Featured, Local News

Samaritans of the slopes have long history at Killington

By Karen D. Lorentz

Ski patrollers are regarded as “the good Samaritans of the slopes” for tending to both the injured and the multitude of behind-the-scene duties that enable them to promote safety on the slopes.

From early morning trail checks to taking care of the gear used and repacking toboggans to the evening check to ensure that everyone is down and off the open and designated trail system, their work is praised as both necessary and key to the smooth operations of ski resorts.

To be prepared for the rescues of injured or lost guests, training is extensive.

“It’s quite thorough and includes key skills of assessing a patient, identifying injuries or illness, caring for them, and getting them down off the mountain. This training is of paramount importance,” noted Killington Ski Patrol Director Tait Germon.

Sabina Schulz in her red ski patrol jacket, in front of snowy trees
Sabina Schulz

At the most difficult times, patrollers can do life-saving work. That’s when the training, preparation, and teamwork all come together in rescues that make a difference.

Addressing the training, Germon noted that refresher courses for returning patrol members are taken in the fall. New recruits have six weeks of training from November to Christmas. During that time they work on obtaining their OEC (Outdoor Emergency Care) and OET (Outdoor Emergency Transportation) certifications. Plus they learn all the mountain specific procedures and protocols, Germon noted, adding that when they matriculate, they are National Ski Patrol (NSP) and Killington Patrol members.

“Both returning patrollers and rookies are all well qualified to provide first aid, participate in sled rescues, lift evacuations, and various other, and equally important, aspects of the job, like the pro-active trail checks,” he said.

Killington hosts NSP program
As part of the NSP, Germon said, “Killington is always pleased to host various NSP events at the mountain, including examiners’ clinics, patroller schools, and student programs.”

Most recently, Killington was the scene of the NSP’s Certified Patroller exam, the highest level of certification in all facets of patrol work. It was designed primarily for the professional patroller, and candidates go through a rigorous credentials process to gain entry into the Certified program and exam.

The exam itself includes “a series of skills tests that challenge patrollers to be at the top of their field,” Germon said, noting Certified candidates usually have 10-15 years of patrol experience.
The exam at Killington included: skiing and riding skills, toboggan handling, avalanche search/beacon drills, outdoor risk management, lift evacuations, outdoor emergency care (first aid) skills, low angle rescue (basically an extrication challenge using ropes and pulleys), which were held over three days, concluding with a banquet.

NSP Eastern Division Certified Program Chair Bill Jordan conducted the event with assistance from NSP Certified Administrator Sarah Keating in logistics as well as help from Killington’s ski patrol.

Five NSP patrollers from the Eastern Division participated but none passed.

“That’s not unusual for first tries,” Germon noted. Several successfully completed a number of modules of the exams, he added, noting it is so rigorous that candidates have three years to complete the exam (without going back to year one and redoing the clinics and all modules). “It took me two years to pass it,” he added, noting Killington has four others who have previously attained NSP Certified Patroller status. They include Joe Kulina, Don Mills, and Justin Guth, all of whom were examiners at the event.

Further illustrating the challenging nature of the Certified program, Germon said, “There are about 800+ members of the Eastern Division of the NSP that have been certified in the last 50 years out of 30,000 plus registered members in that time.”

50th anniversary ties to Killington
Because it was also the 50th anniversary of the inception of the Certified program, dignitaries from all over, including the NSP Chairman Rick Knight, NSP Education Director Shelia Summers, Eastern Division Director John Kane, representatives from Central and Western NSP Divisions, charter Certified program members, and past and present Certified members. “This was one of the best exams with cooperative weather and great conditions for this time of year. Everyone was blown away with the experience here at Killington Resort. The banquet at the Peak Lodge was one of the highlights. I was really proud of Killington, the mountain and its staff,” Germon stated.

He also commented that hosting this event was “particularly meaningful because the certified program began at Killington, under the auspices of early patrol leader George Wesson. George was a legend in the NSP and in the Vermont ski industry. He was a member of the 10th Mountain Division, and when he returned to the states, he joined the NSP and helped found several ski patrols in New England, including the Mount Mansfield, Killington, and Sugarbush Ski Patrols.

“He wanted to create a program that focused on all aspects of patrolling and which could serve as a benchmark of excellence for the NSP. Since its inception in the Eastern Division of the NSP, the Certified program has spread to all US divisions of the organization and has a Certified program manager who reports directly to the national board. It’s an honor for Killington to have hosted this prestigious program within the NSP and in a small way pay homage to George’s memory,” Germon concluded.

Photo by John Kane
NSP Certified Program patrollers, examiners, candidates and helpers descend lower Ovation after ski and snowboard demonstration.

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