Patrolling with CharlotteAlder Creek Adventure Center, Alder Creek Cafe, Bikeworks, Cross Country Ski Area, Downhill Ski Area, Featured, Member News
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CROSS COUNTRY SKI PATROLLER
By CHARLOTTE GROSS
When you’re exploring our cross country trails, winding through the woods or drinking in the views from Drifter Hut with only ravens for company, it can be hard to imagine the countless people behind the scenes of that smooth skiing experience. At the core of this hardworking crew keeping the trails open are our ski patrollers. Join one member of the team for a packed day in winter paradise.
A patroller’s day begins before even the earliest birds flock to the trails for 7AM skiing. I pull up to the Alder Creek Adventure Center when the sky begins to blush with sunrise and the teaching meadow is still untouched corduroy. Sometimes, I catch a pack of coyotes sniffing out their own trails.
After I unlock the building for staff and skiers, I stage our rescue toboggan and Rudolf the red snowmobile so we’re ready for emergencies. We set up signs, print the day’s maps and lay out anti slip mats. On a storm day, a crew of patrollers and designated snow-clearing staff jumps straight into snow-blowing, shoveling and raking cornices off the roof.
Once the upper trails are pink with alpenglow, it’s time to ski. With my patrol partner remaining at base, I skate out with a radio and pack of medical supplies to be a reassuring presence to folks I meet on the trails. Skiers at the Moondance Hut intersection might have questions about terrain that suits their comfort level. Backcountry skiers and snowshoers might need education on where the Tahoe Donner boundaries lie. And I like to feel the quality and texture of the day’s snow. This way, when I return to the Adventure Center, I can recommend routes and tell folks if Euer Valley trails are still firm or if wind is sending drifts over the high ridgelines.
Often, my partner will take a turn skiing. I remain at base to share insight about conditions with skiers or remind them to keep their masks on at the crowded trailhead. One of us will fill out the daily patrol log and check our emergency supplies and snowmobiles and fill the fuel truck for the groomers.
Afternoons are for projects. After the crowds have thinned, we ski or snowmobile out to signs in need of repair or branches in need of clipping. When I spot willows poking through the trail on Downward Dog, I can’t stop seeing willows. I follow them, snipping branches until my hands are numb and I have to move. If we don’t shovel the Sundance Hut deck soon after a dumping, we find a thick layer of ice in need of chipping so skiers can rest there again. We also raise trail markers that had hung out of my reach days before.
Once, I backed our snowmobile Bruiser close to a sign that was just off trail in soft snow. When I tried to drive away, Bruiser sank deeper into the snow. Post-holing with every step, I tried to dig it out. A passing skier laughed and asked if I needed him to call patrol! I radioed my partner and, together, we freed Bruiser.
Though our center doesn’t see the same high-impact crashes a downhill resort does, patients do walk into our patrol room and we tend them on the trail. We encourage all skiers to carry a trail map printed with our specific patrol phone number. If you suffer a bad fall and need us to splint a leg and package you up in the toboggan or if you hit your head and need an assessment, we’ll be there for you. When we’re not limbing trees and raising signs, we’re practicing our slinging and swathing techniques and running through scenarios of broken bones and puncture wounds.
When the light turns golden and the sun sinks behind the pines again, we undo our morning’s work. We fold signs reminding skiers to show their passes and that we close at 5PM. Mats come off the snow. Once we’re sure that guests have returned their rentals, we drive Rudolf the snowmobile back to its converted shipping container home and pull the toboggan inside.
WHY BECOME A NORDIC SKI PATROLLER?
As a former D1 collegiate Nordic racer, I’ve always looked for new ways to explore trails and offer my skills back to the Nordic ski community that shaped me. I wanted to be part of the magic (that is, the constant effort) that goes into operating a world-class trail system. I’ve coached high schoolers and introduced Boston youth to skiing, and I offer lessons here at Tahoe Donner when I’m not patrolling. This job is a simultaneously more involved and more behind-the-scenes way for me to help others discover the joys of exploring the woods in winter.
Through patrolling, I’ve come to know the contours of Euer Valley and its surrounding topography intimately. On safety checks, I’ve been the first skier in years to pass over trails like Showdown and Far West. The best part of the job? Gliding out at sunrise on untracked trails when the woods are quiet and the snow sparkles.
No two patrol days are the same, but each feels brighter when we see skiers as thrilled as we are to explore the Tahoe Donner trails. To learn more about the Cross Country Ski Center, visit tahoedonner.com/xc.
Pick up a copy of the March Tahoe Donner Magazine to learn more.