You may not be ready to trade in your water skis for your alpines, but the members of the Bogus Basin Ski Patrol are. Even while valley temperatures linger in the upper 90s, BBSP is rounding up the troops, recruiting a few new faces and fine-tuning their skills, as well as their skis, so that when the snow does fly, they're ready for every challenge you, your buddies and Mother Nature have in store for them this season.
Unexpected challenges are exactly what they prepare for. Despite the Hollywood notion that ski patrollers are glorified ski bums who get the powder first, the groupies at the end of the day and—if there's time between all the fun—help a few inexperienced people on rental equipment, the job is serious work. And it's unpaid work for about 80 percent of Bogus Basin Ski Resort's patrollers. Of roughly 200 patrollers on BBSP, Bogus Basin Ski Resort employs about 35 full-time, while volunteers comprise the majority of the force.
As BBSP readies itself for the upcoming season with a volunteer drive culminating with an initial registration session next week, Boise Weekly sat down with five of the current volunteer members to ask them why they give up their weekends, endure weather conditions no one wants to ski in and do it all just for the glory.
"For the groupies," jokes Scott Putnam, a 49-year-old IT tech with six years on the patrol.
"No, that only worked when I had hair," adds Volunteer Patrol Director (known informally on the mountain as the patrol leader) Earl Esson, a 52-year-old engineer by day.
For a serious answer, the four senior patrollers look to rookie Andrew Kaddas. It's a request that expresses their sincere interest in his reasons for joining the BBSP tribe as much as a hazing exercise for the new recruit. Kaddas, a 38-year-old IT tech going into his first non-training year on the patrol, cuts straight to the point in his answer.
"I wanted to serve something bigger than myself, and that's how these guys are," says Kaddas. "They give of themselves without expecting anything in return."
Fifty-one-year-old salesman Joe LaGue echoes that reason, saying that ski patrol is his way to give back to the sport after more than 40 years of skiing. "I'd be bored on the mountain if I wasn't on the patrol," he laughs. "Sure, we want to ski, and we do have a good time, but we're all business on the mountain."
Esson's reasons for joining BBSP stem from his own experience needing the help of strangers while he was injured. In the '70s, Esson broke his pelvis in a motorcycle accident in the remote Mojave Desert. It was a group of strangers who found him and helped get him medical attention. Esson says it was his appreciation for those people—from the first person who found him to the orthopedic surgeon who treated him eight hours later—that led him to seek out Bogus Basin Ski Patrol in 1999.
"I saw a commercial with Gretchen Anderson asking for volunteers, and I'd always wanted to help. You know, on a good day, we don't need to help," says Esson. "But on a bad day, it's good to have someone there to help when you do need it."
A bad day for BBSP can be anything from a sprain or strain to a disembowelment. Most often, patrollers respond to calls regarding fairly minor injuries. They see blown-out knees and twisted ankles all day, and every so often, they come across a couple with their bibs around non-twisted ankles. At night, the closing patrollers often find themselves scouring the mountain after boarders and skiers report missing friends, who—if they're lucky—are usually only "lost" on a barstool.
But when a heavy storm rolls in, forcing the lifts to close, patrollers comb the mountain in white-out conditions, gathering stranded boarders and skiers and ferrying them to the safety of a lodge. If the lift breaks down, it's the patrol staff and volunteers who evacuate the lift by helping reluctant guests rappel from their chairs to the snow below.
When life-threatening injuries occur, BBSP administers first aid until the patient is stable enough to be moved. In the case of last year's fatality on the mountain, in which a season pass holder hit a tree while skiing, volunteer Charles Butrick arrived first on the scene and administered medical aid until help arrived.
"In those cases, your training kicks in," explains Butrick, a 32-year-old purchasing manager who has seniority in the group with 13 years on the patrol, four of which were spent on the paid patrol, and the last two of which he spent as patrol leader. "I didn't see my first fatality until after I'd seen lots of other gruesome things. You react, and then you don't think about it until after it's all done."
Gruesome, however, is something nearly all of the patrollers have learned to deal with. And it's the reason rookie Kaddas isn't cleared to ski alone until he accumulates enough exposure to the minor calls to be able to think clearly and act decisively in what BBSP calls a multiple-issue environment, in which several factors, like weather or multiple patients, complicate an extraction.
The last thing BBSP wants to do, says LaGue, is scare off trainees or rookies by putting them into situations that are mentally and physically overwhelming. "We do lots of mentoring because we want [new patrollers] to succeed," he says. "We don't ever want someone to quit simply because they think they can't do it."
Putnam, whose 16-year-old daughter Kalli is the youngest member of BBSP, echoes his comments. "We train in a nice warm room," he says, and because the situation is far more intense in the field than in the classroom, trainees and rookies are paired up with senior patrollers during shifts.
As they close out the last few days of their volunteer enrollment for the season, BBSP is still hoping for a few more interested applicants, especially since Bogus Basin will host the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games next season, and there won't be much time for training that season. What kind of skiers and snowboarders qualify for BBSP? The willing and the trainable, says LaGue. There are, however, registration and instruction fees, as well as annual dues and time-commitment requirements. Ski groupies are not aplenty, but, implies one BBSP member whose good work on the mountain got him out of a speeding ticket, a little bit of good will goes a long way.
BBSP's first class for new applicants is Wednesday, August 22. For more information on BBSP, as well as a list of FAQ's about registration, visit BBSP.org.