scene and put up caution signs and banners.
They also get briefed on how many tour buses will be coming up from Raleigh, N.C., Richmond and other snow-deprived locales that feed into the central Virginia resort a little over an hour southwest of Charlottesville. Such groups are more likely to consist of those the patrollers refer to as “never evers,” skiers greener than the grass beneath the snow.
When the meeting breaks up, I meet my handlers, Brett Henyon and Ebling. Where they’re sleek in their bright red standard-issue jackets and ski goggles, I’m puffy in a blue down jacket and white-and-pink-tassled alpaca hat.
The tools of their trade include radios, knives, bandages and other medical supplies. “Every pocket is full,” Ebling tells me. She’s used to the extra weight, although eventually “you realize that you don’t need everything.”