Standing at the top of a run at Monarch Mountain, a group of ski patrollers assesses the situation. But something seems out of sorts — and soon, a stream of children slide off what looks to be a cliff edge, one by one, like ducklings in a row.
While the mix of kids and ski patrollers might seem unusual, it’s not for Monarch. The group of children shredding the extremes are actually part of what’s called the Junior Ski Patrol — a program for youth interested in learning basic patrol skills and other tricks of the trade.
This past Sunday, a total of 10 skiers took to the slopes to learn from those who know the mountain best — skiing extremes, learning about avalanche danger and using beacons.
“I didn't know what to expect but it’s been really fun and I really like it,” said Ethan NeJame Zeiset.
The course offers youth an opportunity to learn everything from basic medical skills to rope work, running a toboggan and avalanche awareness. In addition to learning CPR and first-aid training, students also receive a certification from the American Heart Association upon completion of the course.
Participant Riggs Gorby said he would definitely complete the course again next year — with the hope of seeing the ski patrol set off bombs to mitigate avalanche dangers. Gorby also appreciated the first-aid skills he acquired.
“I definitely liked some of the medical stuff we learned about,” said Gorby.
Throughout the day, the course focused on avalanche awareness — starting at the top of Mirkwood’s hike-to-ski side country at Monarch. After a quick tow from a snowmobile, the students joined ski patrol to examine the conditions on the mountain.
“Avalanche mitigation is a big part of our jobs, it’s something that takes years to learn,” explained ski patroller Kyle Juszczyk.
However, the level of avalanche danger doesn't just depend on how much it snows. Factors such as speed, density and wind all play a role in avalanche activity.
According to Juszczyk, while one day brought 11 inches of fresh powder to Mirkwood — an amount that may raise concern for those on the mountain — the risk of triggering an avalanche was low because the density of the snow was light and fluffy. There also wasn't any wind.
In another instance, the mountain received two inches of snow, but with 30-mile-per-hour winds, the risk of avalanche was higher, said Juszczyk.
Students and ski patrollers made zig-zags like a lightning bolt down the slope — each taking a turn to pause at the end, lifting one ski after the other before going the opposite direction. It’s a way to mitigate smaller slides on terrain.
“One of the reasons too that we throw more explosives out there instead of on our in-bounds range is that is doesn't get seen as often and skied,” explained ski patroller Julie Makowski of the Mirkwood area. “So pressure that we put on (the slope) just today ... helps that snow become a little more stable.”
The group also learned how to search for a partner buried in an avalanche using a beacon, shovel and probe. Juszczyk stressed the importance of always skiing as if you’re in the backcountry.
Reality sunk in for a few students when a person needed medical assistance on the mountain, interrupting the beacon search.
“I was shocked, and our groups had to move fast,” said Junior Ski Patrol participant Calvin Bayne.
Still, it’s a line of work he would pursue. In fact, Bayne is learning both skiing and snowboarding so he can be skilled in all aspects on the slopes.
“Most people are disgusted by blood, and I am disgusted but I’m interested too,” said 13-year-old Hayden Bevington, who is interested in becoming a nurse when she’s older and also wants to be a ski patroller. “My parents were ski patrollers at Loveland and there are a lot of ski patrollers in my family.”
The Junior Ski Patrol program continues on Sundays this month before wrapping up Feb. 24.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)