Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Four

Doctor Peter Taillac and Ski Patrol’s Hylton Early have told us how to make the best of your Deer Valley ski vacation. Today, they will conclude their great tips series by discussing safety issues that are of concern to our most advanced skiers and learn how to stay safe under most weather and snow conditions!

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JF: Can you tell us about avalanche control and snow safety in general?

Hylton Early: These are issues that we take extremely seriously at Deer Valley. We have a snow safety program that includes four rescue dogs that are specifically trained for avalanche rescue both at Deer Valley and out in the back country as well. We do conduct explosive control work to make sure that the runs are safe. That doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee that they will be absolutely safe as avalanches are an inherent risk of skiing, and it’s important to keep this fact in mind.

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JF: Is Ski Patrol available for on-hill, last minute updates?

Hylton Early: Yes, you can always check-in with Ski Patrol at the top of Bald Mountain or the top of Empire before you head into areas that could be avalanche-prone. This way, you will also get the latest reports because the Ski Patrol staff would have been there early on and will able to tell you where the safe lines and the best places to ski are. If you’re not quite sure about what to take along, the Ski Patrol is available to remind you about the necessary equipment you might need to stay safe out there.

JF: What about ropes line and closed signs?

Hylton Early: You always want to respect these. They’re in place for a reason. Just like anybody else, we want to open runs as fast as we can but we want to make sure that they are safe before opening them to skiers!

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JF: Any advice for the lone skier?

Hylton Early: It’s very important to let someone else know where you’re going and to have a plan of a place to meet up. In today’s cell phone culture, it’s easy to get complacent, but your battery can die or your phone can fall out of your pocket, so it’s always good to have a fail-safe meeting point, like meet for lunch at a certain lodge. If you are skiing some expert terrain, I would really recommend that you always ski with a partner, so if you were to get injured, this buddy can provide aid to you and let the Ski Patrol know where you are.

JF: How can skiers reach Ski Patrol?

Hylton Early: The Ski Patrol number 435-645-6804 is located on the back of all the trail map, or you can dial extension 6804 from any mountain phone. It’s a smart idea to program it into your cell phone. You can of course always report an injury to any lift employee as well. The Deer Valley Mobile App also has a button to immediately call Ski Patrol.

Call SP

JF: Do you have tips for the great Deer Valley powder days?

Hylton Early: Everyone gets so excited and so filled with adrenaline on these wonderful powder days, that it’s always a good idea to remember to ski safely and to follow the Skier’s Responsibility Code. The most obvious incident is when you lose your ski in deep powder; if your ski came off, make sure to remember the last point when you saw it, which will help greatly if Ski Patrol comes to help you locate it. If you’re skiing the trees, always be on the watch out for stumps and obstacles and be also aware of tree wells; some people have the smart idea of carrying a whistle clipped to their jacket that can serve to alert others of you were to fall into a well and signal your location; this warning signal also comes very handy if you were injured in any location hidden from view.

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JF: Doctor Taillac, is there anything you’d like to add to these details and advices aimed at keeping us safe on the mountain?

Doctor Peter Taillac: I just would like to compliment the Ski Patrol for the great job they do, here at Deer Valley Resort. They’re very knowledgeable and take a great deal of pride in what they’re doing for skiers. They are very diligent at keeping up with their medical training on regular basis so they stay very sharp. We feel that they have a great relationship with the Clinic. Our doctors and nurses know what they’re talking about when they bring in a patient. Guests are safe, here at Deer Valley, they have a great medical safety net available to them and if there is an incident, they’ll be in very good hands.

JF: Hylton, do you have any other comment on behalf of Deer Valley Ski Patrol?

Hylton Early: Unlike many ski resorts that have a mix between professionals augmented by part-time ski patrollers. Deer Valley Ski Patrol is 100% professional and this allows us to keep the highest level of training standard and care for the benefit of our guests.

Thank you for following this four part series on Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net. If you missed any of the posts follow the links below.

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part One

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Two

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Three

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Four

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Three

In the two previous blogs, we’ve learned from Doctor Peter Taillac and Ski Patrol’s Hylton Early about the amazing “Doctor Patrol” roaming the slopes at Deer Valley Resort, and we received some great tips for planning a perfect ski vacation. Today, they’ll share more tips aimed at enhancing your safety on the slopes.

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JF: Let’s talk about gear for a moment; what precautions should people take with their own equipment?

