Canada Ski Patrol members perform a life evacuation at Sasquatch Mountain Resort in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Morton)

Volunteer organization provides first aid and rescue services

Main fundraiser, the Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap, takes place at Abbotsford Exhibition Park Nov. 16 and 17

  • Nov. 14, 2019 8:45 a.m.

Robyn ROSTE

Special to the Hope Standard

New Year’s Day 2018 was clear and sunny at Sasquatch Mountain Resort. This made for ideal skiing conditions, but due to the extreme ice storm the night before and the cold weather, the generator stopped working, leaving more than 100 people stranded on the ski lift.

Canadian Ski Patrol (CSP) member Kristi Morton was having breakfast at the Alpine Rescue Centre when a call came over the radio summoning all patrollers for a lift evacuation. Even though she wasn’t on patrol that day, she put on her uniform, drove the three minutes from the cabin to the mountain and reported to base to see how she could help.

“As soon as I got there, I got my gear on, jumped on the sled and went up to the top,” she said. For ski lift evacuations, the standard protocol is for patrollers to start at the top and work their way down.

Patrollers station themselves at each tower and work as teams, using special ski lift evacuation equipment to rescue guests one by one.

“There’s a person giving instructions and two people are belaying – all patrollers. We practise this every single year and this was textbook. We rescued 120 people in less than three hours,” Morton said.

To keep the people waiting to be evacuated warm and calm, hot chocolate and food were tossed up from the ground.

“It was nice to be able to use the skills. This was my first real live rescue,” Morton said. “You’re on the chair, you’re the person being rescued – you play all the roles: teaching, belaying. But to do it in a real-life scenario was pretty awesome. That was a fun day. That was textbook. Everyone worked well together and we had a lot of fun after.”

Formed in 1940, CSP is a non-profit organization delivering first aid and rescue services to more than 230 ski areas across Canada. The Fraser Valley falls into the Pacific division and Greater Vancouver zone. CSP members provide volunteer public safety services at Cypress Mountain, Manning Park Resort, Mount Seymour Resort, Sasquatch Mountain Resort and Whistler Olympic Park.

The 4,500 volunteer members range in age, experience and trade but share a passion for helping people through first aid.

When she’s not patrolling, Morton works as a construction safety officer in Vancouver and volunteers as the CSP Greater Vancouver zone communications officer, director of health and safety, and website co-ordinator.

“I’m a first responder through and through. I love being able to help people and I love the systematic approach of it,” she said. “I love the medical side of it; it’s very interesting to me…. I’m a winter person so that was a bonus.”

Long-term CSP leaders Carol Dickson and Sheldon March say the type of people who join ski patrol are driven, participatory individuals. Based at Manning Park Resort, both teach first-aid training and have held multiple executive positions in the Greater Vancouver zone. March also teaches skiing and how to do toboggan rescues, getting people down the hill safely to the patrol hut or to a waiting ambulance.

“A unique thing about ski patrol training is, unlike a lot of training where you do everything by yourself, we focus on a consistent following of protocol, and the same program is taught across Canada,” said Dickson. “We are trained to do first aid as a team and use the members strategically. If you come into a situation at Marble Mountain in Corner Brook, you’ll understand how you can offer assistance even if you’re not from that crew or mountain.”

CSP members receive 60 hours of advanced first-aid training, as well as safety education, on-snow and accident site management training. Each year, patrollers re-certify their first-aid qualifications by taking a refresher course and passing a written, skills, diagnostic and CPR/AED exam.

Always looking for new members, recruiting occurs all year, and formal first-aid training, re-certification and testing happen from September to November. This is also when their main fundraiser, the Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap, takes place throughout British Columbia.

In Abbotsford, the ski swap is held at Abbotsford Exhibition Park and is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16 and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 17.

For those looking to sell their used gear, public equipment registration is on Nov. 15 between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Nov.16 from 9 a.m. to noon. People with more than 20 items can pre-register by emailing manager@winterextreme.com.

Used equipment is sold on consignment and is subject to a safety inspection. CSP Ski Swap manager Denis Dion said they limit their consignment sales to skis, snowboards and boots less than five years old in order to maintain their high quality and safety standards.

“One example is we don’t take helmets because they’re only good for one bounce and you can’t tell if they’re safe,” he said. “Part of our job is to get the unsafe gear off the mountain.”

While there is plenty of used gear at every Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap, 95 per cent of the inventory comes from vendors selling off stock from previous seasons. This year’s swap will showcase almost $1 million worth of new gear plus an equal amount of new outerwear.

“It’s important to have enough gear to sell; we don’t want to disappoint people,” Dion said. “If we have a dud, it hurts us for a number of years.”

One reason they can attract such volume from vendors is because their custom software allows standardized labelling and accurate inventory tracking. This means vendors can tag their gear once and participate in all the Winter Extreme Ski and Board swaps without worrying about re-tagging items. Their bar-coded tags are vendor-branded and tamper-resistant.

“The nature of the event is a consignment sale. When the general public consigns their gear to us, we guarantee the gear’s safety – and vendors too. If we don’t return the gear we’re responsible for it,” Dion said.

