27 January 2007

Ski Day 11: Training At Meadows

Sunrise, from atop the Mt. Hood Express chairlift.

Saturday was pretty awesome. It was my first day training at Mt. Hood Meadows, and the sun was shining, skies were clear, and the snow was...well, it kinda reminded me of back home, actually. It was pretty firm for the most part, icy in some spots, but the groomed stuff was excellent. Unlike home, though, it was an odd mix of frozen windpack, regular windpack, packed powder, groomed powder, and by the afternoon some mushy stuff. Good day for sled training.

The 'Q', underneath the top of the Blue chairlift.

After meeting up with our coaches, we started off with doing some opening procedures, pairing up with experienced patrollers to clear rope lines, set bamboo to mark obstacles, and so on. The fun part about doing that stuff is getting first tracks on the freshly groomed stuff. I was paired with a patroller named Tom, and we got assigned to put up some signs to mark a VERY deep drop into a gully where a creek ran, by the side of one of the trails. Looked like a good 12 feet from the snow on the edge of the trail to where the bare ground and water was. Yoi.

Planning the day's activities.

Once we finished up, it was time to meet back up with the coaches and get our sleds pulled over to the Shooting Star Express lift where we were to begin our training for the day. We dumped our poles at the 'Q', where we assembled (seen above), and headed off with the sleds. Of course, I volunteered to pull one of the Clippers, and made sure that I was using one of those whenever possible.

Open for business. Or is this Switzerland?

Once we got over to the Star, we basically just did runs with empty sleds, working on railing them in the turns so the skegs dig in and the tail of the sled doesn't wash out on the turns. At first, I thought it was going to be a little boring, but one of the coaches, Andrew, pulled me to the side early on and had me try some different stuff from everyone else. He had me work on skiing the empty sled in the junky snow off to the side of the groomed area and make turns in the handles while maintaining the sled directly behind me and tracking as straight down the fall line as possible. I managed to do that pretty well, so we worked on it a little more and then moved on to some other finer points of running empty.

Pretty windy - you can kind of see the snow blowing there.

Dragging sleds from the top of the lift.

The group got split up a little ways into the morning training, with some of the guys helping out on a case and taking it all the way into the clinic. I didn't catch what the injury was, but it didn't seem all that serious, and the guys who worked it got some valuable training on dealing with cases at Meadows, which is a little different than T-line and Bowl.

The guys I was with continued working with the sleds empty, getting tons of uploads along with the time in the handles. We worked our way over to the Hood River Express lift, stashed the sleds, and took a little break. Afterwards, we linked back up with the rest of the training crew and headed back over to Shooting Star and after a little more work there, broke for lunch.

The lunch bunch. Trainers Gordy and Matt wheeling and dealing.

After lunch was to be more area orientation over on the western side of the area, where most of the easier runs are, just so we know where we'll see most of our action. We went up the Daisy lift, and just as we skied down the offramp, we noticed a young girl on a snowboard who was sitting off to the side. She didn't flag us down or anything, but almost immediately after we stopped off to the side at the top of the lift, a radio call came in about an injury at the top of Daisy. Turns out the girl we saw had tweaked her knee, so we grabbed the sled that was there at the top of the lift, and packed her in it to take her to the clinic, which is right under the base of the lift. Andrew ran the sled, the other guy with us, Ryan (no, not Cirgusgeek Ryan, one from the fall OEC class) skied her board down. I grabbed Andrew's poles and followed them down so I could help out at the bottom.

As I was skiing down, I saw another young girl who looked like she'd crashed. One of her legs was bent kind of awkwardly under her, and she was crying. I offered to help, thinking, oh crap - I don't have a patrol radio so I can't call this in, and I don't have anything big enough to splint a leg in my pack. Turns out she wasn't hurt, but it was her first day skiing and her friends kinda ditched her, so she was crying, frustrated, and scared that she wouldn't get down the hill without hurting herself. So I took her ski off, and had her stand up and get back into her skis while I tried to figure out a way to help her down the hill. I tried skiing backwards in front of her while she held on to my arms, but it didn't work that well. She fell down and took me with her, so I got back up, helped her up, and tried to come up with a different way.

One of the pro patrollers came by with a sled, but he was headed to another case, so after a brief exchange with him, he basically said it's up to me to figure out how to get her down the hill. I tried to show her how to sideslip and use her edges to slow herself down, but she was a little too scared to try it herself. I ended up getting her into a stable standing position, getting in front of her, putting my skis outside hers and having her grab my waist. I said, "Just keep your skis together, don't cross your tips, and hold on tight - I'm going to ski us down, okay?" She kind of stopped crying a little and held on, and down the hill we went, me in a wedge and her just trying to stay up on the skis and not cross her tips.

We made it down to the flat area at the base of the lift, and I double-checked with her to make sure she wasn't hurt, and she told me she could get back over to the lodge from where we were by herself. She thanked me and headed across the flats towards the lodge. I felt bad for her, and a little peeved at her friends/parents for not putting her in a lesson or at least staying with her. Why do that to somebody?