Hylton Early: Obviously, you want to make sure that your equipment is in good shape. You want to check that the ski brakes work properly, or if you happen to Telemark, for instance, you must make sure you have safety leashes, a requirement that is part of the skier’s responsibility code. It’s also a good idea to have your bindings checked once a season to make sure they are still properly adjusted to your boots and set to your weight, age and ability. Also if you haven’t skied on them for a season or two, it might be a good idea to have them tuned up so bases are flat and your edges are sharp enough so they respond as expected when you need them.

JF: What trends are you seeing these days in terms of skier’s injuries?

Hylton Early: In leg injuries, most are in the ligaments that surround the knee like the ACL and MCL as well as strains and cartilage tears. Lower in the list might be tibia injuries or even farther down the list, a few traumas involving the femur.

Doctor Peter Taillac: I agree, these are the most common ones. One of my pet peeves is that people have their bindings set too tight. When you fall and the skis start to twist, they twist the knee with it and, as I always like to say, either the binding is going to open or the ligaments in the knee are going to be hurt. I prefer to see the binding go! So, again, it is super important that your bindings are properly adjusted to your weight and your ability and I personally prefer to have my binding set on the low side than ending up with a twisted knee!

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JF: Like for “defensive driving”, are there similar tips that would apply to a ski day.

Hylton Early: It all starts with knowing the conditions on the mountain, reviewing the weather report and the groomed run report Deer Valley puts out everyday, so that you know what the conditions are going to be, and also are prepared for a changing weather. A run may different at 10 a.m. than it will be at 2 p.m. Don’t assume necessarily that it’s going to be the same thing. The analogy you made to driving and skiing can be very similar. It all starts with knowing the Skier Responsibility Code, making sure your equipment is in good shape, that you stop in areas that are safe and that you never forget that the skier ahead of you has always right of way.

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JF: Are these precautions enough?

Hylton Early: Probably not if you truly want to ski “defensively.” You may want to go a little bit farther, like always looking around you to see what other skiers are doing, looking all the way down the run so you can anticipate both the snow and terrain conditions as well as the skiers’ traffic ahead of you. In addition, even though skiers behind you should be mindful of what you might do, like turning to the right or to the left, it’s always a good idea to look over your shoulder to verify that you can change direction safely, and this alone goes a long way to avoiding a possible collision.

JF: What about the use of electronic devices while skiing?

Hylton Early: You want to make sure that if you need to text or call someone, you come to a full stop into a safe spot where you’re visible from above. Of course, don’t text or phone while you’re moving. If you want to listen to music – not something we would recommend as we think its best for you to hear what’s around you – keep it in an appropriate volume, or better yet, just place one ear-bud into one ear instead of both so you’re still can hear the sounds around you.

Doctor Picture 3b

In the conclusion of our “Doctor Patrol” series, we’ll cover more talks about safety in powder snow, powder conditions and the like. Don’t miss it!

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part Two

In our previous blog, we were introduced to the amazing “Doctor Patrol” at Deer Valley. Today, both Doctor Peter Taillac and Ski Patrol’s Hylton Early will dispense some great advice about making your ski stay with us as fun and safe as possible.

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JF: What about some physical conditioning prior to going skiing?

Hylton Early: There are many things you can do to prepare yourself for your ski trip. Doing exercises, like some body weight squats, single leg squats, strengthen your leg muscles, and so on. There are many sources: On line tips and videos, books or magazine that list good physical conditioning exercise for skies. If you have a personal trainer, ask for a specific program prior to your ski vacation.

JF: What advice would you give to guests coming to Deer Valley Resort to ski?

Hylton Early: There are a lot of things you can do to prepare for a great day on the slopes. First, make sure to hydrate and make time for a good breakfast that will give you enough fuel for a fun day out. Also, give yourself the time to acclimate to our higher elevation. You don’t want to forget your sun protection that you will re-apply as the day progresses and don’t forget good eye protection. You also want to make sure you have warm clothing and well thought accessories like good gloves and neck gators or face-masks. People more sensitive to cold may also consider getting some hand and foot warming products or devices.

JF: What about helmets?

Doctor Peter Taillac: This by far is my favorite subject and perhaps the most important piece of equipment. For me, it’s a big issue, because in my emergency department, I take care of skiers who crash with helmets and skiers who crash without them. I can tell you that my patients with helmets are always far better off. Even if they hit their head hard and get knocked out, they aren’t as likely to be permanently brain-injured. Those who don’t have helmets, even if they just suffer a small hit to the head can sustain a severe concussion or some internal bleeding that can cause permanent damage. The helmet is the equivalent to wearing a seat-belt in a car; it makes all the difference in the world in your outcome should you be unlucky enough to be in a ski accident.
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JF: Sounds like we should never hit the slopes without wearing a helmet!