The ski swap is staffed by around 60 CSP volunteers who do everything from sales and cash to security and admissions. They also serve as equipment experts who can help people find the right style and fit, whether it’s beginner, intermediate or racing gear.

There’s a wide range of gear and prices at the event, and Dion said the Abbotsford Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap is a great opportunity to fit growing children in new gear for the upcoming season.

“Basically you can get boots and a snowboard for under $60 if you really hunted around. Or you can spend up to $600 depending on what you want. It’s a great way to upgrade your gear,” he said.

Local and inland mountain resorts will have booths at the event, as well as Abbotsford retailers Mad Dog’s Ski and Board and Valhalla Pure Outfitters.

Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for children aged six to 12 and free for children five and under. Family passes are also available for $5. There will be food trucks on site and free parking. Visit skipatrol.ca/winterextreme/abbotsford for more information.

“We just want people to come. We run all kinds of events and programs” Dion said. “This year we have tons of gear.”

Running annually since 1978, the Abbotsford Winter Extreme Ski and Board Swap requires approximately 1,200 volunteer hours to operate.

The commission CSP earns from the gear sold at the swap provides funding for their volunteer first-aid rescue services and allows them to purchase equipment and pay for training.

The funds also allow CSP to provide housing for their members at Sasquatch Mountain Resort and Manning Park Resort. Called Alpine Rescue Centres, or ARCs, these hostel-style buildings sleep up to 30 patrollers and have washrooms, showers, kitchens and fire pit areas.

“It’s really well set up for what we do, most people drive up Friday night and stay at the cabin so it’s a shorter drive up to the hill on Saturday morning,” said Dickson. During the ski season, members are rostered for ski patrol every other weekend.

The common housing allows patrollers to spend down time together and they often have potluck meals or themed dinners.

“These venues have made a huge difference in retention,” said Dion. “At Sasquatch Mountain Resort it’s hard to get up and down the hill due to weather and road closures. At Manning Park, volunteers drive all the way out there and all the way home, back and forth to Surrey. It was too onerous.”

The ARCs also add to the volunteer experience as they enable patrollers to bring their families along and they’re available to members year-round. During the summer months, the ARCs are used as a hub to provide services during ultramarathons, mountain bike events and more.

Because of their unique training for high-impact injuries and cold-management focus, CSP presence at local events is becoming more and more common.

In the Greater Vancouver Zone, the executive is developing more ways for CSP members to be involved in their communities through summer events teams. Already, they’ve provided first aid and rescue services to events like pride parades, mountain bike races, trail running races, horse trials and the Tulip Festival. They’re considering opening up a spring intake and having a dedicated summer team as they pick up more and more events.

“In the last few years we’ve got more involved in summer events like the Fat Dog 120 Trail Race between Manning Park and Keremeos,” said March. “We are used to dealing with athletes. We’re used to dealing with high-impact sports, packaging people up and getting people out of an area quickly.”

No matter where they’re providing services, their goal is to keep everyone safe. CSP members believe as first aiders they’re community ambassadors.

“First aid isn’t just providing treatment; it’s a customer service role. You can make such a difference,” said Dickson. “We can take what appears to be a really crappy day and turn it into a better outcome.”

People join ski patrol for many different reasons and stay involved for different lengths of time. Some want to gain hands-on experience so they can become a paramedic or involved with search and rescue. Others participate to can gain skills they can parlay into further education or a new career. No matter why people join ski patrol they often fall in love with first aid.

“Whether you stay with us a while or 39 years there’s a benefit. We get to do some spectacular first aid,” Dickson said. “We can guarantee if you join ski patrol you will get lots of practice.”

One day while Morton was on patrol, a call came over the radio reporting a child with a head injury at the terrain park.

“I was at the bottom of the terrain park so I ran up in my ski boots and was the first on scene. He was a 10-year-old boy,” she said. As more people arrived to help, Morton called out directions and everyone, including the child’s mother and other patrollers, worked together in unison.

“He ended up being fine but we had to take precautionary measures,” she said. “You want to take full precautions with a possible spinal.”

March remembers spending some extra time with one volunteer during training who had trouble keeping up. Years later he heard this patroller had become a firefighter and attributed his career success to the attention he received during his CSP training.

“Not everyone has the same abilities but we’ll provide as much help as we can,” said Dickson. “It doesn’t end at the training day, we’ll work with you. This man credited Sheldon with reaching him as an individual, for reaching him when the regular training didn’t work.”

Successful CSP recruits are strong intermediate to advanced skiers or snowboarders with a passion for helping people in a collaborative team environment.

Dion said, in general, the people drawn to ski patrol are friendly, cheerful and good communicators.

“We’re all eager and enthusiastic and outgoing,” he said. “We’re the type of people that stand around in the rain and help people.”

The peer-taught, professional training program works for people from all different walks of life, shapes and sizes.

“What we do matters, it matters today,” said Dickson. “We’ve taught first aid courses where people learn CPR on the Saturday and the next weekend they come in and say, ‘I was at church and someone had a heart attack and I did CPR on her.’ They apply these skills right away.”

Visit skipatrol.ca for more information

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