A patroller’s life – filled with excitement | SummitDaily.com

A patroller’s life – filled with excitement

Stephen Lloyd Wood/Eagle County Correspondent
Vail Daily/Coreen SappBeaver Creek ski patrollers Jim Clancy, left, and Christine Pappas, ascend the mountain on the Birds of Prey Express Lift, or Chair 9. Clancy says the ski patrol receives about a dozen emergency calls on a typical day - and up to three dozen during a busy holiday.

Editor’s note: The Beaver Creek Ski Patrol, in recognition of National Safety Awareness Week, invited a reporter and a photographer from the Vail Daily to join them for a day on the mountain. The following report is from Wednesday.

BEAVER CREEK – It’s 8:30 a.m. and about 8 degrees outside on a typical January weekday morning.

Jim Clancy is up to his elbows with a shovel in a huge pile of stiff, man-made snow. He is locating and pulling out long sections of plastic green fencing.

Nearby, his partner for the day, Christine Pappas, is power-drilling 2-foot holes in the snow for when the fencing is rescued and can be erected as “baffling” to slow down skiers and snowboarders as they make their first approaches to the bottom of the Centennial Express Lift, or Chair 6.

Clancy and Pappas, two of more than 40 members of the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol, are already well into their day. They have already attended an early morning safety meeting with their colleagues – known affectionately as “Laugh In” – during which patrollers are given their “missions” for the day.

Their day will end more than seven hours from now with another meeting high on the mountain called, of course, “Laugh Out.”

“Things usually go a little smoother than that,” Clancy says, still breathing hard.

In yellow now

Clancy and Pappas are wearing their new yellow jackets, having traded in their red ones, which until this year were the norm for the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol. This season, they’ve switched to yellow to set themselves apart.

“We like to be set apart from the “red coats,'” says Pappas, referring to the relatively large number of people on the mountain wearing red jackets, such as mountain personnel, guest services, ski school supervisors, operations managers and community volunteers. “Red is a very common color out there. So, considering our huge role in skier safety, they decided to put us in yellow. Now it’s just a matter of informing the public.”

In “The Saddle’

It’s now 10:20 a.m. and Pappas is inspecting first-aid gear in a small downstairs room at Spruce Saddle. Hanging on hooks are various backpacks with an accident investigation kit and an airway management kit for serious emergencies, as well as oxygen tanks. Mounted on the wall are two “backboards” for stabilizing injured skiers and snowboarders and moving them into toboggans for transport to the Beaver Creek Medical Center at the base of the mountain.

“The thing about ski patrolling is it gets better with time. There really is a lot of knowledge to gain,” says Pappas, 29, as she inspects the backboards. “They say you’re really not an asset to the patrol until your third year. That’s when you really become more a part of the team with more responsibility.”

Drop everything

The visit to PHQ at 12:15 p.m. is cut short by a call on the walkie-talkies from the NASTAR race course on lower Centennial, where a 10-year-old boy from Phoenix has gone down hard, hitting his head and going unconscious for a minute or so. Patroller Steve Zuckerman is first on the scene, but he needs Clancy and Pappas to head for The Saddle and wait for instructions as to what gear to bring. Before long, all three patrollers have the boy breathing oxygen and strapped into a toboggan for the ride to the medical center.

“I think he’ll be fine,” says Zuckerman as the three patrollers head back up Chair 6 to go on with the rest of their day. “Anybody that’s been knocked unconscious, that’s standard procedure.”

Time for lunch

In the upstairs dining room at Spruce Saddle at 12:45 p.m., Clancy, 35, inhales leftover pasta he brought from home, then chats up some fellow patrollers visiting from Eldora ski resort, where he spent his first five years on patrol. Originally from Peru, Vt., Clancy’s now in his seventh year at Beaver Creek. He says most patrollers tend to get by in the summer working for rafting companies, ambulance services, restaurants and golf courses. Some stay on with the ski company doing maintenance or working on special events.

“It’s the seasonal part that’s hard to manage, but you find a way,” says Clancy, who works as a building inspector during the off-season. “I’d really like to keep patrolling for a long time. Most people do have a hard time leaving this job.”

“I don’t remember’

At 2:20 p.m., another call comes on the walkie-talkie. A 25-year-old snowboarder at the bottom of Chair 6 apparently hit her head. Clancy heads straight there while Pappas heads for the top of the Haymeadow Lift, Chair 1, where a toboggan loaded with first-aid equipment stands ready.

After a quick “interview” with the snowboarder – she can’t remember where the injury happened, who she was with, how she got there, how long she’d been there or much of anything else – Clancy calls Pappas for the full treatment. Five minutes later, the snowboarder is delivered to the medical center for observation.

“For a slow day, it was an exciting day,” Pappas says as the pair heads up Chair 6 yet again.

“There were three rigs mid-mountain, and we brought two of them down,” adds Clancy. “We had a good day.”

“Sweeping’ joy

At 4:10 p.m., with the setting sun still warming the snow, Pappas conducts her sweep – a complex system of waving off other patrollers at preset locations, looking into the trees, yelling “clearing” and doing frequent stops to listen – with obvious joy.

At Red Tail Camp, she joins three other patrollers, including Zuckerman, for the long, straight runout down Dally Road to Beaver Creek Village.

Back at the patrol locker room, fresh, homemade chocolate-chip cookies await consumption by the hungry crew. They were baked and delivered by a woman the Beaver Creek Ski Patrol had brought down the mountain a few days earlier.

“Just another day at the office,” says Pappas, heading home.

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