Doctor Peter Taillac: Absolutely! The only permanent injury that you can sustain while skiing is a head-injury. If you break your tibia, fracture your arm, dislocate your shoulder or get a severe chest or abdominal injury, even with some internal bleeding, these traumas, for the most part, can all be repaired. A head injury however is a totally different story; too often, we don’t have the technology available to make a severe brain injury get better.

JF: What about inserting some periods of rest into a ski vacation?

Hylton Early: It’s always a good idea to take a break and it’s even better to always listen to your body; if you do, it will tell you if your knees are aching or your back is sore. One good thing you can do is go out on the first chair, right around 9 a.m. and ski till 11 a.m. when the conditions are going to be best. That way, instead of putting in a full day, you can take the afternoon to relax. Listening to your body is paramount, especially if you are of a more advanced age or know you have difficulties acclimatizing to higher altitudes.

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JF: Doctor, is there anything you’d like to add on getting used to higher elevations?

Doctor Peter Taillac: Well, it’s important to realize that it always takes a couple of days to adapt from sea level to an altitude of 7,000 – 8,000 feet. I would recommend that if visitors want to ski on their first day, they take it very easy, stay on the lower, less challenging slopes, and just ease into skiing that very first day out. As they start feeling more comfortable, they can go a little bit higher on the mountain and try more difficult runs the next days. I personally found that, as Hylton mentioned, getting an early start and taking a nice, long lunch break, perhaps even a little snooze, and then come back out, is a really good way to make for long but not exactly exhausting day.

JF: Do you have any special recommendations for small kids?

Doctor Peter Taillac: Kids often won’t tell you when they’re cold until it hurts, but their small bodies can loose temperature much faster than adults, because they have disproportionately bigger heads and most of the heat is lost through the head. So for kids, having warm clothing, good cover over their head and ears, in addition to their helmet, is always important. Lastly, for everyone and for all kids in particular, it’s always a good idea to dress as if it’s very cold, make sure to layer your clothing so if there’s a need to shed a layer latter on, as the weather warms up, that’s fast and convenient. It’s a lot easier to take a layer off than putting one back on.

Doctor Picture 2a

In our next blog, we’ll talk about ski equipment and safety on the mountain. So please stay tuned for next installment of “Deer Valley’s invisible safety net!”

Deer Valley’s Invisible Safety Net: Part One

Skiing is fun, exhilarating and Deer Valley Resort has its own ways to minimize the risk inherent with the joy of skiing, thanks to an original program that involves local doctors, nurses and its professional ski patrol staff. In this four-part interview, I sat down with Doctor Peter Taillac and Hylton Early, a Deer Valley Ski Patroller.

JF: Let’s start by doing a quick introduction, gentlemen…

Doctor Picture 1

Doctor Peter Taillac: I’m a clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah, and member of the Doctor Patrol here at Deer Valley Resort. I’m a full time emergency physician and take care of hurt and ill people for a living.

Doctor Picture 1a

Hylton Early: I’ve been a ski patroller at Deer Valley Resort for four winter seasons. I’m an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and outdoor emergency care technician.

JF: I wasn’t aware that, every day, there’s a doctor available to work with the Deer Valley ski patrol?

Hylton Early: That’s right; every day, we have at least one doctor on the mountain. Each doctor serves under the medical control of Doctor Robert Wynn, our medical director. The doctors are available on a daily basis should we need to consult on an incident. It might involve skiers that aren’t feeling well or aren’t quite sure what’s going on with them. Of course, it could also be a more serious traumatic injury for which we want to get our doctors’ expertise to see what we can be done for that patient.

JF: Are your doctors all skiers?

Hylton Early: Absolutely, our doctors are on skis and are available to come right to the scene of an incident. Often, this is the most critical moment when we’re about to make the initial transport and triage decisions for an injured skier.

JF: Is there any other role for these doctors?

Hylton Early: In fact there is; in addition to their on-hill duties, our doctors are also involved with our continuing education. As patrollers, we all have to meet certain requirement to be re-certified every four years, so these same doctors regularly lecture us, talking about specific topics, like lower leg trauma, head injuries, or dislocated shoulders, so we are totally dialed-on the subject when we’re confronted with it on the hill.

