While many non-skiers think skiing is a dangerous sport, they think nothing of riding a bike. Yet the statistics show that riding a bike is 12 times more dangerous than skiing. I would even venture to guess that if you add mountain biking it’s far more risky.

We know that if you fall off a bike onto pavement it’s going to hurt, yet skiers fall often, especially new skiers, and nearly all the time they simply get up, put their skis back on and continue their day. Snow is a lot softer than pavement.

But there are occasional injuries. Unlike most sports, skiers can count on a rescue team standing by, usually at the top of the mountain.

Knowing rescue is handy is reassuring, but do you know how to reach the ski patrol if needed? A recent injury to someone close brought this topic to mind. I have to admit that my ski patrol days were before everyone carried a cell phone. Our patrol of 25-30 volunteers and a single professional at Sunday River had only 20 or so trails to watch over and by stationing personnel at the top of Barker and the Mixing Bowl we had everything covered. Patrollers were also assigned to rotate on the Upper T-bar off the top of Locke Mountain. Skiers reported accidents simply by skiing to the base and notifying the lift attendant.

Of course, in 1980, when Les Otten bought Sunday River, the area was hosting only 32,000 skier visits annually.Contrast that with today’s expanse of lifts and 129 trails — plus glades — hosting over a half million skier visits annually, and the picture changes.

I talked with Patrol Director Steve Boulanger and learned that today’s patrol consists of 35 professionals and 70 volunteers. Adding to the demands on ski patrol is having those trails spread over eight peaks. There are patrol stations at four of those peaks so patrollers can ski down to the scene with the rescue sled. Through training and planning, the ski patrol has the mountain covered. What I wanted to know was how cell phones have changed the way accidents are reported.

According to Boulanger, many are reported by cell phone. The old way of skiing to the base of the nearest lift still works, but there are distinct advantages to calling the patrol.

“If we can talk with those at the scene directly, we can pin down the exact location and get an idea of what kind of problem we are dealing with,” he said.

This brought up an important point: Know where you are on the mountain.

There is a reason every trail and crossover has a name. We tend to think it is marketing to increase trail counts over the competition, when in reality it’s to help ski patrol and groomers to identify exact locations on the mountain, critical when someone is in need of help.

Always carry a trail map and note the name of the trail before you head down. It’s easy when skiing your home mountain to ignore these things because you always know how to get where you’re going, but think of how you would relay your exact location to someone in ski patrol headquarters.

Sunday River has a direct number for ski patrol and when asked, Steve didn’t hesitate.

“824-5350,” he said. “We recommend that skiers here put it in their cell phones. That way they can reach us quickly.”

He explained how they meet with ski clubs and other groups to make this point and let skiers know how to reach them in an emergency. When I asked about calling 911, I learned that this happens occasionally and most dispatchers in Western Maine know how to direct the call to the ski area. But it takes a lot longer than calling the ski patrol directly, and calling directly makes it a lot easier to get the correct information regarding location on the mountain.

While my source was Sunday River, I know that every ski area has a protocol for reporting to the ski patrol. It varies from one ski area to another. Obviously, the smaller areas don’t have the numbers or the resources of the big resorts, but wherever you ski, take the time at the beginning of your visit to check the trail map. If the information isn’t there, ask at the desk. It could save some important time when a skier is waiting for help in the cold snow.

Of course, improving our skill levels is the best way to avoid needing the ski patrol, but just in case, have the number.

Remembering a legend

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel to many places in skiing, and to meet and even ski with some of the great people in our sport. One of the best trips was to Norway the year before the Lillehammer Olympics. The best part of the trip was our guide, Norway’s skiing hero and the idol of a generation, Stein Eriksen.

When I learned of Stein’s death at 88 a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of that trip and what a pleasure it was to learn that someone who was at the top of the ski world was also one of the nicest individuals I ever met.

He took time for everyone in the group, and one day on the mountain he gave each skier in the group a tip on how to improve their skiing. Not receiving one, I asked Stein for my tip. He simply said, “You ski beautifully.” Coming from the Norse God of Skiing, that was really good for my ego.

But the real man came through when I saw him later on a few occasions. He immediately called me by name and greeted me sincerely. My feelings about the man were echoed by those who knew him and the most appropriate quote I heard on his death, was from Lessing Stern owner of Deer Valley: “He was a World Class human being.”

That was Stein Eriksen.

See you on the slopes.


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