By Karen D. Lorentz
Okemo Mountain has introduced a Mountain Safety Team to augment the services provided by the ski patrol and to increase mountain safety awareness among skiers and riders.
“The mountain safety team’s goal is to build a community of skiers and riders who embrace mountain safety. It is our mission to educate our guests at Okemo on what responsible behavior looks like. Understanding the inherent risk of skiing, we strive to ensure that our guests follow the Responsibility Code and act in a way that creates a reasonably safe experience for our staff and guests alike,” said Senior Manager Ski Patrol Chris Lancaster.
The members of the mountain safety team work directly with the ski patrol and attend a morning meeting each day where the safety plan for the day and any anticipated operational changes are discussed. Their duties include assisting the patrol with putting up over 100 signs every morning. The signs convey important messages like slow zones, trail mergers, and rest areas and are placed at areas like high traffic zones and intersections as well as at appropriate rest areas throughout the mountain. After that they spend the day stationed primarily in Okemo’s slow skiing and family-focused areas, Lancaster said.
They also engage in conversations with people they see skiing or riding in a way that puts themselves or others at risk. “We strive to ensure that our guests follow the Responsibility Code and take action as needed to protect the rest of the guests and employees on the mountain. Our favorite part of the job is engaging with guests whom we see doing the right thing as well as providing them with updates and information to help ensure a positive experience on the mountain,” Lancaster added.
“While the ski patrol is actively involved in and shares all of the responsibilities of mountain safety, once the day is in full swing it can be hard for the patrol to maintain as consistent a presence on the hill as we would like. Having a Mountain Safety team able to be out actively engaging with guests all day is a game changer for us and something that we are excited to build on,” Lancaster stated.
He further explained that the many duties of the ski patrol team don’t allow them to spend all their time monitoring slow skiing and family areas. “Patrol’s day consists of a variety of activities involving first aid response, guest transport, trail work, marking and padding, training, and being available to respond to needs as they arise. Having the added support of the mountain safety team is a huge benefit — one we appreciate very much,” Lancaster added.
Okemo currently has four full-time and one part-time paid staff on the mountain safety team. The entire team is on the hill Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with a smaller team supporting Ski Patrol on other mid-week days. Mountain Safety Team members have a basic requirement of being able to ski or ride safely and in control on groomed intermediate terrain. They wear yellow jackets and are hired by and report to Ski Patrol.
“The Mountain Safety program harks back to 1999 when the program was instituted at Vail Mountain,” according to Courtney DiFiore, senior communications manager for Vail Resorts in the Northeast, the publicly-traded parent company of 41 mountain resorts.
Today Vail Resorts has Mountain Safety Teams at many of their resorts across the United States, DiFiore said. Okemo, which was purchased by Vail Resorts in 2018, introduced its first Mountain Safety staff on a smaller scale for the 2021-22 season, she said, adding, “We are excited to see this program continue to grow.”
In addition to the safety and patrol teams, Okemo has a mountain hosts program. As part of the guest services Department, the volunteer hosts are focused on improving the guest experience by supporting base area greeters, assisting guests with wayfinding information, and providing guest service support out on the slopes.
“Ensuring that our guests feel welcome and safe out on the hill is built into everything that we do here at Okemo, but the specific job tasks focused on ski and ride safety are undertaken by the patrol and mountain safety teams,” Difiore said.