JF: I’ve also seen nurses around; are they part of the same program?

Hylton Early: Correct; we also have one nurse present with us every day. She is usually based at this First Aid location, but we can also bring her along to an incident if we want to get a higher level of care on the spot, as we are triaging the patient.

JF: Are both the nurse and the doctor based at this First Aid location?

Hylton Early: The nurse is based at the Silver Lake First Aid, so if you were to walk into this room, she’d likely be available to evaluate you. She’s also able to come up on the hill with some special drugs and a wider scope of practices that can help us in a traumatic situation. The doctor is more itinerant and tends to roam the mountain. We have instant access to his cell phone and can get him right away if his presence is needed anywhere on the hill.

JF: What an impressive cadre of highly qualified individuals! Now tell me, what are the typical qualifications of your Ski Patrol colleagues?

Hylton Early: Most of them are either “Outdoor Emergency Care” technician, which is a National Ski Patrol certification, similar to an EMT Basic. Many others are EMT Basic, that is, the first level of EMT. Then, we also have a few paramedics working with us, those are professional patrollers who work part-time. They generally are employed full-time with the Park City or the Salt Lake City Fire Departments and assist us one or two days a week.

JF: So tell me, how many ski patrollers are on any given day on the mountain at Deer Valley?

Hylton Early: We have between 28 and 32 of them on the slopes, every day. If we include the doctor and the nurse, this adds up to 34 medical professionals available to take care of our ski visitors on a daily basis!

In our next blog, we’ll get some important advice about making your ski vacation with us as safe as enjoyable as possible…

 

 

Interview with Steve Graff, Bike/Ski Patrol Manager

Last week I caught up with Deer Valley Resorts’ Bike and Ski Patrol Manager, Steve Graff, as he was returning from inspecting the impressive network of hiking and mountain bike trails the resort will soon re-open to the public. Here are some of the many interesting things I learned about his busy department and their myriad of responsibilities…


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JF: Steve, it’s good to be visiting with you and the patrollers again. Tell me, where’s all the snow? What has happened to you and your staff since the end of the skiing season and what are you up to now?

Steve Graff (SG): After we closed the mountain down in April, we spent another week taking down signs, ropes, pads and getting everything ready for snow melt. After taking a little bit of time off to transition between seasons, our staff is back to work. As you can imagine, our personnel shrinks a bit at this time of the year; most get back to their seasonal jobs. Many go to work as National Parks Rangers all over the country, while those who can never get enough winter continue ski patrolling in New Zealand and Australia. Some are wild land fire fighters or smoke-jumpers, and the rest of us are back at Deer Valley Resort getting the place ready for warm weather activities.

JF: How many employees return for Mountain Bike Patrol?

SG: Out of our 70 or so ski patrollers, about 15 stay on during the summer.

JF: How long is the season?

SG: It goes from mid-June through Labor Day (September 2, 2013).

JF: Are you the crew in charge of maintaining trails and cutting new ones?

SG: Our main priority is helping injured but the bulk of our work is actually trail construction and trail maintenance.

JF: Any new trail this year?

SG: The two newest trails were actually started last season. Both are in the Empire Canyon area, off the Ruby Express chairlift.

  • Drift: An intermediate trail
  • Payroll: More of a free riding, “flowy” trail, with some nice jumps and drops that should add some extra levels of excitement in that general area

JF: This sounds promising! By the way who comes up with these unique trail names?

SG: Payroll is actually a mine name and Drift comes from a drift road that is off Tour de Sud. Some others come directly from the public, “Devo” is a good example; we were just finishing constructing it when we ran into a lady that said “Yeah, that trail is ‘Devo.”

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JF: Does your remaining staff receive summer-specific training?

SG: There’s a lot of cross-over between summer and winter duties like medical training and lift evacuation skills and those are regularly being refreshed.  We add motorcycle, ATV and six-wheeler riding that are unique to our summer season.

JF: You mean, training on vehicles that get you around the mountain?

SG: Right; instead of snowmobiles, toboggans or skis, we use bikes, motorcycles and ATVs!

JF: What types of interventions are typical to the warmer months?

SG: Overall, the few injuries we deal with are less severe than in winter because speed is less of a factor. We see a quite a few scrapes and bruises though, maybe a few dislocations, perhaps more blood than usual, but in general, far less severe injuries.

JF: It seems to me that you and your staff aren’t always on the mountain; over the years, I’ve noticed your presence at all the Deer Valley’s summer concerts. What’s your role there?

SG: To attend the concert!

