The easy familiarity also plays out over breakfast in the Copper Mine Bistro, where one of the waitresses knows Crolius’s and Ebling’s drink preferences without having to take the order.
As the patrollers down scrambled eggs, bacon and the kind of food I could eat a ton of only if I were the one working nine-hour shifts on the slopes, a message comes over on their portable radios: possible injury. It’s 8:50 a.m.
“That’s really early,” Ebling observes. No need to abandon our meal, though. Another patroller already out and about goes to investigate.
On a bad day, the call could be the first of many. A busy day may yield about 20 long forms. The tally of those treated in an average season ranges from 800 to 1,000.
After sufficient time for warming up and carb- and cholesterol-loading, Henyon, Ebling and I return to maintaining peace and safety.
Riding one of the resort’s chair lifts, I meet rookie patroller John Wells, a Charlottesville investment analyst. What urgent situation is taking him to the top of the mountain? That would be a trash bag change.
At the summit, as many of us as can fit — three is too many, really — pile into the diminutive shack that serves as a ski patrol outpost. Important supplies occupy every inch of usable space: backboards, rope, oxygen, extrication gear, coffee. There’s no set schedule for the shifts inside the hut, which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “ski in, ski out.”
From the hut, we swoosh over the short distance to where the patrol has erected ’boos in a series of X’s. Here, X marks the spot through which skiers cannot pass. Only a thin layer of snow covers the rocks beneath, murder on skis and knees. Ebling and Henyon stand in front of the barrier, and yet — and yet — a half dozen people zip past them to duck through the ’boos as a shortcut to the ski village. Henyon can’t believe it. That’s an obvious moving violation.
Next, it’s my turn to spot the hazard. Henyon, a 14-year veteran and weekend night manager, asks me to figure out what’s wrong with the scene before us. Surely my journalistic observation skills won’t fail me now. I look. And look and look. Nothing.
Using his ski pole, Henyon directs my gaze to a trail sign that has been whited out by a snow gun. Especially for beginners, the last thing you want is someone going down a slope above their abilities.
After clearing the trail sign, we return to ski patrol HQ. Henyon and Ebling could probably have continued for hours. Unused to this demanding work, I, however, need a break.
Medics and wipeouts
As the afternoon wears on, the office gets more and more crowded. More patrol members come to hang out, even if they aren’t scheduled for duty. Injured and ailing skiers and snowboarders take up nearly all the seating available in the treatment area. Fractured-wrist boy definitely isn’t alone.