Rookie ski patrollers best in the West

Although they didn’t have much to do this season, Yukon ski patrollers still made an impressive mark at the Canadian Ski Patrol System’s…

Although they didn’t have much to do this season, Yukon ski patrollers still made an impressive mark at the Canadian Ski Patrol System’s mountain division First Aid and Toboggan Competition last month at Lake Louise, Alberta.

Nadele Flynn, Julie Cossette and Amanda Mouchet earned the top spot in their rookie division, and also attained the second highest score overall, for the first-aid portion of the competition. They performed better than almost all the veteran and pro teams.

Most of the major ski hills in Alberta and British Columbia sent teams to the competition, about 30 in all, and 10 in the rookie division.

“We were totally shocked,” said Flynn, when asked about the result. “We must have gotten nearly 100 per cent on the first aid part … we hadn’t practised much on the toboggans.”

That lack of practice stems from the troubles at Mount Sima this season — after the hill closed in January, the Ski Patrol’s alpine volunteers weren’t needed (although there are some ski patrollers still working with Nordic skiing.)

With no recent practical experience, the team relied on their knowledge.

“Julie knew the manual like the back of her hand,” said Flynn.

The competition judges how a three-person team handles a mock accident scenario on a hill.

“They had five or six stations set up on the hill, with the teams at the top,” said Flynn.

The team had 25 minutes to complete the scenario, and judges watched the process from start to finish right through from assessment to treatment and evacuation.

Cossette the lead patroller, was sent first to the scene, and she had to make the first assessment. She then radioed for the second patroller, Flynn, to assist with the two-victim scenario.

“One of them was a locked knee, and the other was a severe hangover, which could easily look like something else,” said Flynn. “You have to be careful, everyone’s always assuming it will be a spinal, that the worst thing to deal with.”

“It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure … if you make the wrong decision early, you’re done.”

Mouchet, the third in, brought the toboggan and assisted in getting the victims down the hill.

The entire competition comes down to the 25-minute scenario, and the Yukon team’s performance was solid.

Flynn estimated that the rookie ski patrollers had about two months of training, spread out over evenings and weekends — and had about three or four patrol days at Mount Sima before it closed.

After that, they tried to stay sharp by working on in-class scenarios or practising at home.

Normally, the volunteers work at the hill sweeping for hazards, putting up fencing, manning the first aid station, preparing the toboggans and watching for unsafe skiing behaviour.

Flynn is an avid backcountry skier, and wanted to learn some advanced first aid skills such as using a defibrillator and administering oxygen.

“It’s more intensive, you learn how to deal with injuries in the cold, how to evacuate people from the lifts.”

Ski patrollers also learn about avalanche safety, which is a major concern in backcountry areas.

This was the first time Yukon has sent an all-female rookie team to the competition. The team’s success has qualified the members to compete again at the national championships, in July at Sun Peaks, BC.

“Yukon has a reputation for doing really well at these competitions,” said Flynn. And with Yukon Brewing as a team sponsor, the Yukoners were well received by all. “They donated 12 cases of beer,” said Flynn with a laugh. “Everyone was happy to see us.”

“It’s a fun time, but it’s serious, too,” said Yukon Ski Patrol president Tim Sellars, who added that although attending the competition isn’t a priority, it goes hand in hand with the training the patrollers receive.

“We have a pretty high standard, and the quality of the instructors is really excellent,” said Sellars. “I think that’s reflected in the results we get at the competition.”

Sellars said there is always room for new patrollers, there were 35 patrollers on the roster this year.

The Yukon Ski Patrol recruits in late summer, and starts training in the fall. He said interested people should keep their eyes on the city’s leisure guide for application dates.