POWDER MOUNTAIN — Ski patrollers wear many hats: Mountaineer, rules enforcer, mountain escort, customer service provider, ski bum, and — perhaps most importantly — medical technician.
The initial process of becoming a ski patroller requires an intensive course in emergency care in preparation for dealing with the various injuries and medical emergencies that occur on the slopes every winter, but it’s not enough to merely take the course at the beginning of one’s patrol career and call it good.
Each year before the hundreds of ski areas around the country fire up their lifts and open their gates, patrol members are required to take a refresher course in Outdoor Emergency Care, a mandated certification for all National Ski Patrol members, in order to keep up with the latest in emergency first aid.
Developed in the late 1980s, Outdoor Emergency Care is a training program tailored to non-urban rescuers. While it shares many of the same skills as standard Emergency Medical Services training, OEC certification is different in that it applies specifically to providing care in adverse weather, rugged terrain, or other situations unique to the outdoors.
Earlier this month, the approximately 100 professional and volunteer patrollers at Powder Mountain met at the resort’s Timberline Lodge for their annual refresher course. Some of the injuries addressed included broken bones; head, neck and spinal injuries; severe lacerations; and impalements.
Patrollers work on live people in simulated situations, where they practice bandaging, splinting, CPR, and head and neck stabilization, among other first aid techniques associated with ski and snowboard injuries.
Mike Otto, a 15-year veteran of the Powder Mountain patrol who led this year’s training exercises, said the annual training is important not only because it updates patrollers on new first aid equipment and techniques available, but also allows them to brush up on the basics.
“It keeps us up to speed on the new changes in emergency care, but a lot of it is just keeping things fresh in peoples' minds,” Otto said.
The NSP periodically updates its official OEC guidebook to reflect advances in on-mountain medical equipment and first aid techniques, providing members with the most current standard of training available, said Darcy Hanley, the organization’s education director.
For example, one recent change allows ski patrollers to assist in the administration of epinephrine, or “epi” pens for people who have gone into anaphylactic shock, so that was part of this year’s training at Powder Mountain.
Otto said the most common scenarios involve knee injuries in skiers and shoulder injuries in snowboarders, but patrollers have to be prepared for the occasional life-threatening event as well.
The number of accidents vary from day to day, but he said heavy, wet snow tends to increase the risk of injury.
“It makes it harder to turn, and if you’re not using good technique, there’s a higher risk of getting hurt,” he said.