MIKE: I'm Mike Buczek. I am the Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Manager at Summit Sports. I'm a ski patroller for a local resort and I've been skiing for about 25 years.
STEVE: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Summit Sports Podcast for skis.com and snowboards.com. On today's episode we have Mike Buczek. He works in our offices on the weekdays but on the weekends he's a ski patroller. So, what does it take to be part of the ski patrol? What does he see on a normal basis? And what kind of tips can a professional ski patroller offer? Mike, you are part of the ski patrol.
M: I am. I'm a part of the National Ski Patrol. I am a volunteer ski patroller.
S: What does that mean?
M: So, basically I've completed all of the requirements to become a ski patroller. I don't get paid. I have a mountain or resort that I go to and I ski patrol. So basically I ski around and if somebody gets hurt we take care of them and transport them for further evaluation and if the need arises we call somebody more professional than us to help them out.
S: So you answer a lot of questions on how to get to different trails.
M: I do actually. A lot of times people will ask a lot of questions, you know, where to go. And what's funny, they think we work for the specific resort. We're technically not employed by the resort. We're not employed really by anyone.
S: Okay. Let's say there is an emergency on the mountain. How do you find out about it?
M: Typically what happens is we will get a call from somebody. Either a lift operator will see something or somebody will see something from the lift whether it be a guest or a lot of times we'll get another ski patroller that will see something that will happen and we all carry radios so we are able to communicate with each other and send somebody who is the closest to the particular person and go and check them out. You know, the motto is first ones on, last ones off. We generally precede everybody up and then when the lifts shut down we're the last ones to go down the mountain and make sure that nobody's hiding in the woods or somebody got hurt and needs help or something like that.
S: So, take us through a typical day.
M: Typical day is we, um, so the lifts start running at 9 o'clock we're required to show up at 8:30. We get booted up and then everybody meets in the patrol room and our patrol director kind of goes over the events of the day. You know, the resort I patrol at, there's a lot of groups that come through. There's a lot of schools that come and have different events that go on so, you know we'll kind of getting a briefing of how many groups, you know, if there are terrain park type activities that are going on we'll getting a briefing, we'll kind of meet and then we go from there. And then at 9 o'clock everybody's required to be at their certain station. So, the particular mountain I'm at we have what we call two top houses which are stationed at the top of the mountain and every hour people are required to be there so we kind of ski a rotation and you're in the top house just making sure that if something does happen you're readily available to ski down with any equipment that you might have or need to a particular scene. And then basically that's really it. It's a matter of manning those two top shacks and a mix of freeskiing as well. So, it's really pretty open in terms of what you get to do. You get to ski all over the mountain but if something happens there's a lot of people there that are able to respond and help when needed.
S: For those out there interested in becoming a ski patroller, what does one have to do?
M: So, first off, I mean, I wouldn't say you have to be an expert-level skier, you should be fairly proficient. If you find a mountain you want to ski patrol at, you should be able to make it down just about anything that, you know, that particular hill or mountain has to offer and then you would just basically get in contact with that ski patrol for that mountain and let them know that you want to be a ski patroller and then that's where that process really kicks off. Once you kind of express interest and you're vetted and you go through that there are two major things that you must complete. The first is what they call an OEC Class which stands for Outdoor Emergency Care. And this is a pretty intense classroom-type situation where it's all learning how to deal with injuries; anything from recognizing injuries to splinting to CPR, things like that, so basically anything you would encounter on the hill and in a lot cases not on the hill. I mean, we have to deal with people that may slip and fall in the parking lot or, you know, there are a lot of different workers at mountain who may get hurt. They may burn themselves or cut themselves and we're basically the first responders who have to deal with that so for me particularly, it lasted an entire summer, it went from May through August. It was basically like a college level course. Had to do mid-terms had to do a final, had to do a written test as well as a practical so you can demonstrate that you knew what you were doing. The other important thing is toboggan handling so if somebody gets hurt on the mountain we need to get them off the mountain as safely and as quickly as possible and that mode of transportation is, 9 times out of 10, it's a toboggan so we either, different techniques that we learn or we do a lot of training and then at the end of the winter you know you take your test like anything else, demonstrate your skills and then once you pass, you're a ski patroller.
S: How are shifts determined?
M: The resort that I patrol at, they have a formula that they give us based on the number of days they're open each the season that gives us a requirement of the number of shifts and a shift is a morning or a night shift depending if it's day skiing or night skiing, the resort that I work at happens to have both. Yeah, we have to just basically have to get a certain number of shifts and we can sign up whenever we want to go up and it's basically our responsibility to hit the number of shifts that they require.
S: Is your certification good anywhere? Like, can you transfer?
M: If I were to move and leave my home state I believe my certification is the same. The only time that becomes different is if you go to like a much, much bigger resort let's say like an Aspen or I believe Vail. Some of those bigger resorts employ their own ski patrol where they are actually paid employees of the mountain so it would be a much different and more intense certification process to become what we call a pro patroller.
S: As far as safety, when is the best time to ski?
M: Right away. You know, as soon as the lift starts running, get out there and get going. It's, you know, there's generally not a whole lot of people out there, people are at their freshest. They probably just had breakfast, they're not tired so you can get a lot of really good runs in and not be overcrowded. Plus, generally, the conditions are the best in the morning so I would say anywhere from like 9-9:30 ‘til about noon is probably you're best conditions...at least where I'm at.
S: Is there a least safest time to ski?
M: I don't know if least safe is the right word, I don't have any evidence to back that up but from my own observations, the time that I don't like to be out there the most is probably the 2-4 o'clock hour, you know, that's when people start to get a little tired, it's after lunch so they're full, you know, it might be their last day on the slopes so they're pushing beyond their limits and trying to do the run that they may not be able to do so everybody's just a little bit more cautious and a little bit more alert between the 2 and 4 hour just looking for anybody that might be beyond their ability.
S: When it comes to skiing and safety, well, Mike says just have fun, ski the best to your ability and, if you're interested in trying a new, more difficult run that may be a little bit above your ability then take a lesson and ski it with someone who can coach you through it.
I'd like to thank Mike Buczek for joining us on the Summit Sports Podcast for skis.com and snowboards.com. Take a listen to some of our old shows and don't forget to share via all those social media sites. Have fun out there on the mountain, be safe and thank you for listening to the Summit Sports Podcast.