“I think I sprained my wrist” is a common conversation starter in the First Aid Room at Sunlight Mountain Resort. The room is home to the Sunlight Ski Patrol and gets a lot of traffic during the day. Two patrols share the room — and the mountain. Paid patrol members work the area Monday through Friday, but it’s an all-volunteer operation during the weekends.
Mike Baumli was on duty one sunny Saturday afternoon when 18-year old Matthew Bleakley walked into the First Aid Room with the injured wrist. Bleakley was snowboarding on Ute Run when he caught an edge and fell forward. Baumli applied a neoprene “Sam” splint to Bleakley’s forearm and gave him some good advice. “Ice it and elevate it to keep the swelling down,” said Baumli. “And I recommend you go see a doctor.”
After paperwork and a call to dispatch to document the incident, Baumli sent Bleakley out the door, making sure he had friends or family nearby.
Baumli’s been a volunteer with the patrol for a decade. But his ski resort experience dates back to the late 1980s when he started making snow at Keystone. He’s worked at Aspen Mountain, A-Basin and Eldora, and ended up as a snow-making consultant for two winters at Mt. Jeans, about 160 miles north of Tokyo. “I thought riding around in a snowmobile at night was more fun than standing on a lift line,” he said about his ski resort work.
After taking time away from snow-making to raise a family, Baumli answered an ad for the volunteer Sunlight Ski Patrol in the summer of 2005. “It took me eight months to get certified,” he explained. “I had my red [ski patrol] coat the following March.”
Why eight months? The short answer is: training.
Volunteer patrollers take courses such as avalanche awareness, mountain travel and rescue, ski and toboggan handling, CPR, first aid, lift evacuation and outdoor emergency care. The training is ongoing, and patrollers must pass written and practical exams.
But, said volunteer patrol director Michelle Eisenring, not all members work outdoors. “There are two classes of volunteers,” she explained. “There’s the skiing patrol and the auxiliaries.” The skiing patrol does just what the name implies — patrol Sunlight Mountain Resort on skis — but the auxiliary ski patrollers don’t have to ski. Their primary focus is the First Aid Room.
Glenwood Springs native Lynn Alsdorf is an auxiliary who’s been with the patrol for 10 years. She has had helicopter evacuation training at St. Mary’s, but she said as an auxiliary, her duties are to provide emergency care and do the next step before an ambulance is called. “We look at the injury to get a better account of what it is.”
The First Aid Room at Sunlight Mountain Resort is equipped with gurneys, oxygen and other equipment, supplied by the resort. But, said Michelle Eisenring, patrollers purchase their own Gore-Tex ski vests and initial supplies, like splints, tape and bandages. “Supplies can also include writing utensils, candy, sunscreen,” she added. “Anything you may need out there.”
She said providing your own supplies is part of a patroller’s commitment.
The first thing a patroller candidate must do is take the Outdoor Emergency Care class, which is open to anyone. She said many from the community take the class who don’t plan on being a ski patroller or who don’t end up on the patrol. But, she explained, “Once you start patrolling, Sunlight will restock your supplies.”
The Sunlight Ski Patrol is part of the National Ski Patrol’s Rocky Mountain Division. “NSP sets the standards,” said Eisenring. “All of the training, like avalanche and mountain travel and rescue, are NSP programs.”
Baumli recalled a time when all that training came in handy. A woman broke her femur while snowboarding. Her leg needed to be put into traction, and the ski patrol did just that. “We pulled traction on the patient on the side of the ski trail before we put her in the toboggan,” he said.
The volunteer patrol does not charge for services and is dependent upon fundraisers, like the third annual Defiance Challenge coming up on Friday, March 7. Teams of two have ten hours to ski as many diamond or double-diamond runs at Sunlight Mountain Resort as possible. “You must do them in a set order and with a partner,” explained Eisenring. Half the proceeds go to the SSP, and the other half helps out a patrol family in need.
Eisenring said participation has doubled every year since 2012 and urges everyone to register. “It’s not a race,” she said. ‘It’s an event.”
For more information about SSP and the third annual Defiance Challenge, visit http://sunlightskipatrol.com.