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view from the top : Numerous trails of Mount Naomi lead through some of the most spectacular alpine scenery found in the intermountain west./ Photo by Melissa Kamis
Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

"The First Amendment gives everyone -- including nuts -- free speech,
but free speech has a purpose: that the people may judge for themselves
and bury the nuts with indignation. We fail our founding fathers if we
let blowhards rage on talk radio, in little magazines and in nasty
books without delivering counterattacks.

   -- Barron's, Aug. 9, 2004 (Thanks to alert WORDster John Mollwitz)

Volunteer ski patrol at Beaver takes safety seriously

By Jamie Karras

March 18, 2004 | They are men and women in jet-black uniforms with gold detailing, but they don't carry guns, fight fires or administer CPR in the back of an ambulance.

Instead of cruising around in a Crown Victoria with flashing lights affixed to the top, or truck, double in size, with a ladder that is tall enough to retrieve small kittens from the tops of towering trees, they use long strips of fiberglass strapped to their feet as mode of transportation.

Their apparel, while not designed to handle the impact of a bullet, the heat of a fire or the poisoning of carbon monoxide, keeps out cold air and the occasional snowball.

They are members of Beaver Mountain's National Ski Patrol, one of the only all-volunteer patrols remaining in the West.

They might not be trained to handle the common ailments of Cache Valley, as are police, firefighters and paramedics, but in mountainous terrain, where snow and injured skiers or boarders are present, they know exactly what to do.

One day while skiing down the mountain long-time patroller Ron Monson and a colleague came across a skier who had sliced a five- to six-inch gash in his upper thigh with his ski during a crash. Monson was concerned that the skier might have cut his femoral artery.

Reaching into his coat pocket, Monson withdrew some Maxi pads that he typically carries around should such a circumstance arise. Usually a pad and a little pressure will do the trick, but this time the blood was a flood. They wrapped the victim up like baby bunting in a toboggan and proceeded to take him down the mountain. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) responded and raced the victim through the zigzagging of the canyon to the hospital, and Monson said he later learned that while the skier had lost a tremendous amount of blood, he recovered.

Patrollers have to be heavily trained how to handle all sorts of emergencies that a steep mountain covered in snow can make because ambulances and hospital rooms are about 30 miles away. Chair lift accidents and skier-snowboarder collisions are some of the typical things that patrollers see, however, once in a while they respond to the unexpected.

A Utah State University dairy cow that needed first aid after it sliced its udder on a groomer during a photo op, Monson said, reiterates the fact that they see "anything and everything."

"We're not geared for udder repair," Monson said. "But we did what we could with gauze and duct tape."

The patrollers on staff aren't just ski buffs who figured this would be the best way to ski for free. They first had to pass through a rigorous screening of their skiing abilities and if they pass they move to the next level – toboggan pulling – and finally, go through medical classes. Of the hundreds that show up for the ski screening, only a handful make the grade, and once all the training is said and done, a fraction of those remain.

"There's definitely a lot of time involved in being a patroller," Monson said. "And many don't realize that when they first try out."

After being fully accepted as a patroller, a minimum of 200 hours a year are spent in the capacity and even still, their pockets are never plumper because of it.

Not only is the 102-member patrol trained in emergency response, a few of them do it for a living.

Ken Mathys got his first Emergency Medical Service (EMS) training 17 years ago when he started volunteering as a patroller, but now some days he hauls injured off the mountain on skis and sometimes in an ambulance as an EMT with Logan City.

"The patrollers have two things in common, skiing and EMS, and after that anything goes," said Mathys referring to the variety of professional lives of the ski patrollers.

Monson compares the patrol staff to Smith and Edwards, a store just north of Ogden that sells just about anything you can dream up.

"We've got everything," he said. "Doctors, EMTs and even mortgage brokers."

Monson, who is a mortgage broker by day and ski patroller by night, or just on his days off, said that being a patroller is a great way to combine two loves – community service and skiing.

On any given day, patrollers can be spotted free skiing down the crisp, frosted slopes of Little Beaver, Canyon View, Teddy's Frolic or any of the other 22 runs on the mountain, their eyes keen for injured skiers or boarders.

Patrollers carry radios at all times so that if they comes across someone in need of assistance, they can radio up to the top mountain, where additional patrollers are stationed in a 14 by 16 foot building heated with a wood stove, waiting for calls for help, Monson said. Their job is to bring a toboggan equipped with blankets and various splints, with names like "jiffy" and "airplane," to aid in transporting the victim off the mountain.

Once at the bottom of the hill, the injured are ushered into a cabin-like lodge for further care. Not all injuries are severe enough to require aid of ski patrol on the mountain. On a daily basis, cases of bumps and bruises appear at the door of the newly built lodge, whose bright atmosphere is very welcoming.

Heath Banbury realized mid-air that he had taken the jump too fast. Later, he remembers coming to lying in a bed wrapped tightly in a flannel blanket. The wall behind him was equipped to distribute oxygen and a bed next to him contained a fellow skier, who seemed to have the same fate. It wasn't until he noticed the black and gold snow gear of the men and women passing through the building that he realized where he was.

Banbury doesn't remember skiing to the patrol lodge after crashing on his snowboard, but he did. He was quickly ushered inside where trained patrollers assessed his injuries. The crash left Banbury with a concussion, a shiny red lump square on his forehead and a new sense of safety. That same day he bought a helmet.

"Most injuries are due to people skiing out of control," Monson said. "They have gotten onto a slope which they aren't capable of skiing and they aren't able to descend safely."

Changing weather conditions, variations or steepnesss in terrain, snow or ice conditions, bare spots, forest growths, rocks, stumps or collisions with other people are all risks that the skier/rider assumes while on the mountain, according to Beaver Mountain's information pamphlet. To sum it all up, ski is like a game of roulette – play at your own risk.

"Natural hazards may not be marked," the pamphlet stated. "Be aware, ski with care!"

Some days the mountain is absolutely "dead," Monson said, and other days it's hard to keep up with the accidents. One day in particular, 13 accidents were reported between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.; two of which required the dispatch EMTs and one even life-flight.

Logan City EMS Chief Sid Carpenter said they have been dispatched four or five times in the past week for head, back, or neck related injuries and every time he said most of the work is done by the time they arrive.

"They've definitely got good care up there while they're waiting," Carpenter said. "We love the work they do."

As the sun sets on the white, speckled pine trees dotting the mountainside, the patrollers each sweep an individual run for lagging skiers and boarders, making sure no one is forced to spend a cold, undeserved night on the slopes. Once done, they check in at the rental shop to make sure all of the skis and snowboards are accounted for before heading home themselves.

Beaver Mountain has been family owned and operated since 1939, said Ted Seeholzer owner of the resort. Wendell Liechty, a patroller for 53 years now, can remember back when the "ski lift" was no more than a rope tow run by an old milk truck. It was back then that about 40 skiers was considered a good day. Now Beaver consists of 25 runs serviced by four chair lifts and President's Day saw a record-breaking crowd of 1,791.


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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