JF: I should have expected this! So, all Patrollers are music aficionados?

SG: Well, this is another one of our Mountain Bike Patrol duties. We offer first aid response at the Deer Valley concerts, so we attend them all. Depending on the event, between two and four of us are present. We’re there for medical emergencies or other situations.

JF: Are they specific recommendations you’d like to share with mountain bikers and hikers intent to use the Deer Valley Resort trail system?

SG: There are a few good rules; first, we don’t charge for uphill travel outside of chairlift rides. If trail users bike, they must wear a helmet and dogs must be left at home whether their owners hike or bike. Always make sure to look at the map and come up with a route before heading out; remember that there are some trails that are specifically for downhill mountain biking, others specifically for hiking and then they’re others that are designated for both. So, it’s good to know what kind of trail you’re planning to take. If you want to hike and don’t want to see bikers, go on a hiking-only trail. If you want to pedal up, make sure you chose the multi-use trail, not the downhill-only one. That way, everyone can enjoy their experience to the fullest.

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JF: Are there lessons or orientations tours visitors can take?

SG: Yes; both are available and are highly recommended. We offer guided tours of the mountain that will also provide some mountain biking tips; those are for intermediate level and above, but they’re also “mountain bike 101” lessons that will take a rank beginner straight to the single-track trails. Many riders often say: “I know how to handle a bike, therefore I don’t need lessons” but as you know JF, mountain biking is a very different deal, it’s not like riding in the neighborhood; there’s weight transfer, forward-and-back and side-to-side involved, it’s a lot more dynamic experience than pedaling on asphalt around the block.

JF: What other recommendations would you give hikers or mountain bikers visiting Deer Valley Resort?

SG: I know some people who chose to ride their mountain bike by themselves, purely for exercise. If you’re one of them, just let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Always wear a helmet and sunglasses. Even if you’re going on a short trip, throw an extra power bar in your pack, a replacement tube, enough water, some basic tools if you ever break down.  Even if you aren’t quite sure how to fix it, some passer-by might be able to assist you and get you back on your way. Always wear gloves; if you ever fall, the first thing that’s going to hit the ground is your hand. Some extra protection goes a long way!

JF: Any tips about the weather?

SG: Always be prepared for anything! In the mountains, the weather can change rapidly. Look for thunderstorms. If you can hear thunder, lightning isn’t far, so get off the high ground, don’t huddle under the tallest tree, just wait for the storm to pass; it generally never lasts very long.

JF: What about encounters with wildlife?

SG: We do see quite a bit of wildlife. This is one of the great things about hiking and mountain biking around Deer Valley. I’ve had the pleasure to see all kinds of animals around this mountain. You just got to give them space. We’ve taken a lot of space away from them and we should always treat the mountain as their own domain. If I see a moose on the trail, I make my presence known, and hopefully he’ll amble on.

JF: So, how ready are you for Deer Valley Resort summer opening?

SG: Well, we’re opening on June 14, and based on my most recent trail inspections, we’re going to have a fantastic opening, with ninety percent of the trails perfectly passable, so please, come and join us!

 

Semper Paratus – “Always Ready”

2013-01-15 11.04.58 Part I

Somewhere up in the snow, along a ridgeline outside of Park City, a group of skiers move through the blue on white Wasatch landscape. The squeaky crunch of a chalky snowpack and heavy breathing are interrupted by quick conversation and casual observations. A day trip to some lower angle snowfields has yielded good turns and spirits are high. Apparent stability has everyone eyeing steeper terrain. One by one they ascend a minor looking slope, each focused on the turns waiting above. The first sign of trouble is word passed down the track that something slid around the turn. Everyone moves quickly to see what happened. The seemingly small slope they were headed too broke away with the first skier; a large debris field lies below them.

At Deer Valley, in the Bald Eagle Patrol shack, a German Short Haired Pointer/Lab named Ninja is enjoying a sun-warmed spot on a Naugahyde bench.

Ninja Patrol Shack

With a half raised head he sees his friend and teacher Sue listening to her radio as she grabs her pack. A skier is missing in the backcountry; a frantic phone call from the scene reports beacon searches unsuccessful. The urgency of her movements flips a switch in Ninja and he is immediately at the door.  Sometimes it’s a chairlift or snowmobile to shuttle them to a scene. Today they hurry to a landing zone as a chopper beats out a steady cadence, coming in low and fast. In seconds Sue and Ninja are airborne and banking hard out beyond the ski areas boundary.

