By Daniel Gibson |
Top photo: Ski Santa Fe’s Mountain Safety Team member Aylin Sheehan carries poles used to set snow fences and rope lines, a responsibility that largely falls on the team’s shoulders. Photo courtesy Ski SF by Jack Dant. |
You’ve seen them at Ski Santa Fe, the people in the bumble bee-yellow jackets standing at key slope intersections like the spot they call Grand Central just above Totemoffs. They are waving down a speeding skier and asking them to pull in for a chat. These are members of the Mountain Safety Team, and while they are best known as traffic cops on snow, it turns out they have far more responsibilities than this function.
“The Mountain Safety Team is extremely important to what we do overall,” notes Jack Dant, the head of the Ski Santa Fe Ski Patrol, under which the MST operates. “First off, they are key in helping the patrol out with many functions, and perform many other services on the mountain. We couldn’t do what we do without them. And, second, they are s sort of a feeding stream for the patrol. Many people are interested in patrolling but don’t yet have the EMT license required, or the training, so we can get them on board on the safety team, and start those processes. They become familiar with the mountain, the operations, the procedures. It also gives us a chance to see if this is someone we want to encourage to become a full patroller. The program also works the other way, where someone with lots of patrolling experience decides they don’t want quite that level of responsibility any longer, yet want to continue to help out. They become great mentors. Someday, I may do that myself!”
That is exactly the process that brought Mark Miller into the MST ranks. There’s no position of director of MST, but seniority is highly regarded and much deference is given to the veterans, like Miller. A member of the Santa Fe Ski Patrol for two years in the early 1980s, after a career in hotel management that took him from the Eldorado to Crested Butte and Hawaii, he returned to Santa Fe. “When I retired from the hotel industry, I came up with a friend’s son for a hiring clinic, and Cody (Shepard, the long-time director of the Santa Fe Ski Patrol) saw me and recruited me to come back on patrol. But I decided I did not want to go full in with the EMT license, so I joined the safety team. That was seven years ago and I’m still loving it.”
He explains that all MST members must have a Basic Life Support certification. As such, if someone is “bleeding or breathing” and they are first on the scene, they are allowed to provide care. “But we can only do so much,” as outlined in protocol procedures, he explains. “You’re there to assist, and to provide extra hands,” from loading people into sleds to doing traffic control
Every November, team members complete a “medical refresher” class and undergo procedural training on things like packing the toboggans, lift evacuations, toboggan handling and many other operational tasks assigned to the safety crew. Getting the toboggans prepped daily and keeping them distributed across the mountain are key responsibilities. A running list shows where toboggans have been removed for use and where they are presently.
“Riding the chairs, we are always checking out the cables, listening for odd sounds, checking the shives and the height of the padding on the chairs, which need to be raised after snowfall,” Miller says. Another major job is maintaining the miles of rope lines, making sure they are up and have been de-rimed. Ice on them can make them less visible and droop, and needs to be cleared.” They also help folks with equipment problems or having difficulties getting back into their bindings, looking for lost skis and other minor issues.
The safety team includes both men and women, and young and old. Miller is the senior member, at age 71.
A Rookie & A Vet
The youngest is teenager Suraj Khalsa. The rookie’s father is on the patrol. Warming her hands by the patrol wood stove on top of Tesuque Peak, and looking a bit bushed, she explained what drew her to the work. “I like skiing and helping people. It’s turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected. We ski a lot.” Challenges have included learning all the names of very specific spots on the mountain the patrol has tagged over the years, to help them pinpoint locations, and the physical requirements. “I’m pretty tired after some days up here!”
Mike “Mikey B” Bosbonis says, “For me it’s a passion. “My first year, of 15, as a patroller was in 1980, in Southern California.” The seasoned hand is a registered nurse, but let his EMT license lapse, and so decided to join the safety team.
He notes that their days begin with arrival around 7:30 a.m., followed by a briefing on conditions and what needs to be done. Signage and ropes taken down for grooming the evening before have to be put back up. Some staff are carted uphill on snowcats to begin trail work, while others to inspect lifts and prepare the mountain for guests. Others lend a hand on the walkways in, and in lift lines once chairs begin to load.
“Riding up on the lifts, our heads are on a swivel, looking for skiers that may need help,” Bosbonis notes. And once on top, “We disperse ourselves across the entire mountain,” as assigned. A list of runs skied is kept by the dispatcher, who occupies “The Chair” atop the Quad Chair. This ensures that all runs are visited multiple times every day. It also means team members get to actually ski. Carrying radios, they are in constant touch with Dispatch. “The fastest thing on the mountain is Motorola, so if anything goes wrong, it is called in and whoever is closest to the situation responds first.”
The day ends with sweep, when the mountain is combed by patrol and MST members to ensure no one is left on the slopes. After unbooting at the base, they gather again to discuss the day and look forward to the next one. A typical day runs 11 hours or more.
Despite the rigors, Harry Frost is in his third year on the team. Asked why he signed up, he deadpans, “Ahhh, skiing…It’s why we are all here. You get first and last runs every day!” But more seriously, he adds, “It’s a resource. Someone’s got to do it, and if we can manage it, we all get to enjoy it.”
