Written By: Chris Tota
It was a brutally cold January day when I was riding up Lift 7 at Belleayre Mountain with a veteran patroller, and we were discussing mountain procedures for calling-in and responding to accidents. As a Young Adult Patroller just turning 15 years old, I had almost two months under my belt and was just beginning to feel a part of the team, so I talked about my experience regarding a few accidents I had been on. I was told, “that’s a nice thought, but just listen and keep your eyes open, you’re just a kid” as we hopped off at mid-station to go open our trail.
Fast-forward to my freshman year of college: my fourth year patrolling. I had gone through my mountain’s Junior Patroller Program (that’s what we called it at Belleayre back then), gotten my cross, and was now beginning to work on becoming a senior patroller. We had a large crop of new candidates that year, most of whom were around my parents’ age, and I tried my best to help them learn the ropes and give pieces of advice when I thought it was valuable. While the group was mostly receptive, there were certain situations where some candidates clearly could care less about what I was telling them. I was even asked once, “How do you know that? Aren’t you still in high school?” All I heard in my head was, you’re just a kid.
As my patrol career continued, I became the Southern New York Region YAP Advisor, and was tasked with creating our first real Young Adult Program. I remember my first conference call with all the YAP advisors from the Eastern Division while in my dorm room, and I was speechless at the amount of knowledge, dedication, and years of service that these advisors had. I thought in my head, “How do I work with this inspiring group of adult leaders, I’m just a kid.”
Five years ago, I joined the Eastern Division Young Adult Program staff, and went from serving a region with five Young Adult Programs to an entire division of programs. The challenge was real. The challenge was awesome. So many new friends to make. So much program to help grow. I felt like I was in a position where I could truly start to help make a difference on a larger scale. As part of my role, I traveled to the Eastern Division Spring Officer’s Meeting, where all the head-honchos get together to make decisions affecting the over 8,000 members of the Eastern Division. As I looked around the room, I noticed I was definitely the only person under 30, maybe even 40. There were so many leaders present at that gathering: National Board members, national appointees, national and divisional program supervisors, lawyers, doctors, and members with 30, 40, or 50 plus years of service to the National Ski Patrol. I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m really am still just a kid.”
I now sit writing this piece, in my house (scary thought), a patroller for 13 years (scarier thought), with an NSP-wrapped Subaru in my driveway (awesome thought). How did these 13 years fly by? It feels like literally yesterday I was just learning how to run a sled, tail-rope, and traction splint, and now I teach others how to do that on a weekly basis. I get to spend almost every weekend, and certainly every weeknight, working to support the Young Adult Program, and in doing so create the future of the National Ski Patrol. I’ve been given such an awesome opportunity by NSP and Subaru this year to spread their message of service, safety, and giving back, which is truly what my work as a patroller and the work of the Young Adult Program is all about. I look at all of this and how my patrol life has grown and I think to myself, am I still just a kid?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, no, I am not just a kid anymore. My whole patrol career I have been just a kid, and now I am realizing that I am in some position of small, but meaningful “leadership”.
If there is anything to take from my story it is this: Right now, at almost every ski resort in the nation, there are Young Adult Patrollers, high school students, even college-age students who want to be involved as more than just participants in the National Ski Patrol! These kids are our future national board members, future program supervisors, the leaders who will adapt and evolve the National Ski Patrol into the challenges the 21st century will bring. They each may, at the moment, be “just a kid”, but it is time to start challenging them and accepting them to become the leaders we are training them to be and we need them to be! In 13 years, I’ve grown as a patroller and “leader” because of all those patrollers who supported me when I was just a kid. I hope that as I continue to grow older as a patroller, I can pay it forward to the leaders we are creating today, just as those before me did.
The best and brightest of our future as the National Ski Patrol is found within our youngest members, with all their dreams, goals, and ambitions even if right now WE view them as just kids. They are not, just kids. Let’s support them with everything we got, because the FUTURE IS NOW!