Once on scene the rescuers begin collecting and assessing information while Ninja surveys the half-acre field of avalanche debris. Without ever having met the person he knows they are out there somewhere. He wouldn’t be there if they weren’t. While the people around him are visually inspecting the area Ninja has his nose in the air, sorting and remembering various smells. The young dog jerks with anticipation as Sue kneels close, one hand on his back. “O.K. Ninja,” Sue whispers, his body trembling uncontrollably with anticipation, “SEARCH!”

Ninja search

 Part II

Ninja was nearly two months old when Sue had come to see his litter. She had already been to see over forty puppies at that point, trusting standard tests and her own intuition to pass on all of them. Now, with Ninja and three of his siblings sitting in the half lean puppies tend to have, Sue started the tests again. The first was simple. Pots and pans banged together caused the puppy to Ninja’s right to jump back startled and wary. She knew he would not work. Avalanche dogs are often around loud and sudden noises and can’t be easily distracted or frightened. One by one she rolled the remaining pups on their backs. Ninja and his sister worked against her hand with moderate effort, unsure that total dominance suited them. The third lay frozen in complete submission. While a good avi dog must listen and perform it must also be able to push back on the handler when it senses it is being led away from it’s proper training. Removing the passive puppy she inspected the remaining two. Standing up and walking away Sue looked back to see if either dog had followed.  The sister remained seated while Ninja was happily trotting behind her, only stopping when reached her feet. Sues search seemed to be over. After administering a few more tests such as squeezing between his toes to establish pain tolerance (he did not care at all, good for a dog that will work outside a lot), holding him in the air (think future chairlift rides, and he was indifferent), and playing tug (never had and loved it!) Sue was confident that she had found Deer Valley’s newest trainee.

Puppy Ninja

There was a final and substantial hurdle for Ninja to overcome. Lila, a full Lab, was the most senior and experienced avalanche dog, with thirteen years on the Deer Valley Ski Patrol. She was known to be particular about her coworkers. With a few sniffs and a lick Ninja was deemed worthy to begin training. Training that would take more than a year and lead to the focused and determined dog that was now searching the snow for the missing skier. An animal with a nose thousands of time more sensitive than ours and indomitable spirit that will not let him quit.

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Part III

At the scene of the avalanche time is on every single persons mind, raising even the most experienced professionals level of anxiety. Except Ninja. With no concept of the “golden hour” the young avalanche dog moved rapidly back and forth across the debris, ducking and weaving as every scent except the one he was looking for swirled around him. After several passes with no success his training kicked in and he stopped, turn to Sue, and sat. “Ninja, search!” she says with a flick of her arm. Assured that he is doing right he immediately resumes a pattern reminiscent of a bumblebee, his nose leading him. Within seconds Ninjas demeanor changes from “searching” to “found” and he starts frantically digging through snow that is setting up like concrete. Rescuers move in with probes and shovels, quickly finding a ski boot attached to the missing skier, nearly thirty inches under the surface. Resuscitation efforts begin and the skier is loaded into an air ambulance for the flight to the hospital, only time and circumstances to decide recovery. To the side Ninja is receiving his reward for doing his job – an exuberant game of tug with Sue, punctuated by loud praise and hearty body hugs.

Ninja rescue

The story is fiction, but the dog, the trainer, and the jobs they do are very real. Deer Valley ski area and its employees put great effort into being ready for a call to action like the one described. Here are some thoughts on how to approach and treat a working dog like Ninja.

  • Always ask the handler before approaching the dog. When not busy they can often let the animals under their care meet new friends.
  • Keep in mind they may be on their way to help someone or training. Now might not be the best moment for introductions.
  • These animals are highly trained athletes and their diets are tailored for their work. Treats may harm the animal or impact its ability to perform when needed.
  • Your ski edges will cut their paws and it can happen before you know it. If an Avi dog runs up to you try not to move around unless you are sure their legs and paws are clear of your skis. A good sniff and they usually bounce away.
  • Give them nothing to do but train and lay in sunny warm spots. Be prepared when entering the backcountry, even within sight of the ski areas. Chose your days and your lines with care.

