Arizona Snow Bowl Clinic Feb 2,3, and 4

Flagstaff, AZ

Everyone's perception of Arizona is colored by the Grand Canyon. It has fueled America's vision

of the desert Southwest since it was first discovered. What all those countless family photographs on

the rim fail to show is the view in the other direction. As people smile for the camera with the canyon at

their back, they are looking directly into an alpine forest. Rising out of that forest is a massive 12,633

foot volcano called Humphreys Peak, and on its slopes sits one of the most surprising ski resorts in the

country, Arizona Snowbowl.

I had never been to Snowbowl, in fact, most of us hadn't. We were unsure if they had the terrain

for the skiing and toboggan test. Bob Heflin had been there and he laughed out loud when I expressed

concern. I took that as a pretty good sign. As I approached Flagstaff in my car the day before the clinic

the massive cinder cone begin to take shape on the horizon when I was still at least 50 miles from the

town. “That couldn't be it,” I thought to myself, but it was, and the next morning Patrol Director Chris

Louderback introduced us to his mountain. “Feel free to wear your red,” he told us. Patroller “Uncle

Buzz” McElwain concluded the intro meeting with a serious warning to respect the mountain. “This is

sacred Indian ground. Respect it, and pay attention to the ravens, they're the spirits of the mountain.” It

didn't feel like foreshadowing at the time, but narratives have a funny way of weaving through a clinic.

It was going to be a big event for a midwinter. Between candidates and judges we were almost

50 strong. Participants had driven and flown in from all over the western United States, with a couple of

guys even making the trip from the Midwest! Most of the candidates were first timers, and so, with

enthusiasm, the testing began. I remember the paper flying and Bo Yule running in and out of the room

giving 20 ski tests that first day. I wish I could recall more, but I spent that night in Flagstaff, with a huge

contingent of snowboard patrollers from SoCal…

The next morning practical testing began in earnest and we spread ourselves over the

mountain. An ambulance came flying up the road not long after the hill opened. A medical test was

interrupted when a guest walked up with a real injury. Another ambulance went by. A child was found

near our base camp suffering from AMS. APP patrollers jumped in and took care of him. The radio

began crackling with incident after incident. Snowbowl patrollers started missing their test

appointments. Another ambulance went by. The mountain was going off unexpectedly. Louderback

came running into base camp in the early afternoon. “We need you guys. Can we shut the clinic down

and get everyone out on the mountain in their crosses?” It was hard to hear what he was saying over

the siren of another ambulance. The room emptied. In borrowed jackets stuffed with radios and trail

maps APP members fortified bump shacks all across the mountain. Suddenly, our old mantra of “a

Certified patroller should be able to walk into any mountain and patrol with minimal information” was

real!.. and it was awesome. 

 After sweep we all headed towards the Elks Lodge back in town. Fraternal

lodges are always a great source of cheap drinks and unique experiences and the Flagstaff lodge didn't

disappoint. Each person was handed a raw steak and directed outside. What can best be described as

a “barbecue shack” stood in the center of a patio. A giant grill lined with tongs and spices was fired up

and everyone was instructed to throw their steak on the grates. We stood around cooking, telling

stories with old and new friends. The effect is hard to describe. It was part campfire, part kitchen, and

absolutely perfect. Everyone drifted into the night tired, happy, and full.

The last day of the clinic was a mad rush to get everything done before the Superbowl started.

Every available judge was at it early in an effort to get as many tests done as possible. As the day

progressed the hill began to explode again and several patrollers jumped in to help where possible. It

was fast and furious and by the time the dust settled we had given over a hundred tests. Uncle Buzz

and I found our way up to the top bump shack and looked out over the vast wilderness that surrounds

the Grand Canyon. “There is the North Rim,” he said, pointing to a spot some seventy miles in the

distance. I had scoffed when one of my seasoned buddies admitted he had gotten a bit of vertigo

earlier in the day. It didn’t seem so funny now. As I looked down over the mountain I could see ravens

flying over some of the the runs. Buzz was right, Snowbowl is a sacred place, and I couldn’t help but

think that the Snowbowl patrollers are not the only ones watching over the people and keeping them

safe on the mountain.

Submitted by 

David Moore

APP Board Member

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