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Local ski patroller headed to Beijing Olympics, other area patroller has visa revoked following geopolitical tension

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 9, 2022

Daniel Voltz can’t remember when he learned how to ski, but, like many, dreamed of someday going to the Olympics.

On Jan. 20, that dream will come true. When athletes from around the world compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, they will be watched over by Voltz, a ski patroller at 49 Degrees North.

Voltz, a Chewelah, Washington, native, is one of 26 ski patrollers worldwide selected to be on the International Olympic Committee Mountain Rescue Service for the XXIV Olympic Winter Games. There were several hundred applicants. Patrollers are from the U.S., Canada, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom and they will work with a team of 250 Chinese patrollers.

Voltz wasn’t the only ski patroller selected from 49 Degrees North. John Huffstutter also made the cut, but the 22-year Air Force veteran had his visa application rejected by the Chinese government. The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada are boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics by not sending diplomats alongside their athletes. The boycott is in response to China’s treatment of the Uyghur ethnic group, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki, called “genocide and crimes against humanity.”

“I hate to say this, but at the highest levels of the government it looks like they are discouraging anyone who had military experience,” Huffstutter said.

“At least three of the military people on the team had their visas rejected or withdrawn.”

Still, the fact that two patrollers from the mountain were selected is a testament to the patrol’s skill, patrol director Gary Deaver said.

“We were the only patrol in the world to have two guys,” Deaver said. “I’m honored to have the kind of staff that I’ve got. A lot of guys in my role have a lot of 25-year-old college kids who want to wear the uniform, ski and pick up chicks. I don’t have that.”

Deaver, who has been a board member of the National Ski Patrol, heard that the IOC was looking for professional patrollers. He recommended three members of 49 Degrees North. Applicants needed to have extensive ski patrol experience, combined with medical training, helicopter evacuations and rope access skills, Deaver said.

On the high-speed alpine courses, injuries are serious. If the athletes, toughened from years of racing and crashing, can’t ski out themselves, most likely they will need a helicopter rescue.

Voltz, who graduated from Washington State University with a nursing degree in December, fit the bill. Voltz will leave on Jan. 20 and return home sometime in mid-March. He will be patrolling at the Paralympic Games as well.

For the 50-year-old , the selection marks something of a watershed in his life.

“Everything is kind of interconnected,” he said while riding a ski lift on Dec. 27. “A culmination of a lot of different … events.”

Voltz’s father helped build 49 Degrees North and Voltz remembers flying around on skies as a toddler. He once broke his leg in front of the main lodge as a 2-year-old. After his dad finished working on the resort he bought a petroleum company, and Voltz followed that path.

For 18 years he owned and operated a Conoco gas station in Chewelah, until he was diagnosed with lymphoma on Halloween 2014. He’d been desiring a change for years, but it took the shock of cancer to redirect the momentum of his life.

“I didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said. “And I was sick and I thought this is a good time to make a transition.”

He started chemotherapy, sold the Conoco and re-evaluated his life, deciding he wanted to become a nurse. He graduated from WSU and hopes to work as an emergency room nurse when he returns from China.

All that – his history of skiing, cancer, nursing school – set the stage for him to head to China, where he will be staying in the Olympic Village and fulfilling a lifelong dream. He doesn’t know what working in China will be like. The ongoing pandemic will limit where and what he can do, as will the Chinese government. Still, he’s grateful he can go and is excited.

“I always wanted to be in the Olympics,” he said. “I never would have expected this.”

CORRECTION: Due to a reporter’s error the second event that Daniel Voltz will be patrolling was incorrectly named. He will be patrolling the Paralympic Games.

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