Day after day, the whole day through –
Wherever my road inclined –
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
- Excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “Four Feet”

Skiing the X-Files is just like Stand-Up Comedy

I’ve been fantasizing about skiing the X-Files since JF Lanvers posted a series of blogs (with video!) about this mysterious tree run in Empire Canyon. I knew it would be fun, if I could work up the nerve—I didn’t realize that skiing it would mark a major milestone in my life. Of course, it goes without saying the big-deal milestones of my life—marriage, motherhood—are beyond comparison. And I’m reasonably certain that I’ll be hard-pressed to compare even my best day on the slopes to those moments. (However, in the unlikely event that I am invited to compete in the Winter Olympic Games—Senior or otherwise—I reserve the right to revise that.). Still, it was something I’d long-fantasized about, and hoped I’d do someday.

In fact, skiing the X-Files was exactly—EXACTLY—as much fun as one of the most treasured moments in my professional career: The night I opened for Caroline Rhea at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City.

The back-story is that I was the assigning editor on a story that Caroline Rhea, one of the funniest people in America, did for a magazine where I worked. We spent a lot of hours together—and in that time, she decided I was funny, that the silly stories I told her about my life and my family were actual “bits,” and that the world needed to hear the comedy of Bari Nan Cohen. Oy vey. I balked for a half-second and then realized I had access to a unique opportunity.

So she helped me hone this material and, there I was—legs shaking with adrenaline and with a view from the stage of that freaky digital countdown clock that only the talent can see. 2:59, 2:58…breathe.

I was reminded of this experience on the last day of this year’s Women’s Weekend Specialty Clinic, which found me, by 10 a.m., hiking across the ridge above Daly Chutes, like I owned the place. (For the record, it’s wider than I thought, and has one of the most breathtaking 360 degree views I’ve ever seen—and not a clock in sight.) The hike made me grateful that I’d (mostly) kept up with my running habit this winter—I was only a little winded as we crested the highest point of the ridge. And, yes, I had a stellar mentor in my instructor Letitia, who’d sized up my skills and determined that X-Files needed ‘em.

Thus, we glided over to the entrance to X-Files. And as we found turn after turn, I was nearly overcome with emotion. (“Don’t cry—your goggles will fog,” I told myself.)  It’s beautiful and peaceful there. And eminently skiable—the trees aren’t nearly as tightly packed as they look from the “outside.”

As I completed turn after turn, I found myself drawing on all the preparation I’d unwittingly done for this moment, pulling a variety of tools from the skill sets Letitia and the other teachers had drilled into me over the course of three days. Side-slips turned into swooshes of snow pushed out of the way, wedge Christies became parallel turns. Just as the days leading up to my comedy debut were spent under Caroline Rhea’s careful tutelage on projection and timing, so that on performance night, I’d be good to go.

I can’t say with any certainty that either performance was “pretty” from a technical standpoint. I can, however, confirm, that both hold places of honor in the category I like to call, The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had Standing Up. And no, I’m not working blue right now.

But what I can tell you is this: In both instances, I didn’t really care how it looked. I was having so much fun, how it looked, well, it just didn’t matter. In both instances I had a great support system. In the club, I’d planted some key friends and colleagues in the audience. In the trees, I had Letitia, my pal Stacey and two other women who were just rockin’ ski companions. We cheered each other on, the same way my friends had laughed at my jokes louder than anyone else in the club.

The skills I brought into the X-Files—timing, correcting my form errors to prevent falling—even looking past the trees (for, if you look at the tree, you will most certainly ski into it) and reaching down the hill to make the turn—had their roots in those rehearsals with Caroline. You need to think fast when you’re onstage, you need to revise your bits to fit the audience, and you need to have good timing, you need all those things to be able to improvise. You need to look beyond the clock and read the audience. Caroline Rhea may not think of herself as a ski instructor, but I’m telling you, I would have had a lesser foundation for absorbing the lessons I’ve had on the hill, without the comedy coaching.

And, while the bragging rights to both things are cool, it’s not really (much) about that. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing you have the tools to do something.

I’d like to say I didn’t continue past my one night in comedy because life got in the way. That could be true. But comedy requires singular focus, driving passion, and the ability to travel the country for low-paying gigs rife with hecklers in the hope you can eke out a living—and the very faint hope you’ll get famous doing it. As it happens, the night I did standup occurred during my last weeks in New York—my heart was already in Park City, we’d just closed on the house; Jeff was checking on things, scheduling the water softener installation; service on the furnace, making sure the lawn sprinklers were set properly, meeting the neighbors. And maybe if I hadn’t planned the move, I might have taken some improv and stand-up classes in the city, and given it a go on open mic night.

Instead, I followed my heart and my skis to Utah—and learned to ski the trees. Decently. I’m not stopping ‘til I’m awesome at it. And then, who knows?

