Coffee in my hand, I peer through the window, wondering what the weather will be today. Last night a little storm crossed our region, dropping snow. It’s still dark, but the starry sky and brilliant moon illuminate the whiteness of the mountains, silhouettes the Mont Blanc and Granit peaks. I don’t notice any sign of wind. It looks like a bluebird day. Will today be perfect?
The morning sky very often gives us skiers information about the day to come. When the sky is clear and the snow is powdery, the word quickly spreads among local riders. But as ski patrollers, we get to be the first to enjoy the mountain.
I’m already excited and can’t wait to put on my skis.
The life of ski patrolmen and women is made up of good days and bad days, like it is for anyone else. Once in a while the ingredients for a great day come together, and this memory stays in your mind over the season and even sometimes longer. Today turned out to be one of those days.
At 6,000 feet I note 5 inches of fresh snow. Not much, but I can count on a foot or more higher up. After the daily briefing, I ride with three teams of ski patrollers to the top—10,700 feet—to start “avalanche control,” which makes the ski slopes safe for the hordes of skiers getting impatient down on the valley floor.
I’m standing at the very top, ready to throw a “blasting charge”—a small explosive—to secure the ski runway far below us by triggering a small, safe avalanche while there are no skiers on the slopes. My friend and partner Patrick has “ski cut” the slope—skiing across avalanche-starting zones—and it seems the snowpack is quite stable this morning. The view is just phenomenal: The always majestic range is glittering from the fresh snow the storm gifted us.
We carry on in a single-file line to avoid triggering an avalanche (better safe than sorry) until we are sure that the slopes are stable and safe. Then we give the skiers the “go.”
I’m patrolling the slopes when my radio crackles that a young snowboarder with a dislocated shoulder needs help. I head her way. She’s really suffering; and after talking to the doctor over my radio, we decide to immobilize her and evacuate her to the nearest hospital by helicopter. Despite the pain, she appreciates as much as I do the incredible views along the ride.
The day is coming to an end. We sweep the ski runs to be sure everyone has left for the day. To the far west, the orange disc of the sun is finishing its parabola. The air is chilly and I smile. This was such a day. It’s time to go home, and I hesitate between a nice run in the forest or a couple beers with my friends—the dilemma of a happy ski patrolman.