By Sarah Chapelle, NSP-Subaru Ambassador
Family. We are all born into one, but we also acquire many more throughout life. Whether a church family, work family, or sports family, each makes us feel whole in different ways. The National Ski Patrol family is no exception. Two years ago, my husband and I packed our bags and moved away from all the families — including our biological families — that we had acquired on the east coast. This included our first patrol family, which was at Whitetail ski resort, a small resort in southern Pennsylvania. As we traveled out to our new Colorado home, we were filled with doubt that we would ever find another patrol family that could fill the void we felt from leaving Whitetail.
Fast forward to winter 2018. We arrived at Loveland for our first day patrolling, full of anxiety and excitement. My husband and I arrived to a locker room that had the unique and all-too-familiar smell of stinky ski boots. We got ready and attended the morning meeting, where we introduced ourselves to a room full of unfamiliar faces. As we went out to do morning sweeps, my head was spinning with all the information that was already thrown at us. The rest of that day felt brand new and very familiar, all at the same time. After all, it was not our first year patrolling. My husband and I had patrolled for five years at Whitetail. So the daily activities of patrolling were all too familiar, just in a very different setting. And just a slightly larger resort…..1,651 percent larger to be exact!
Fast forward again to opening day a year later, October 20, 2019. We had already had one year getting to know an amazing group of individuals. We started to feel like part of the Loveland family our first year, but it still wasn’t the same as our Whitetail family. We were still trying to remember everyone’s names, all the procedures that are specific to Loveland, not to mention the trail names. There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing the name of the trail you happen to find an injured guest on!
Now that our 2018-2019 season has come to a close, I reflect on this amazing year. One of Webster dictionary’s definitions of family is “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation: fellowship”. I am not really a church going person, although I was raised in a tight-knit church family. At this point in my life, I find my patrol family to fill the space that my church family did when I was younger. As many people know, being a ski patroller does not mean skiing deep powder or throwing bombs all day everyday. Yes, those are some of the duties performed by your local patrol. Everyone knows we have to make sure the trail is safe for the public, and maybe that takes a couple extra runs down said slope, you know, just to really make sure its safe! You can never be too careful!! Other duties include, but are not limited to, raising heavy a** tower pads, digging out snow fences, stomping snow down on the steep terrain in the beginning of the season, and rolling and unrolling then rolling again the same long span of rope or fence. Lots of conversations are had during these less than pleasant duties, as well as during the time spent warming up in the top shacks.
I have had conversations with my fellow patrollers about anything you can think of, as well as those topics you can’t think of. Common topics are how good/bad the snow is, what awesome backcountry line we just recently skied, or what our plans are for the following week. This is the everyday chatter that I love. But every now and then, usually when the weather is sub-par, we gather in some half falling down shack somewhere and delve into some of the deeper topics of life. One of the most unique characteristics of the National Ski Patrol is the diversity of people it brings together. We have lawyers, doctors, nurses, construction workers, arborists, IT professionals, and just about any other profession you can think of, all in just one ski patrol family and all united with a common interest — to be a member of the National Ski Patrol.
I define family as people I can trust and I know have my back in any situation, without hesitation, which happens to be a very important quality for team members working in such an unpredictable environment. It is a group of people I can lean on in my darkest, hardest moments and those that will celebrate alongside me in the happy times. It is people who know the inside jokes. It is people who can be honest with me all the time, good or bad, without fear of repercussions. Having experience in two patrol families, I realize that even though both families are thousands of miles apart from each other, they are extremely similar; they fit all these definitions and many more. That is the beauty of the NSP. It is not just individual ski resort patrol families. We are one large, nationwide family. So next time you visit another ski hill, I challenge you to stop into the ski patrol and meet your extended family.