So, if you were one of the hundred or so people in the world who got to witness my comedy debut, all I can say is: Come ski with me sometime. I’m a better skier than I am a comic. And if you weren’t—maybe I’ll dig up the video of my time on stage and show it to you.

Life as a Patroller During World Cup

Thousands of ski fans flocked to Deer Valley Resort at the start of this month for the 2012 FIS World Cup. From Thursday, Feb. 2, through Saturday, Feb. 4, top skiers from around the world –including stars Hannah Kearney, Heather McPhie, Mikael Kingsbury and Dylan Ferguson – competed in freestyle moguls and aerials events. They launched themselves off bumps and jumps in a display of speed, agility, athleticism and daring that left virtually every viewer – from patrollers standing course-side to fans watching on TV at home – slack-jawed in amazement.

The World Cup represents a showcase for the resort’s Race Department, which along with the Snow Grooming, Snow Making, and Lift Operations departments, spent the week before the event constructing the courses and spectator areas. The crew was assisted by a legion of local volunteers who shaped each mogul and jump by hand. The result was stunning. In a few short days, they transformed the Champion and White Owl trails into challenging elite runs.

Champion, site of the 2002 Olympic freestyle mogul’s event and White Owl, home of the 2002 Olympic freestyle aerials proved a great venue once again. Both are located on Bald Eagle Mountain.

(Patrol manager Steve Graff, right, reviews the plan for World Cup before the start of the first session Thursday evening, as patroller Mark Chytka looks on.)

Patrol assisted with setup, hanging rope lines and baffle-fences along the sides of the course. Then, when warm-ups started Wednesday, and competition commenced Thursday, a team of patrollers took to the race hill to provide first aid for the athletes, coaches, and spectators, if needed.

Seventeen patrollers worked the event: 10 on-course, five in the spectator area, and two supervisors – one in the Bald Eagle patrol shack, the other roaming where needed.

“It’s a nice change of pace,” patroller Kate Atha said. “You’re not doing openers or 10-50s [radio-code for a skier wreck]. It’s a midseason refresher.”

Still, the World Cup days are long and cold. Patrollers working course-side typically stand outside for more than three hours at a time before rotating back to the patrol shack to warm up, eat, and rest. Once it was all over Saturday night, patrollers stayed past midnight, helping the race department, snow groomers, volunteers and others dismantle the course.

“It’s a good lesson in how to dress warm,” Atha said. “You’re not always moving, it’s not always sunny on Champion – or you’re working at night. So you’re wearing eight layers and mittens and heat packs, and you’re constantly eating.” Night events ran from about 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the day, to about 9:15 p.m., and temperatures dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Maitland Wiren and Kate Atha relax at the end of a long day Friday.)

The reward? The best seat in the house.

(The aerials course, lit-up for the finals Friday night.)

“You get to be right in the thick of the action,” patroller Hylton Early said. “When you’re right there working course-side and you see the athletes warming up and talking to their coaches, you get a much better understanding of the commitment and time the athletes put into it. You also get a much better sense of the size of the moguls, the speed the guys are going, how high they go off the jumps.”

The 10 patrollers who worked course-side were divided into pairs, which rotated roughly every 45 minutes through various stations on the courses. On Champion, the stations were located at the start gate, the first kicker, the second kicker, the finish, and the Bald Eagle patrol shack. On White Owl, patrollers stood watch at the jumps and below the landing area.

In addition to dealing with the cold, the work presented different challenges from a regular ski day, particularly on Champion: the runs proved especially slick, the moguls were enormous, and thousands of spectators were watching – not to mention the TV cameras.

“You got to be 100-percent solid with running sleds in bumps,” Atha said. “The course is hard enough for athletes to ski it. We’re responding to wrecks and skiing with sleds in those same bumps.”

(Patroller TJ Somers and Mark Chytka stand at the bottom of Champion during warmups on Wednesday.)

The three days of World Cup – four, if you include Wednesday’s practice session – provided an additional bonding experience for the patrollers working the event.

“You’re all putting in the sacrifice of the long hours and cold temperatures,” Early said. “It’s almost like pledging.”

Asked whether they plan to sign-up for World Cup next year, Early and Atha were unequivocal. “100 percent,” they said.

(The moguls and aerials courses Saturday night, as seen from overhead.)

The moguls and aerials events were broadcast on NBC on Saturday, Feb. 11. The dual moguls portion of the event were broadcast Saturday, Feb. 18, at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBC. For the results, as published on the official FIS website, click here.