The Things They Carry - By Allison Perry
“Can you write a piece about a piece of ski patrol gear?”
“Like my Avy bag?”
“Whatever you want.”
When my former co-worker/Colorado Ski Patrol buddy gave me a writing assignment (that I begged for, to be honest) I immediately accepted thinking “Wow, this will be easy.” How many pieces of gear do we wear, carry, ski on, depend upon, after-all? When you factor in the clothes we wear under our uniforms, the possibilities are endless. I could write about anything from my Patagonia underwear to my ON3P Kartel 108s.
However, as I thought about the task, I realized assigning importance to pieces of gear was almost impossible. I can’t ski patrol without skis. And writing about how much boots make a difference could fill up an entire novel and then some. I love my Gortex shell and Rubicon pants, but God help all patrollers without a vest in the spring when it’s 45 or 50 and sunny and wearing said shell would be akin to being water-boarded by your own sweat.
I started to think about something I use on a regular basis that is emblematic of the job. Something that we all need, use, love. Something that differentiates. Something that maybe we don’t think too much about.
The cross emblazoned on our shoulders, backs, packs, pant legs? Too obvious. Trauma shears? True, but every EMT and Paramedic carries those as well. Avalanche dogs? I wish we all had one. Okay, wait, no I don’t. Kinkos? The masses have caught on, they’re everywhere.
Then it hit me. Zonas. Medical tape. Boring old white cloth tape.
I prefer a 2 inch roll dangling off my radio harness and a 1 inch roll attached to my belt loop. I also carry a spare roll of each in my backpack. I have rolls of it stashed in my vest, rolls of it at home, rolls of it in my car and on more than one occasion I’ve actually stubbed my toe on a roll of errant Zonas. On any given day of the week during the winter you’ll see it wrapping 2-5 of my fingertips that have been split open from taking my gloves off repeatedly in frigid weather and frost-tipped wind to tie knots, cut rope, assess medical injuries and the myriad other things I still can’t and will never be able to do as efficiently with gloves padding my tiny little girl digits. Ski patrol fingers remain cracked and bleeding all winter, regardless of how much superglue we douse them with or the tubs of different flavors of salve we rub on our hands at home. Those cracks hurt a lot more than you would imagine. I promise. And they hurt every single time we use our fingertips. Nothing brings attention to both the necessity and the sensitivity of fingertips and fingers quite as much as being a ski patroller. And Zonas is, literally, what helps make those fingers usable for months.
I remember sitting on a chairlift at Telluride on a free ski day, wearing my work gloves as per usual - because who can afford Hestras or day-off mittens in this profession - and glancing down at the hand of the person riding beside me. I noticed that, as with mine, the index, middle and thumb slots of his gloves were swaddled in Zonas.
“Where do you patrol?” I asked. He barely raised an eyebrow. “What about you,” he replied, pointing at my taped thumbs.
We ended up shooting the shit, as we do, skiing together and trading job stories all day. Ski patrollers can’t not talk about the job. Because it’s our entire life. It’s who we are. You don’t ski patrol. You are a ski patroller. The attitude, lifestyle and inherent values are as much a part of the job as throwing bombs, smashing slow signs into the snow or running wrecks. Oh, and the skiing. That’s a thing too. Who wouldn’t want to talk about the skiing we do: in crud, trapdoor, chunk, boney-as-the-Crypt-Keeper, Sierra cement, hard pack, ice, Sastrugi, wind loaded, wind-f*cked, wind-scoured, powder, too-much-powder, crust, ice, sludge, slush, dirt, gravel, etc, ad nauseum. Civilians get weary of hearing us talk about our jobs because who wants to talk about work outside of work, really. Except that we do. We can’t help ourselves. It’s a DIY job, it’s a DIY life and everything we do, to a certain extent, is DIY. DIY scarifice. Zonas on fingertips is simply a way of spotting those kindred spirits and, as I have, walking away with a random new buddy, lessons learned from a guy with years more experience, a few shortcuts, some wisdom and a giant, raging hangover.
On a more concrete level: Zonas is a tool we use, quite simply, to repair everything. If MacGyver had a bunch of Zonas there never would have been a show because we’d all have been bored to death after the third episode. “He built another house out of Zonas tape and cardboard in which to survive while staking out the bad guy, and then used the same roll to construct a lasso and a spear with which to catch said bad guy at which point he used an additional roll to repair his car so he could deliver them to the Sheriff? Honey, give me the remote.”
We use Zonas for everything. Every day. Period. Nothing sends me to First Aid faster than realizing I’m out of Zonas. And nothing comes with the “Oh my god it worked” exclamation of success as often as some jury-rigged Zonas contraption you intend to go fix for real later that day, only to return on tear-down day to find intact.
Ski patrol is a big job full of big tasks and bigger projects. But still, truly, it’s the little things that count the most and it is, quite literally, the tape that holds it all together.