By Bruce Welton, 2020-2021 NSP-Subaru Ambassador
Let’s be honest the lifespan of a ski patroller is ironically similar to that of the patroller’s nemesis, the ski resort “SLOW” sign. It may sound crazy but just wait.
You start your career as nothing more than ink on a canvas. Whether that canvas be an employee profile or a simple orange banner, you can hardly be considered new yet; at this point you haven’t even had your first day on the job.
Congratulations! You’ve shipped up state or across the country. You made it to your dream resort. That might have been in your fancy-pants, new college graduation, 4-wheel drive truck or stuffed in a cardboard box and put in the back of a cold freight truck. You’re on the same level.
It’s your first day. You get pulled out of your cozy, warm cardboard box and get tossed on a lift with a few other “slow signs”. The other slow signs are dressed exactly like you and honestly, they don’t look much different. You quickly come to find that you might not have come from the best ski patrol factory and your boss wanted to test other rookies. No one is impressed. The “old dogs” have seen dozens of your type before. They’re interested in how long you’ll last, but frankly the expectations are low. They want to see if you’re any different than the others who have come before you. Can you withstand the 100+MPH wind and 12,000 skiers all inches from ending your career or will you get buried in the first big snow storm, never to be seen again?
After a couple days you start to find your place. But wait, not so fast. A patrol supervisor suddenly sends you up a new chair lift with a “Trails Merge” sign. You’re back to where you started. You are in new territory with new people but you’re alright, this is your dream job at your dream resort. You know that thanks to your OEC course, you would be ready and able to jump in at an accident scene when needed.
You’re settled in, you know your place and although you trust everyone, you really know the people who take care of you the best. Your routine of helping the mountain and contributing to skier safety is meaningful and you find reward and purpose in your job. Before you know it, the season ends, summer passes and it’s time to start again. Those around you help brush off the dust in an effort to encourage another successful season. This season, a lot like last, you find yourself in a few different spots around the mountain, but doing the same job you love.
You’re several years in now, you’re still standing strong. Your red coat has faded, but not your love for the job. Before you know what happened, you’ve been side-lined. Word spreads quickly that you’re injured and you can’t do your job. Depending on the time of year it could take two-plus weeks for you to get back on the hill. Are there parts around to fix you? You’re too broken to even stand at the bottom of a lift. Face it, you’ll likely get sent to the base area and replaced by a new, possibly better sign. Time passes. Your leg might be better now, but other parts of you are wearing. Don’t worry — the new slow signs are not pushing you out. They are simply looking out for you. Long days in the harsh wind and blowing snow might not be the best for you and the team.
Let’s face it, you had a great career. You exceeded your expectations and the expectations of others, but everyone knows your time is winding down. It’s only a matter of time until you go blowing off the ridge. Face it, you don’t want to risk more injury and it’s hard to keep up with the young bright signs. You’re hoping someone quietly hands over your “It’s time” document and you can honorably hang up your boots. Don’t forget to stop by for a beer every-so-often; you’ll always be part of the family.