Dawn Patrol 4 Gone Missing

Hours after the lifts had stopped turning for the day patrol lined up in the locker room. The director stood in front of the line and handed out headlamps from a box as they trudged back out the door with their skis into the snowy dark. Their day was not over.

It was Christmas Eve several years ago at a ski area far bigger and much farther from the ones we know here in central Colorado. Patrol had swept the mountain at the end of the day as usual but a 17 year-old snowboarder who had been out riding was still unaccounted for. They returned to the mountain to begin a search.

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of skiing. That is why there is a dedicated crew of men and women working at the ski area who know exactly what to do during the worst case scenario. But, do you know what you should do if you encounter someone injured on the mountain?

During the Christmas Eve search teams were towed back up the hill on snowmobiles in the dark to chase shadows and tree wells that may have been missed earlier in the day. Headlamps strobed on the mountain and sound of his name froze in the air as patrollers called out. A search of the base area and restaurants turned up empty as well. After more than two hours a voice sqwaked over the radios telling everyone that he had been found in an unlikely place.

When skiing with others it is always a good idea to plan a meeting spot. Designate a place in the lodge, a vehicle or anywhere that the group can regroup. Commit to that meeting spot until everyone is accounted for at the end of the day.
The family of the missing snowboarder had planned a meeting place and when he didn’t show up they alerted patrol.

If you come across someone injured on the mountain and you are not a certified first responder the most helpful thing you can do to improve that person’s outcome is accurately report their location to any mountain employee near a land-line or two way radio. This will often be a lift shack. Use a trail map to identify the run and include a possible landmark like the “top” or “bottom” of the run or where trails merge. The most accurate and succinct information will be the most helpful.

When patrol arrives they will do what they do best. They stabilize, package and transport a person to a higher level of medical care. They are trained to medical standards similar to those who work on ambulances. Their training also includes performing those tasks in a cold mountain environment. The rigs used to transport patients are called toboggans and if you see one coming down the mountain the safest thing for everyone to do is ski away and come to a stop
just like you would an ambulance on the road.

During the Christmas Eve search the hours had begun to drag on and the temperature dropped. The family grew more nervous. They had insisted that he could not have left the ski area without them. He did not have a key to the condo.

One patroller pressed again. Where was the condo, she asked. In her ski boots she drove a resort truck across town to knock on the door just to be sure. When she did the no-longer-missing-person opened it right up. He had scaled the second floor balcony in his snowboard boots and slid open the glass door and found the couch where he had been watching movies since about 1p.m.

We have been looking for you, she told him. Oh, he said nervously, have you seen my parents? They haven’t come down from the mountain yet and I was getting worried about them.

In the end all involved went home safely. Making a plan helps keep everyone safer by leaving fewer outcomes to chance and leave more time for skiing.
Previous post Next post


Leave a comment