I headed down to the clinic to meet back up with Andrew and Ryan, and the place was a MASH unit down there. Full up with injured skiers/boarders. I'd never seen so many at once before, and they were still coming in. We were just about to get a fresh sled pack back into our sled to take it back to the top of Daisy when 2 more cases came in. We helped one of the pro patrollers get a backboarded kid onto a gurney to take inside, and then dealt with a guy who was a little disoriented and had been brought to the clinic by his buddy who hadn't seen what happened. We assumed a head injury, although he knew his name, where he was, and that he'd been snowboarding that day. Pupil response seemed normal, too. He kinda struggled with what day it was ("Um...it's a weekend..."), so we walked him into the clinic, since he was sitting only 30 feet from the door. We made sure he was in good hands, packed up the sled, and Andrew lap-loaded it back up the lift.

After finally getting the whole crew back together again, we did some loaded runs off of Shooting Star, dropping into 3-D and O-Ring with our coaches as passengers. I got to do 3 runs in the handles, mostly because on the 2nd run, the guy I was going to hand the sled off to felt he needed more time working on the tail rope. So, I got more handle time and got to work on using the chain brake and the sled weight to slow us down instead of trying to muscle it with my legs. It worked well, and I felt like I had the hang of feathering the brake to control my speed and just using my legs for directional control more than stopping power.

We got near the bottom on the third run, where trainer Tom was having my tail-gunner, Scott, stop the sled himself with the tail rope. I had a pretty big build-up of snow on my skis, so I was just about to do a falling-leaf move to sluff it off when Scott called out, "Stopping!". He stopped the sled alright, but when Tom was trying to give him some more tips, we started moving again. I couldn't stop the sled, but I had us moving very slowly. I figured it was because I was turned around listening to them instead of staying in a good stance, so I tried just pushing down on the handles to jam the chain brake into the snow to stop us. That didn't work, since the snow I'd just sluffed off my skis was now under the nose of the sled and was too thick for the brake to be effective.

Fortunately, we were maybe 8 feet above where the trail flattens out, so it wasn't a big deal. But it taught me a lesson about letting the snow build up underfoot. Bad things can happen if you let the snow build up to the point where it packs around the brake and there's hard snow underneath. The snow packed around the nose of the sled was just sliding along over the hard stuff, keeping the chain brake from biting in and slowing us down.

After that, we stashed the sleds for the Sunday crew, got some free-skiing in, and helped with funneling people away from the runs that would take them over to the Heather Canyon lift so the area could clear and close the trails not being used for night skiing. Snapped some pictures, too.

Trainer Gordy making turns on the steeps.

Trainer Andrew traversing towards better snow. Looks like he found it, as he's about to turn...

Trainer Matt just posing, to make my job easier.

Mt. Jefferson to the south. Didn't want to stand around until sundown...

On the last run heading down to pack it in for the day, I got separated from the coaches (read, the left me behind because I was snapping photos), and didn't get to meet up with them at the lodge for de-brief. I packed my gear into the Jeep, wandered over to where I thought they said the patrol room was, and found it dark and empty. Shit, well maybe I'll catch them at the Ratskeller, I thought. So I got back in the Jeep and drove to Govy.

I went into the Ratskeller and met up with Terry, OEC classmate and one of the 'Invert' group who is now patrolling and was up at Meadows. We chatted briefly and I saw Jose, Barkernews, and Bob - all 'Inverts' from our OEC class that were patrolling at Timberline Saturday. Unfortunately, those three were leaving, but I chatted with Terry a little more. It took forever to get someone to take my order, but I finally got a beer and put in an order for a small pepperoni pizza. I sat down at a table full of patrollers, nursed my beer, and waited for my pizza.

It took what seemed like 30 minutes, but it was tasty and worth it. I hung out with the guys, listening to 'war stories', and finished my pizza. Tall tales, cold beer, and good pizza seemed like a perfect way to end a fine day of training.


Ski Patroller StL said...

GREAT post . . . I really enjoy reading what you do on an average patrolling day (is there such a thing?).

I always amazed at how people get their "friends" so far over their heads that they don't know what to do to get down. Fastest way to ruin someone on skiing, for life, is to do that to them.

Congrats on getting the woman down the hill safely, I would be she spent moments of enjoying her ride; hopefully she'll be brave enough to get into a lesson.

Good on ya, love the photos and the stories, keep 'em coming!

brando said...

That's a great pic of Jefferson poking through.

Ghost Dog said...

STL: Thanks. I doubt there is such a thing as an average patrolling day. So far, every one of them has had something interesting.

Brando: Thanks. It's weird how Meadows, which is a little farther away than Timberline, seemed to have a better view of Jefferson. One of these days I'm gonna get a camera with a better zoom.

Major Clanger said...

Great pics! Strange story about the girl left behind by her friends, I wonder if they are still friends?