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Kings and Queens of the HIll

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First to arrive, and last to leave, the members of Sun Valley’s Ski Patrol are the gold standard for skiing safety.

Times have changed.

No longer can a young person blow into town in November, get a room with six people, find a night job bussing tables for spending money and work the Sun Valley Ski Patrol for a season pass and a “pro” deal on gear.

No longer do the old hands line up the greenhorns at the long bar in Slavey’s and teach them to drink “blue flamers” (light a shot glass of tequila on fire and toss it off in one swift moment, leaving a small blue flame in the bottom of the glass). Time was, it was possible to spot a newly-hired ski patrolman by the circle of blisters around his mouth.

Many of those new kids are veterans now (check ’em for burn scars), obviously, not only having survived that particular rite of passage but also having matured. And, just as they have matured, so has their profession. “The Patrol” has moved on from guys sleeping in VW vans in ski area parking lots, to citizens who help form the core of the communities they live in. They run the gamut of volunteers, soccer coaches, planning and zoning board members, small business owners, craftsmen and tradesmen and the guy who mows your lawn and tends your flowers all summer. Yet, few of these men and women see or describe themselves as the above. Their “real” job is the patrol, and with the first snowfall of the year they shed their other persona, don the ski parka with the red cross emblazoned on the back, buckle into cold boots and are on the mountain doing their job before the people they serve (and help protect) have had their first mocha latte.

The patrol is a great training ground for community builders. It instills a sense of responsibility and helps develop the virtues of trust, interdependency and teamwork. The attributes of physical bravery, level-headedness, good judgment and coolness in the face of adversity are admirable, not only in a patrolman, but also in a good neighbor.

Ask a patrolman’s thoughts on all of this and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same highfalutin’ “reason to be” language used here. More likely, you’ll get a laconic answer, more simple and direct:

“I love working outside,” “I like the challenge, the rush of excitement in moments of danger or emergency.”

Most patrolmen and women don’t spend a lot of time attempting to articulate why they love their work, they just go about it with proficiency and quiet pride.

As with any job, some aspects of it can be mundane and repetitious, stringing snow fence, shoveling, setting up signage, etc. The work seems to fall under three main categories: people management, snow management and emergency response. Under the first, good communication skills are paramount—skills that lie somewhere between those of your local policeman and the head of the Chamber of Commerce. In this category, policing is probably the most difficult call.

Large crowds and speed are not compatible. Skiers often reach higher speeds in larger crowds than would normally be found in downtown traffic. All are without the protection of bumpers, fenders, steel framing and safety-glass. Therefore, policing is inevitable. There is great difficulty in curtailing the over-enthusiasm of a group on college break, providing for the safety of the general skiing public, and still delivering a quality vacation experience for both. This takes judgment and diplomacy often acquired only by years on the job. >>>


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