Speedsters & Huckers
The role MST is best known for — slowing down speeding or reckless skiers or boarders — is actually just one of their many functions, Miller notes, though an important one. When they find someone blowing through a slow skiing zone, hucking off blind lips posted with “No Jumping” signs, or skiing in closed areas, they first try and diffuse the situation, starting a conversation with something like, “Looks like you’re having a really fun day.” If the person is contrite and owe up to their misdeed, they are let off with a verbal warning and their ticket is marked. “Most are very apologetic, pleading ignorance, while some are genuinely out of control,” Miller says. “We coach them to go back on easier slopes and practice their wedge and speed control skills.”
If stopped again, or the person blows up and resists the warning, they are required to go to the base and watch a true film about an errant skier and snowboarder who collided and both died.
Occasionally they have to break up fights in the lift lines, which usually involve people who’ve had too much to drink. “We can’t touch them, but we talk to them and try to escort them down to the bottom, and encourage them to get a friend to drive them home.” If they are combative and resist direction, the sheriff is called. That is very rare.
Miller calls their level of control and penalties “very reasonable.” Programs at other ski areas might ban someone for a season, or for life, for a single infraction, or require you to attend mandatory weekday workshops on safety if you want back on the mountain. “Here, if it’s a really egregious issue, or if they’ve been in The Box a bunch, we might take their pass, but that’s very rare.” The Box, he explains, is a Rolodex maintained in their office with the names of all people cited, and details on the infractions. Thus multiple and repeat offenders can be identified. But, head of patrol Dant says The Box is “purged” periodically, and offenders allowed back on the mountain.
Formed in 1991
While knowledge of the MST crew and duties is a mystery to most guests, Dant notes that the program has actually been in existence since the 1991-92 season. “Other areas have Mountain Host programs or Mountain Maintenance programs, but I’m not familiar with many whose programs are directly tied to the patrol services. Ours was designed from the beginning to be a filter and aid for the ski patrol.
“We’ve worked recently to make them more identifiable,” he goes on, by putting them in bright yellow jackets and placing them at strategic points, like Grand Central. With 15 on the roster this year, including eight full-time, he could use a few more hands. Asked how they find qualified personnel, Dant replies, “I think the mountain finds them. It attracts certain people, and they’ll approach us and we will see where they might fit in.” He began as a safety team member himself. “I came for the pass, and never left.”
As to the larger role of both the ski patrol and the Mountain Safety Team, he concludes, “There’s a lot of joy up here, and a lot of energy. Sometimes it becomes a bit misdirected. Fundamentally, if we remind people, ‘Hey, we are up here to have a good time. If you have an issue, let’s talk about it. Let’s figure this out. Sometimes, it’s just not someone’s day to be up here. People tell me, ‘Oh, you’re here to keep us safe.’ My response is, ‘Safety is everyone’s job.’ It’s actually written into the Skier Responsibility Code and the New Mexico Ski Safety Act. It’s our job to remind people of that.”
Ski Conditions as of 2/16/2022
This is being written on late Wednesday afternoon, with a storm moving in, so snow bases should be moderately to significantly deeper than noted here.
Ski Santa Fe has a 43-inch base, but is expecting 3 – 7 inches tonight and another 3 – 7 on Thursday. All but a few run are open, with Easter Bowl, Chile Glades and Upper Ristra still roped off. This Saturday, enjoy live music by David Berkeley on the Totemoff Deck from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a tap takeover by Tractor Brewing.
Taos Ski Valley has 54 inches atop Chair 7 and 45 at mid-mountain. It is 100 percent open.
Wolf Creek has 76 inches at mid-mountain and 86 inches at top. Every run is open, including its extensive hike-to terrain.
Angel Fire Resort has a 24-inch base, with 63 of 81 runs open and all lifts running.
Red River has 30 inches and 60 of 64 runs open.
Pajarito has a foot base, and 36 runs or 44 open, and four of six lifts. It is open on a Friday – Sunday basis.
Sipapu sits on a 25-inch base, and has 38 of 43 runs open.
Ski Apache has a foot, 21 of 55 runs open and three of nine lifts.
Enchanted Forest Cross Country and Snowshoe Area, as reported last week, has managed to clear its extensive trail network of fallen timber from its December wind event.
Open trails include Powderpuff, March Hare, Jabberwocky, Sherwood Forest, Jackalope, Molly B. Denum, Not Much, Old Game Trail, outer Sven Wiik, and Face Flop Drop. While Not Much More is cleared, the underlying ground and other complicating factors such as root balls will not allow us to open that trail quite yet. For a look at restoration work, see https://youtu.be/FHlQk5_F3Ts.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, from noon to 2 p.m., EFXC will host its big annual event, Just Desserts, now marking its 35th year. The theme is simple: homemade desserts from local restaurants and avid local bakers are spaced out on a five-kilometer course, and skiers and snowshoers set out to the different sites and indulge in goodies like apple-raisin bread pudding with Jack Daniels sauce, tiramisu, fudge, cinnamon rolls, “Better Than Sex” cake, bourbon chocolate pecan pie, wild blueberry pie, Key lime pie, coconut rum cake (dairy free), chocolate chip pecan pie, banana pudding, and multi-layer chocolate buttercream torte.
Sandia Peak will not open this season.
Crested Butte has a nice 55-inch base, with all but one run open.
Monarch Mountain has 49 inches, and all terrain open, including its alluring hike-to Mirkwood Basin.
Telluride has 40 to 47 inches and 120 of 147 runs open.
Purgatory reports a 39- to 44-inch base and every run open.
Arizona Snowbowl has a nice 46-inch base, with 42 of 48 lift-served runs a-going.
Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). His new book, Images of America: Skiing in New Mexico, was recently released from Arcadia Publishing with 183 historic photos. He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski, and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead