Arapahoe Basin Ski Area patrollers honored for life-saving efforts
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area patroller Tim Walsh was at the top of Black Mountain Express when he heard the call.
“We knew right away it was bad,” said Walsh.
The third-year patroller had been nervous about handling a life-or-death situation. He knew icy conditions and a groomed trail likely meant high speeds.
Plus, he said, the snowboarder crashed off Ramrod — an intermediate run near the ski area’s base — in a permanently-closed area full of trees, rocks and untouched snow.
On April 12, Breckenridge resident Todd Ohl sped off the run, broke through two ropes, hit a tree and landed on a rock. He had a skull fracture, traumatic brain injury, ruptured spleen, chest trauma, 12 fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken foot.
Patroller Ryan Zarter arrived first on scene, followed by Matt Janzen, Kyle Hagadorn, Matt Norfleet, Louis Skowyra and Walsh.
Less than six months later, Ohl surprised the patrollers when he appeared at A-Basin on Friday, Sept. 25, to present them with a rare National Ski Patrol Merit Star for Lifesaving Actions in an emotional ceremony.
“It’s not every day that you get to stand face-to-face with people (who) pretty much literally saved your life,” he said.
Several patrollers said they would never forget the rescue.
“We all brought it home with us that night,” said Hagadorn, a Blue River resident, “and to be able to shake his hand less than a year after the accident and know that he’s going to be able to enjoy the rest of his life is pretty great.”
“Pretty surreal to eat lunch with him,” Walsh said.
He said he found keeping his composure that April day was easier than he expected, as everyone else was hyper-focused.
“They’re all pretty rock-star types,” he said of the other five patrollers who had more than 45 years of combined experience. “If I was Todd, that’s who I would want coming for me.”
He also learned first-hand the difficulties of extricating an injured person and talking with loved ones. Ohl’s wife, Mallory, had followed him into the trees.
Skowyra said though patrollers continuously train for these kinds of scenarios and use those skills to help people, this situation felt different.
“That’s the reward of the job, is being there for somebody that really needs you,” said Skowyra, a Dillon resident. “To actually have it pan out as well as it did is about the coolest feeling I’ve had in 10 years of doing this job.”
“You don’t call your mom about the powder days,” he said.
The patrollers were quick to praise the efforts of the rest of the ski area’s staff who were involved, including fellow patrollers, lift maintenance, lift operations, terrain park and other employees.
“The whole A-Basin family just came together to help this guy out,” said Janzen, of Dillon.
Ohl’s father, Wayne, a former ski patroller, was at A-Basin that day and rode with his son to the hospital.
“He was as close to dying as anybody can get to dying and not die,” Wayne Ohl said; but thanks to the actions of all the medical personnel, his son made an “amazing full recovery.”
The last thing Todd Ohl said he remembers from before the crash was riding up the chairlift with his wife. His care team kept him in a coma, and he doesn’t remember much of the following few weeks. Then he was in a Denver area hospital bed for another two months followed by weeks of rehabilitation.
Now, he said he walks around with a new appreciation and joy for small things in life.
He expressed gratitude to the doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, ambulance teams and other employees at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Flight For Life, St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood and Craig Hospital in Denver. However, he said, it all started with the professionals at A-Basin.
“Can’t praise these guys enough for the amazing hard work,” he said. “It’s one thing to practice and learn and dedicate yourself to do this stuff, but, when it actually comes game time, you have to put practice into action, and that’s what these guys did.”
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