I moved to Washington almost exactly eight months ago. With my Jeep packed, nowhere to live, and no connections in the state, I took a road trip from Denver to Seattle, stopping to explore Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks along the way. I arrived in the mountains a few hours ahead of my first lecture for the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Care course, which would prepare me to join the ranks of the NSP in December.
The course culminated in a weekend of final exams in November and I started work on December 6th, opening day. A month now after the my last day of the season, I can say that most days on the hill were strenuous and stressful, I went to bed each night after 14 hours exhausted, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
Since my first job in the service industry at 14, I have never held a position that I could claim to fully love. I have had experiences that range from pleasant to horrendous to downright absurd, but nothing that made me believe it was my future. Coming into patrol, I kept expectations low, hoping to find the days bearable, not daring to imagine any better.
I am happy to report that I seriously underestimated how enjoyable the job would be. The people are an odd group, ranging in age from early twenties all the way up to mid seventies, with a lot of firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics, though some are students or even retired from decades in an entirely different profession. The work is always changing, dependent on how generous Jack Frost was feeling, as well as how many people out-skiied their abilities that day. With no set routine, the only constant on patrol is clearing the slopes in the morning and sweeping them at night.
During peak season I worked two 64-hour weeks back to back. I have begrudgingly endured a similar schedule in the past, but this time I still wanted to be there at the end of the chaos.
You can bet I’ll be back on snow next season, beating myself up trying to shovel 5′ of snow off of a tower pad, or asking a guest why he thinks his foot is broken as he strolls over without even a wince. After all, it’s a tough job getting first tracks every day, but someone’s gotta do it.