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Tanya Kayler, a ski patroller at Eldora Mountain Resort near Nederland, helps repair fences in November. In addition to first aid and medical evacuations on the mountain, Eldora’s ski patrol team is responsible for accident investigations, maintaining fencing and signage, determining which ski runs to open and completing avalanche mitigation.
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The word “unresponsive,” is one ski patrol members dread hearing over their radios.

“The butterflies and nervousness definitely kick in,” said Travis Brock, director of Eldora Mountain Resort’s Ski Patrol. “But then you check your pulse, fall back on your training and all of the emotions go away. Maintaining composure is what we do.”

In March , when skier named James VanGuilder found an unconscious man, who had apparently hit a tree, lying face down in the snow around the steep and heavily wooded Salto Glades, it was the ski patrol’s ability to maintain composure and work as a team that allowed members to immobilize the injured skier’s head and neck, safely extricate him to the base, and airlift him to a hospital where he recovered.

While the vast majority of calls to ski patrol are for relatively minor injuries, such as sprains or broken bones, “we see it all,” said Ashley Short, one of the paramedics on the Eldora Ski Patrol. “Broken backs and femurs, serious head injuries, you have to be ready for anything.”

The team even recently received training from local doctors on how to respond to a stroke or heart attack on the mountain.

Sara Jayne Rademacher sweeps the medical area used by the Eldora Ski Patrol at the resort near Nederland in November.

Short said her experience on ski patrol is comparable to her work in emergency rooms, but the latter is in more extreme conditions and with fewer resources.

In steep, forested terrain, in the freezing cold, with high winds, patrol members must be able to properly intubate someone’s trachea to maintain an open airway, administer CPR, bandage lacerations, stabilize neck injuries, splint broken bones and diagnose various head or cardiovascular injuries, all before safely transporting an injured skier or snowboarder down the mountain on a 200-pound toboggan.

Once at the bottom, the ski patrol can administer oxygen, use a defibrillator and employ other advanced life support practices.

“It wears you out both physically and emotionally, ” Short said. “But it also makes us come together as a team. I feel much closer to the people I work with here than those I worked with in the ER.”

Of course, the ski patrol is responsible for more than just patient care. There are five specialized teams on the mountain each day, and while every patrol member must be proficient in all aspects of the jobs, each year eight are chosen to specialize in lift evacuations, medical procedures, accident investigation, equipment and snow safety.

In between calls, ski patrol members also maintain the trails and signage, as well as determine when to open runs to the public, which can include avalanche mitigation work.

Those responsibilities are all magnified as Eldora improves its infrastructure and becomes a popular alternative for those attempting to avoid traffic on Interstate 70 that leads to other ski areas.

While the mountain resort would not release its increase in the number of skier days each year, as most resorts don’t, Sam Bass, a spokesman for Eldora, said the new high-speed six-person chair, Alpenglow, increases capacity by 20%. Eldora also plans to open 62 new acres of terrain in an area known as the Jolly Jug in the next few years.

“We’ve definitely seen huge change at the resort, it’s not the same sleepy Eldora it used to be,” Brock said. “But for us, it’s business as usual. We have high standards so the training never stops.”

Not only is each ski patrol member required to pass the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Care Course, or be certified as either an EMT or paramedic, rookies also must prove their abilities over an entire year before officially becoming a ski patroller . They spend that first year completing less technical work, such as maintaining signage, but leave other advanced, including medical care, to more experienced patrollers. Seasoned members also must pass refresher courses each November as they prepare to open the mountain.

Tanya Kayler, center, leads the Eldora ski patrol team in stretching at the beginning of a shift in November at the resort near Nederland.

To keep everything running smoothly, one member gets to the mountain at 5 a.m. to check weather and snow conditions before the rest of the 11 to 14 other team members for the day come in and begin setting up for guests’ arrival.

When a big snowstorm rolls through, the entire team comes in at 5 a.m. and breaks off into groups to mitigate steep sections of the mountain for avalanches, including side cutting precarious slopes and, in some cases, laying explosive charges to test the snow’s stability.

During the early season, they even stomp down trouble spots to compact the snow and create a solid base for the next storms.

In the early season, patrol members spend their time between calls testing closed runs and making sure all man-made equipment, like lift poles and snow making equipment, is padded and marked Any spare time is spent training.

To mitigate burnout, Eldora is looking to start a stress injury and resilience program that focuses on the mental health side of patient care and helps members not only keep injured skiers calm and collected, but also themselves.

The mountain also is creating an eight-person mountain safety team to increase people’s awareness about safety protocols as the mountain gets busier.

“Our team is amazing,” Brock said. “The men and women who come in here every day deserve all the credit. All of this wouldn’t be possible without them.”

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