A critical issue with the proposed expansion at Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park is safety. About 800 acres of undeveloped state park land on the northwest side of the mountain is in the ski area’s concession. Mount Spokane wants to develop about 250 acres for skiing and riding.
The Proposed Alpine Skiing Expansion Area (known as the “Pasea”) is out of bounds. However, because the Pasea is included in the concession granted to Mount Spokane by the Washington State Parks Commission, the ski area is responsible for it. When someone gets hurt back there, the Mount Spokane Ski Patrol is responsible for getting them out.
Most of the Pasea is mismanaged forest. It’s overgrown, full of downed snags and choked with ladder fuel. If the ski area is allowed to manage the Pasea properly, it can be cleaned up and access improved. Until then, hauling a patient out on a toboggan is a physically demanding, time-consuming challenge for the MSSP.
MSSP responds to a couple of backside codes every season. To stay sharp, it periodically conducts an exercise. Bob Streich of the MSSP invited me to tag along Sunday.
“One of the biggest dangers to exploring the backside is the time it takes for us to reach someone who is injured,” Streich said. “In trauma cases there’s a golden hour where a victims chances of surviving are best if they receive care as quickly as possible.”
In Sunday’s scenario, after a skier was injured in the Pasea, 15 minutes had elapsed before his buddy left to get help. After making his way down to a snowmobile trail and traversing the mountain to the bottom of chair four, at least 45 minutes had elapsed. The operator at chair four alerted the ski patrol. Fortunately, the victim had a cell phone and was told to call 911, which pinpointed his location. Only 15 additional minutes passed before the ski patrol deployed.
MSSP patrollers Steve Gese and Dan Hensley manned the toboggan. Keith Schultz and Pat Stimpson carried emergency gear. I stayed a few turns behind, out of the way. It was a beautiful morning with a few inches of fresh snow. Sunshine broke through wisps of cloud drifting through the moss-laden trees.
By the time ski patrollers reach someone hurt in the Pasea, they will have been lying in the snow for over an hour. Hypothermia could be setting in and a wound could be life threatening. Streich, who has seen this before, took the role and played it convincingly. He had a head injury and a broken femur. Fake blood simulated a grisly wound. He was moaning in pain and shaking violently.
The team comforted Streich and methodically tended to his injuries. In about 20 minutes he was diagnosed, bandaged, splinted and bundled up in a neat package. Shultz and Stimpson scouted for a viable route through the forest while Gese and Hensley shepherded the toboggan.
Gese and Hensley maneuvered their patient through terrain that would give most unencumbered skiers trouble. When they reached a snowmobile waiting on the trail to tow the toboggan back to chair four, the two men were soaked in sweat.
More than two hours had passed from the time the patient was injured. In an actual incident, at least another hour may elapse before the patient is finally evacuated from the mountain.
Watching the ski patrol in action, I was reassured that such a capable group was on alert to save people injured in the Pasea. But after Streich’s performance, I’m also going to be more careful back there.