For 80 years, the Mount Spokane Ski Patrol (MSSP) has fielded a group of volunteers dedicated to keeping the mountain safe. It’s an institution on the hill with a strong presence and proud history, symbolized by the beautiful mountain chalet that serves as its base of operations.
To ensure its future, the MSSP works hard to recruit individuals who have the passion and are willing to make the commitment required to become a ski patroller. Nearly every year 10 to 15 spots open on one of the largest all-volunteer ski patrols in the northwest. It’s always a challenge. In its 80th winter, the upcoming addition of a new chairlift and hundreds of acres of new terrain makes the challenge greater.
“We need to grow,” said MSSP Director Randy Foiles. “From people moving and retiring the last few years we’ve actually dropped in numbers. Next year we open the backside, so we’re trying for as big a recruiting class as we can.”
On Saturday, the MSSP is holding its annual recruiting event at Mount Spokane. Interested parties still have time to make plans. Detailed information about the program and contact information to register can be found at mssp.org.
Prospective recruits will meet with current members in the ski patrol lodge at 9 a.m. After MSSP leaders present details about the level of commitment involved, aspiring candidates can spend the day shadowing patrollers as they go about their duties. Lift tickets and lunch are provided, courtesy of the patrol.
The shadow time allows patrollers to evaluate prospects’ capabilities on the snow. Competent skiers and riders will be invited to devote the tremendous amount of their time and energy that must be spent to become a member of the MSSP.
We’re looking for people who can ski or ride confidently anywhere on the mountain,” Foiles said. “You don’t have to be world class pretty or a racer. You just need to be competent on our expert runs.”
Most MSSP members eventually find themselves with a partner having to safely handle a toboggan loaded with an injured person down steep runs such as Two Face, carpeted with moguls and crud. Toboggan training is the final hurdle of an arduous adventure.
The process begins by enrolling in Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC), a program created by the National Ski Patrol (NSP) similar to training for Emergency Medical Technicians. Veteran MSSP members and area health care professionals conduct OEC classes starting in April. Students pay their own way.
Mastering the curriculum takes 80 to 100 hours of class, plus study time. The course includes first aid for ski and snowboard injuries and hypothermia, plus CPR certification, an understanding of anatomy and physiology, and emergency evacuation training. Classes meet two days a week for 10 to 12 weeks.
Candidates also spend 16 hours working the Ski Swap, MSSP’s annual fund raising event in October. When snow falls, the candidates train on the mountain every Saturday and Sunday until around Christmas. Accepted patrollers buy their own gear. Each member works a minimum of four shifts a month. To maintain good standing, patrollers must attend an annual weekend medical refresher held every fall.
Some candidates drop out along the way. A few who demonstrate their skills on the hill on Saturday will change their minds by the time classes begin. Some will drop out during training. Among those that go the distance, about half will have qualified to handle a toboggan by the time their training is finished.
In return for that effort, patrollers get season passes for themselves and their family, plus pro deals on gear. But ask any patroller and no one is there for those perks.
“You join because of the people,” Foiles said. “In our case, we have really great benefits, like our building, for example. Patrollers and their whole families have the option of using the facility. But most patrollers stay because the job is very rewarding and you join a fantastic group of people.”