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Celebrating a diamond anniversary

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Los Alamos Ski Patrol was formed when skiers were still swooshing down Sawyer’s Hill during the winter of 1947-1948. “Basically it was started by club members who saw a need to provide help to people who were injured on the slopes,” Bill Somers, director of the ski patrol, said.While many changes have occurred in the past 60 years, such as moving skiing operations to Pajarito Mountain, the purpose of the patrol has remained the same; the group is still dedicated to ensuring everyone stays safe.To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the patrol, now known as the Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol, is hosting a two-day celebration.To kick off the festivities, an informal gathering will be held at 6 p.m. March 7 at Quarks, the bar located in Central Avenue Grill.Additionally, registration for more activities will be held from 8:30-11 a.m. March 8 at the Pajarito Mountain Ski Lodge. A DVD presentation of the history of the ski patrol will be held, along with a photo shoot for current and former ski patrollers at 1 p.m. A “happy half-hour” will be held 4:30 p.m. in the lodge and a Mexican dinner will be served at 5 p.m.The price for the dinner and registration is $20 per person. Former patrollers will also receive a free ski pass.The anniversary celebration is open to anyone who wants to participate.While the ski patrol is a volunteer organization, it is part of the National Ski Patrol System, Somers said.During the 1950s and ’60s, the ski patrol would not only worked at Pajarito Mountain but also at ski areas in Santa Fe and Taos. Some even drove to Arapahoe Basin.Today, because the ski world has changed, Somers said the patrol focuses on Pajarito. He explained ski areas each have different requirements and ways of doing things.However, “we’re still active in the Rocky Mountain Division of the National Ski Patrol System,” Somers said.Being a member of the ski patrol is a big commitment, he said. It is time intensive; volunteers will log in about 5,000 hours a season, Somers said.Patrollers commit to 15 duty days, which begin at 8 a.m. and wrap up at 4:45 p.m. Currently, 70 people volunteer their time. A typical day for a patroller includes arriving at the ski area by 8 a.m., being set to ski by 8:15 a.m., attending a meeting about setting up for the day at 8:30 a.m., and then preparing the slopes of the public such as getting equipment into place and marking off hazardous areas. Once the ski area is open, they begin their patrols. At 4 p.m. when the lifts are closed, patrollers make sure no one is left on the slopes.Somers said the ski patrol, on average, responds to three to four incidents a day. For the year, it totals 150 incidents.When the patrol organization was first organized, the group of about 20 people was trained in first aid. As the area grew so did the need for patrollers’ services, Somers said.Therefore, patrollers need to be able ski or snowboard every run on the mountain in any condition. If they can do that then they can go into a training program that lasts six days.During the program, Somers said, trainees learn to run a loaded rescue sled. Additionally, they participate in the National Ski Patrol’s Outdoor Emergency Ski Patrol Care, which occurs during the summer. Plus, they need to take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation course. After completing the training program, Somers said, trainees become basic patrollers.They may be patrollers, but they still need to take refresher courses every year. There are also additional training courses for numerous areas such as operating a snowmobile, performing a lift evacuation or a self evacuation.The patrol, Somers said, not only provides first aid but also hazard control. “Its safety,” he said. “Everything is safety-related.”“It’s just the people that end up patrollers and stick with it have a real desire to help people,” Somers added, “(They) give something back to skiing and really enjoy being able to help and make everyone’s experience enjoyable.”The Pajarito Mountain Ski Patrol may be one of the last volunteer ski patrols but Somers said the pay they receive is when they load someone on a gurney and that person looks up at the patroller and say “thanks.”Skiiers may hate patrollers when they block trails or lower speed limits, but they love the patrollers when they are there to help, Sommer said.“We have a unique breed of people in Los Alamos,” said Eric Schaller, assistant patrol director. “(They’re) self-motivated and willing to go above and beyond ee (they) spend their own time looking out for the safety of other people.”Looking to the future, Somers said he hopes the young adult program will be revitalized. He said the program started out strong but due to changes, it became less and less of a priority.Young patrollers need to be 15 by the start of the ski season to participate in the program. Although it’s preferred that teens be with an adult when an incident occurs, young people have the same responsibilities as the adults.Somers said it’s impressive to see young adults, who start out timid, really mature and become ready to accept responsibility.To learn more about the ski patrol, the community is encouraged to participate in the anniversary celebrations.“I think it’s a connection to the past,” Somers said. “Just to know the history of the patrol, which is so unique.”Plus, “past patrollers have a lot of knowledge to pass on,” he said. “It’s good to keep that.”“It’s an unique opportunity to touch base with the history of the mountain and the patrol,” Schaller added. “It’s a good opportunity to get together and swap war stories.”