19 November 2006

Ski Patrol Sled Training: Day 1

Today was the long-anticipated first day of my ski patrol sled training. I got up to Timberline way early, owing to the fact that I'd budgeted some time to chain up during the drive up there. I didn't need it, as the roads were clear. After I parked, I sat in the Sorento listening to The Toasters and thinking about what the day might hold. As dawn began to break, I noticed the mountain, not quite as covered in snow as I'd expected. I hopped out, did some stretches, and snapped a photo of the mountain.

Surveying the lot, I saw Barkernews & NoPoGirl's pickup and trailer at the far end of the lot. I thought for a moment about ambling over there to say hi, but I figured they didn't need their breakfast interrupted and I'd see them soon enough in the patrol room anyway. One last little stretch and look around (hm...should be cool and overcast...), I grabbed my gear and walked to the patrol room.

Once there, I started gearing up, and sat down to chat with one of my trainers. Saw a lot of familiar faces fill the room, and just had a feeling it would be a good day. A fellow apprentice was up to shadow for the day, so just the two of us were training - with three trainers. Pretty good deal.

People were coming in complaining about it raining, however. Knowing my jacket sucks ass, I thought, this could be a long, cold day. After the morning meeting, we met with our trainers, discussed a little about how the day would go, then headed off with a Clipper sled to get going. We started off with a little discussion about the sled itself and some of the basics (here's the chain brake, this is how you lock the handles - nothing new for me, having done a couple runs with a Clipper last season), tail-roping and the techniques involved.

Off we went, down Thunder, with me in the handles and the other apprentice, Nick, on the tail rope. Good smooth run with the empty sled, and I was feeling good despite the fact that we weren't very far into the day and I could already feel my gloves getting damp in the seams. We got over to Bob Elmer and stopped, and our trainers had us run through a couple of drills on the steeper sections, working on communication and coordinating ski transitions.

We got to the bottom of the Pucci lift, rigged the sled for lift transport (hooked a bracket onto it), and I got to take it up. Got it off the chair without a hitch, and Nick and I swapped out. Tail roping is actually pretty hard work. You kind of have to scout from behind (not what I'm used to), as well as be aware of the sled orientation, help with braking, and give your sled driver a boost on the flats. Nick did a good job getting the sled off the chair at the top.

Next run we did with one of our trainers in the sled, me in the handles again, and I had another pretty smooth run. I chose not to use the chain brake as my 'patient' wasn't a big guy and I had a strong skier as my tail roper. The trainers would have preferred I used the brake, but I ended up not needing it and we had another good run anyway. Unfortunately, I didn't get as smooth an unload at the top of the chair as the first run and kind of pulled my left bicep yanking the sled off the chair as it was starting to lose contact with the snow. Cursing myself, I trudged up the lift ramp to give the bracket to the attendant and guess who I run into up there?

Yeah, the head of the paid patrollers at T-line.

I'd met him before, from all the trips to T-line in the summer, but I was still pretty embarrassed.
Me: "Fucked that one up a little, didn't I? Can't get 'em all on the first day, I guess."
Him: "Hey, at least you stayed with it and got it off of there."
Me: "Heh, thanks."
I trudged back down to the guys and we talked a little about what went wrong there and moved on. Well, I didn't move on. At least not immediately. I kinda beat myself up about it for a little while, but that was short-lived.

That's because our trainers pulled a fast one on us. Well, not just us - they pretty much fooled a bunch of the rest of the patrollers, too. Without getting into too much detail, they basically made it sound like an actual case was happening so we would saddle up and get going with the kind of urgency we'd need for the real deal. So, I jumped in the handles and Nick on the rope, and we took off. We were moving pretty well, and had to stop quickly to avoid missing the 'case'. Turns out we were just running a scenario. I have to say I was a little bummed, since I've completed OEC and can actually help out. We assessed the fake injury, and pretend-loaded our 'patient' into the sled and did another run loaded. This time with the chain brake.

After lunch, we helped a little with some cases that came into the aid room, tried to dry off some of our clothes, then went back out for some more runs. After a couple more runs with the sled (and a smooth sled unload from the lift this time), we put it away for a bit and skied a couple free-ski runs waiting for closing time to roll around so we could do sweep. I was soaked pretty much all over by then, but I couldn't feel a thing while I was making turns and enjoying the skiing.

Once we got to the bottom for the last ride up, however, I was noticing just how wet and cold I was getting. Once we got back to the top of Pucci, we grabbed the sled and carried it across the lodge parking lot back to the aid room area, dripped all over the patrol room for the afternoon meeting/de-brief, then packed up and went home. I was sure glad I had brought up a couple extra layers, so I had some dry clothes to wear for the drive home. I'm sooo getting a new jacket. I'm not going to go through the rest of my apprentice year soaking wet every time it gets a little rainy or snowy. Better gloves are on my list as well. And I want a helmet.


Red said...

WOW! What a day for you. You shouldn't beat yourself up, you are doing the best you can and you should feel proud in who you are benefitting by participating in this program. It's amazing and reassuring to know people like you are out there to make skiing safer for all of us.

You just might need to start a "Mike's Ski Patrol Fund" You'll take donations of any size as it's for the good of the skiers. Especailly ones like me who are more than likely to end up with my face in the snow if ever I attempt recreations on the snow ever again.
I say "Awesome Job" and keep it up, don't let anyone get you down!

Ghost Dog said...

I pretty much always beat myself up at least a little when I make mistakes on the hill. It helps me remember not to do it again. On the plus side, they didn't have to stop the lift, so nobody got extra cold or wet on my account. :)

As for a Ski Patrol fund, I'd just suggest that people donate to the Mount Hood Ski Patrol. We're a non-profit organization, so it's tax-deductible. Maybe if someone out there wanted to pay for ad space on the helmet I'm going to get, that might help with the jacket... :)