Summit County skier transport plan provides for non-critical injuries
October 24, 2016
When a skier or snowboarder wrecks at one of the area's slopes and is need of medical attention, decisions need to happen quickly.
That's why since the late 1990s the county has had in place a Skier Transport Program for non-emergency, non-critical illness and injuries that require some level of care. The region's four resorts have certified ski patrollers to assist with non-threatening afflictions, but the guidelines help to provide them an extension off the ski hill to ensure resort visitors receive the proper treatment to get back in the lift line sooner than later.
"This is as much a guest service for the skiers and riders in the county than anything else," said Tony Cammarata, chair of Summit County EMS, and ski patrol director at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. "If you don't need to be in ambulance, then it's finding another way to get them to go be evaluated by a physician if that's what ski patrol thinks is best."
Thousands of resort-goers get in a little over their skis each year, earning bumps and scrapes that call for medical assistance, but not necessarily a trip to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. In order to physically get to the health clinics at the resort base, however, as at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort or Copper Mountain Resort, a protocol was necessary to exempt the county from a Colorado law that requires any vehicle conveying an injured person off the snow and to one of these centers to be a licensed ambulance.
Because Arapahoe Basin is able to toboggan an individual all the way down to its medical site, never leaving the snow, it has not needed to request operation of such a service. The other three do have to leave the runs to get someone with, say, a broken arm or leg, exposure ailments or acute mountain sickness, to an on-slope professional.
During the 2015-16 season, Breckenridge raced 835 patients down from Peak 8 through the program and Keystone did so for 117 instances from the portions of the peak not directly tied into its medical center, such as River Run. Copper reports a much higher total because nearly all of its non-emergent situations require another vehicle to arrive to the clinic, totaling 1,336 last season. For some context compared to the prior season, that was 34 fewer at Copper, and 232 fewer at Breckenridge. Again, those numbers do not relate to urgent situations requiring a call for an ambulance.
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In 2014, Summit Board of County Commissioners revised its guidelines to also include minor closed head injuries like concussions, no longer necessitating special-circumstance paperwork to note these conditions. Doctors who work at the hospital, recognizing patients didn't need to always be delivered to the Level III trauma center, endorsed the decision across the board. According to officials, the program has been effective.
"It exists to look at what's best for the patient and get them the quickest medical care," said Commissioner Dan Gibbs. "If it's not as a complex a case, the current system allows flexibility to the resorts through ski patrollers, who have medical training, to take that patient to the closest medical care facility. But if (there's a) higher level of complexity, that's when an ambulance gets kicked in."
The program is a collaboration between the resorts, the Summit County Ambulance Service and the Sheriff's Office, which serves the unincorporated areas of the county where some of the resorts are located. It makes for a streamlined effort that improves efficiency for each entity. Plus, it prevents unnecessary visits by EMTs and fire crews when they could be better used elsewhere.
"If everyone had to use an ambulance," said Cammarata, "we just couldn't keep up with that. And if a patient has a minor head injury, they fall down and bonk their head, we can get them to see a physician. If the only way was to do that by ambulance, they'd say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' This way we can have them evaluated without them refusing an ambulance transport."
Now with ski season already underway, those who like to push their limits, or even just those who take an unlucky spill, can at least take comfort that they'll get the needed medical support.
"The goals of a great program like this are that all of the processes are understood and followed by patrols," added Cammarata. "And then that they're documented properly and reviewed in a timely manner. It appears to be working well."