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A ski patroller is someone who provides emergency medical care and rescue services to patrons of a ski resort, or in a back country area. Ski patrollers also work to promote mountain safety by enforcing area policies, clearing debris from the ski runs, maintaining the resort boundaries, and other specialized techniques (e.g. avalanche control, toboggan handling, chairlift evacuation, avalanche search and rescue, snowmobile operation). Contrary to the name's implications, ski patrollers can be snowboarders, or be alpine, telemark, or nordic skiers. Because of the location and type of career, most ski patrollers must be adept at either skiing or snowboarding, and be in good physical condition. Some ski areas allow patrollers who lack sufficient skiing or riding ability to provide emergency care in the first aid room.
Ski patrollers are the first responders to injured or ill patrons on the ski hill. Typically this entails incident scene management (managing any risks present, e.g. other skiers or snowboarders), and the assessment, treatment, and transport of the injured or ill patient. Ski patrollers are often required to transport an injured patient from the accident site to the infirmary using a toboggan, and are actively involved in handing the patient off to the local emergency medical services system if necessary.
In addition to their first aid responsibilities, ski patrollers also work to ensure and promote mountain safety. Ski patrollers typically start the day by performing a sweep of the mountain before opening hours to ensure that the mountain is safe for guests. This entails maintaining the resort's boundary rope lines, clearing debris from the trail, fixing broken signs, and marking obstacles. Ski patrollers routinely perform these duties while not attending medical emergencies. At the end of the day, ski patrollers perform another sweep to ensure that no more patrons are on the hill.
Shockingly, ski patrollers also get to ski! Whether the patroller is a snowboarder or a skier, a lot of time is spent traveling from location to location by riding or skiing.
Ski patrollers get to work in the mountains, as you would expect. Typically this means working within the confines of a ski area, but can sometimes include neighbouring backcountry areas. Because of this, ski patrollers typically work in the cold weather, and sometimes in harsh conditions (e.g. rain, snow, and in the dark).
Because skiing and snowboarding are predominantly winter sports, employment in this field is typically seasonal. Most ski patrollers find alternate employment during the summer months, typically doing something that utilizes many of the same skills as ski patrolling. Careers like Paramedic, Firefighter, Lifeguard, and Backcountry Guide are natural candidates for patrollers during the off-season months.
In most areas, ski patrollers are required to be adept at either skiing or snowboarding. At some mountain ski areas, there are employment opportunities for patrollers who lack sufficient skiing or riding abilities, but possess adequate first aid skills. For most patrollers however, they must be advanced in either their skiing or riding ability. Because of the physical and demanding work, they must also be in good physical condition.
Similarly to other first response positions, ski patrollers must be well trained, remain first aid certified, and be able to react calmly and efficiently under pressure. Due to the sometimes sensitive nature of the work, ski patrollers must act professionally at all times.
It’s easy enough to sign up for ski-patrol training and qualifying courses—provided you live near a resort mountain. The hard part: actually passing the test and earning the privilege of wearing one of those cool red jackets.
Access to exceptional education programs is paramount to the success of all National Ski Patrol members, who are required to continually update their skills.
The Canadian Ski Patrol is Canada’s leader in certifying ski patrollers and advanced first aid personnel for our on-snow resort partners. Since the 1940s, this organization has continued to fill a critical need for first responders on the ski slopes.
Many people associate ski patrollers merely with carting the sick and dying off the slopes in blood wagons - whilst this is an important duty, ski patrollers have many differing and varied roles and responsibilities than extend far beyond casualty care.
One of the most revered skiers in North America demystifies the life of a ski patroller, and talks about living and working at one of the best mountains on the planet and storms that dump eight feet in one go.