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.

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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 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…

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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.

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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…



Safety. Safety. Safety.

A couple of days ago, I was reading an interview of actor Liam Neeson in Esquire Magazine. Whether or not you are an entertainment junkie like me (hey, I get paid for this addiction, so let’s not knock it!), if you are a skier, you know the sad fate of Neeson’s late wife Natasha Richardson, who suffered what appeared to be a mild concussion as a result of a fall on the bunny slope of a Canadian ski resort two years ago. Richardson left behind a loving family, including two young sons, who live every day with the understanding that her death may have been prevented if she had received immediate medical attention after the fall, rather than ignoring the advice of Ski Patrol and her instructor to do just that.

As a mother and a skier, Richardson’s death has weighed heavily upon me. By nature, I’m cautious. As a kid, I earned the slowest times on the race-course because my fear of crashing outstripped my desire to be a competitor. As an adult, I am hyper-aware of what’s going on around me on the hill—I regularly cede right of way in the name of safety, and I know if I’m ever the uphill skier headed for the makings of a crash with another skier, my best and only option in that moment is to fall down. I also know that if I do have a crash, I’m going to take seriously every shred of advice offered by the pros—from the Ski Patrol to any medical professionals I may encounter as a result.

 Nothing ruins a bluebird day like a preventable accident.

I know, I’ve talked mountain safety before, but I’m feeling like I need to do it again. Especially after the events that transpired Sunday. Also, we’re heading into a very busy period at Deer Valley, so I want to make sure that everyone has a great experience on the hill—and avoids the dreaded run….to the hospital.

I hit the slopes on a perfect day with two friends—both far more skilled and experienced skiers than myself (notice a recurring theme? I tend to push myself by skiing with excellence. My dad always said, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you are surrounded by turkeys.”)

Anyway, we had the usual tumble-bumble of getting everyone packed off to ski school, and my girls and I hit the lift for our first run. We agreed that the place we wanted to spend our time was Deer Crest, given the beauty of the day, and with the hope that it would be less crowded than other parts of the mountain.  We opted to get over there by skiing Big Stick to Little Stick to the bottom of Deer Hollow. It’s a great run to warm up on, because it’s such varied terrain. Big Stick offers a couple of steep sections, and Little Stick and Deer Hollow give the skis and legs a chance to get in sync for carving.

 I’ll add here that we weren’t out to break any records or do anything nuts. It was to be a day of socializing, skiing, and I hoped to learn a little by osmosis. So as we began the run, we spaced ourselves out, so that we could make our warm-up turns at our own paces. I’m the most familiar with the mountain, so I took the lead. One of my friends, at the last drop before Big Stick intersects Roamer, pulled ahead of me. For some reason, I stopped for a second to check on the other. I found her splayed out on the hill; we shouted down to our other pal, and she popped her skis off and hoofed it back up the trail.  

A man was collecting her poles and asking, “Are you OK?” Although, I have to say, he was kind of barking at her—demanding that she be OK, and when she didn’t respond immediately (she couldn’t, she was catching her breath, getting her bearings and trying to decide), he snapped, “You could at least answer me!” The scary response from my friend (After she politely said, “please don’t yell at me,”) was:  “I don’t know.” She went on to say to the man: “I didn’t see you—how did you collide with me?” He couldn’t answer. She (and we) did the only sensible thing, which was to stay still and breathe deeply, and calmly, so that we could, together, ascertain whether she was fit to keep skiing. Luckily, we didn’t have to make that call ourselves. A passing skier stopped, and identified himself as an off-duty instructor from the Deer Valley Ski School. After our friend explained that her head hurt and she felt nauseated, the instructor called Ski Patrol. No sooner had he placed the request than a patroller skied along the trail and stopped to help. 

As the ski patroller took control, my friend explained that she was knocked down by the other skier. Although he seemed unwilling to take responsibility for causing the accident, there wasn’t much doubt he was the uphill skier, so in my mind, he bore the brunt of responsibility. And to his credit, he did the right thing by sticking around to talk to patrol.  Ultimately, the patrol member made sure to tell my friend that her well-being was more important to establish in this moment than fault—and after further examination in the First Aid House at Snow Park, my friend was transferred by ambulance to Park City Medical Center to have a CT scan, to determine the extent of the injury. Fortunately, she checked out fine—and sense of humor intact. When the attending physician handed her the radiology report, and said, “It’s good,” my pal cracked wise: “Not GREAT?! What about GREAT?!” “Um, it’s either good or bad,” the doc smiled. “We’ll take good,” I said, swiftly, as though there were some danger of the doctor changing the report.

As we drove back to the mountain to meet our families for lunch at Silver Lake, my friend said, repeatedly, “Thank God I was wearing that helmet!” I could not agree more.

So here’s my take-away from the “lost” ski day. I’d trade anything not to have seen the value of skiing in control (something my friends and I pride ourselves on) and the value of wearing a helmet firsthand. The only thing worse than a ski day wrecked by a trip to the ER is a ski day wrecked by a trip to the ER with worse results than we saw.

 All three of us agreed that taking EVERY necessary precaution to make sure that the injury was mild was worth the perceived inconvenience (or added drama) to the day—and when it was over, we all admitted to having had Richardson’s accident top-of-mind as the events unfolded.

 Please be safe out there. And if an accident should happen, remember, the Ski Patrol have no investment in having you take every precaution—other than seeing you safely back on skis, as soon as possible.