Hey, somebody's got to live the dream, and it might as well be J.C. "Jaker" Merlini, the longtime director of the Bogus Basin Ski Patrol. Merlini, 55, is one of those guys who is easy to envy: skiing all winter, whitewater rafting and mountain biking in the summer. Although he's been the patrol director since 1989, Merlini says he started his ski patrol career at Bogus in 1976. In an interview with BW, Merlini explains why tennis keeps him in skiing shape in the summer, why there are no bombs at Bogus and how he can tell in just one run whether he'll like a pair of skis.
You said being in the ski patrol is living the dream. Care to elaborate?
Well, let's see: Our offices are outdoors, under blue skies. Of course, sometimes it snows. We get to socialize with all the guests who come up and go skiing. And we're getting paid to go skiing.
We're here for the guests. We like to think of ourselves as keepers of the mountain.
And when you guys are opening slopes, you guys are the first ones that get to ski it.
Well, someone has to do that. It's a tough job but someone has to decide if that slope is going to be safe for the skiing guests. If it weren't for our guests we wouldn't have a job.
What do you do in the summer and fall to get ready?
I play tons of tennis. We're up here in the fall getting the slopes ready, and you're hiking. And a lot of us mountain bike. It's just staying active.
What do you tell someone who wants to be on patrol?
Talk to me. We have ski patrol tryouts in the spring. They've got to be able to ski everything up here at Bogus in a very proficient manner. I'm not looking for Tommy Moe or Picabo, but you have to be able to ski in a very proficient manner. When you're running a toboggan, an emergency sled, and you've got a patient in the back, and you're driving the thing, you've got to be able to know how to stop.
It must be nice to have enthusiastic volunteer patrollers, but do you envy a ski area that has all pro patrollers?
You know what it boils down to? When you're laying in the snow and you're hurt, and the person comes with a red coat and a white cross on it and administers first aid to you, do you care if that person's paid or volunteer, as long as they know their stuff?
Last year a skier died up at Bogus. What does that do to the patrollers up there?
The whole team up here, whether it's the lifties, the cat driver, or Mike Shirley, the general manager up here, we all feel for the family to whom that's happened. We feel for each other and we grieve with each other. Everybody hurts. Obviously, there's the family and the relatives. But it hurts everybody.
How do you face the beginning of a season at Bogus?
What do you have this year?
I ordered a new pair of Rossignols. Twin tips.
I got on a pair of twin tips last year, and gosh, they're fun.
I've been doing this long enough, I only have to take a pair of skis down one run, one time, to tell if I'm going to like them or not. I got these twin tips and, you know, people have been giving me a little crap about riding twin tips. I've been going backwards here and there.
You've got the younger generation of patrollers and lift operators up here, they think an old guy like me is pretty hip to be on twin tips. If nothing else, I do it to jive those guys up.