Respecting Winter and Certified Testing

I feel every Patroller in our organization has some awareness of the winter this year in the west. If not, you are not getting out to your ski resorts. My personal experience is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I live and work in the Sierra’s and have experienced a lot of this winter first hand. Having lived at the 7,500 foot elevation for nearly 30 years I have my own rating system for this season compared to others. In the area where I live and work there has been somewhere around 30 feet of snow. Not uncommon looking back on my time in the Sierra’s. What is uncommon is that there has been an estimated 20 inches of rain since December. If all the rain fell as snow we could be around 50 feet of snow for the winter to date.

Those that work full time at ski resorts know how taxing the winter has been. Those working privately or with jobs in snow removal know about equipment breakdowns from moving incredible volumes of high density, rain saturated, snow.

I share all this because fatigue is a major factor for Patrollers and ski area personnel. With fatigue potentially comes complacency and the possibility of not following safety plans and procedures for operations. Now that the sun has come out in my “neck of the woods” for an extended period hopefully there is time to rest and reflect.

Speaking from one of my positions on the APP Board as a Criteria Coordinator I feel it is important to impress upon myself and others the importance of knowing and practicing all industry standards as we perform our jobs. If this season hasn’t impressed upon us some more reasons for following industry best practices I don’t know what will. How do we dress for rain in larger amounts than normal so we share and set the example for resort’s guests? Chairlift attendants and operators are challenged with deep snow packs and digging out lifts constantly this season. As Patrollers do we know and understand chair heights at loading and unloading areas as well as mid-span? I personally have loaded far too many chair lifts this winter that haven’t been to American National Standards Institute standards. Are you looking to the National Ski Areas Association for educational programs and employee training materials that support most of the ski industry? These types of questions could go on and on from me.

Far too many in our organization memorize material to pass a test. The pursuit to finally past all nine categories and reach that goal of “Certified Patroller” is what they see. Are we developing and maintaining knowledge and skill or just passing a test. Is there truth to your own knowledge and skill maintaining itself at a Certified Patroller level and beyond? Once Certified always Certified?

I have two close friends this year who here buried performing avalanche mitigation procedures at their respective ski areas. An airway was cleared on one and an Avalung was worn by another. Both were rescued by their partners whom I am sure they are indebted to. A Patroller died this season from an explosive detonation. For me and I hope others, besides our concern for our fellow Patrollers, do we step up our knowledge, follow and train to industry standards, have muscle memory with our ski area policies and procedures and realize the value of constant training and refreshing. I sure hope so. With respect for our own near misses and the misfortune of our brothers and sisters I feel it is mandatory. For those looking to test in the avalanche related practical tests of: Avalanche Rescue, Avalanche Science and Evaluation and Explosives (used in Avalanche Control) do you respect your peers who have had life threating near misses and ones who has perished by really learning and knowing the areas you test your knowledge and skills in? Look at the Criteria on our website: Look to resources outside the Study Guide. Use the internet for what is current. Read the latest books. Involve yourself with experts at you ski area outside of Patrol. Risk Managers, Lift Maintenance Specialists, Snowsports School Instructors, Qualified Climbers, etc.

However you personally view global climate change or the nature of the past few winters we owe it to our industry to seek more training and knowledge in the snow world. Read up on the high number of avalanche fatalities in the recreational and professional communities from the past few winters. Seek avalanche courses and training. Level 1 and 2, National Avalanche School, International Snow Science Workshop. Besides our Blaster Training through the APP seek out manufacturer explosives training. Train weekly or more with your Avalanche Transceiver. This is critical for those who work in the avalanche mitigation realm. How about you that don’t work in avalanche mitigation and want to test in it like you do? You get the point, right? Please don’t take testing lightly consider it heavily like the snowpack this winter.

I am looking forward to seeing you at the Spring Clinic.

With Respect To ALL,

Michael Nolen

Vice President/Criteria Coordinator for the APP.

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