CAROGA-A small hut stands just off the side of the ski trails at Royal Mountain.
A handful of volunteers with the Royal Mountain Ski Patrol sit inside, watching as members of the paying public head down the icy slopes. They don't get paid for their time, aside from being allowed to ski the mountain they watch over. Without them, Royal Mountain's customers could end up seriously hurt with little assistance.
The Royal Mountain Ski Patrol, an all-volunteer force founded in 1956, according to its Facebook page, keeps an eye out on the days the mountain is open to make sure those who use the mountain are safe. Royal Mountain is open on weekends and holidays.
Members of the Royal Mountain Ski Patrol demonstrate a toboggan run Jan. 18.
Photo by Arthur Cleveland/The Leader-Herald
Each member is trained in first aid, able to handle many of the situations that could arise on the mountain.
The patrol is certified by the National Ski Patrol, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "serving the public and outdoor recreation industry by providing education and accreditation to emergency care and safety service providers," according to its website, www.nsp.org. According to the website, the organization is made up of more than 28,000 members serving more than 650 patrols at ski areas throughout the U.S.
Kathy Vosburgh, patrol leader of the Royal Mountain patrol for almost 10 years, said it takes a lot of work to be a member of the patrol.
Vosburgh said in total, 22 volunteers bolster the ranks of the patrol, with six patrolling every day, but sometimes up to 10 volunteering.
The making of a ski patroller is not a one-day affair. Vosburgh said an Outdoor Emergency Care Course is needed, which takes up to 12 weeks to complete, with two to three days of training per week.
"It is a fairly extensive course," Vosburgh said.
Once the course is completed, their training is not over. The trainees, or candidates as they are known in the patrol, must complete toboggan training and specialized emergency training on the snowy hills of the mountain.
"We train them with the snow and cold added, which makes a difference," Vosburgh said.
After one year as a candidate, a volunteer can become a full patroller.
According to Vosburgh, the patrol is in need of volunteers.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult [to recruit], just in general, for patrols all over, nationally," Vosburgh said.
Larger mountains lack the issues that smaller mountains have, Vosburgh said.
The average patroller has a median age of 50, Vosburgh said, requiring more younger patrollers.
"We are definitely looking to recruit more here," Vosburgh said.
Three candidates are in training, but Vosburgh said they are hoping to recruit more.
According to Vosburgh, work and other time constraints contribute to the falling numbers, as well as the cost of the course and other items.
Patroller Tom Lavrose said the lack of volunteers isn't a new thing.
"That is volunteerism," Lavrose said.
Edward T. Norman, who has been a patroller for15 years, said it is difficult to get the numbers needed.
The daily ride
According to Vosburgh, a member of the patrol called the hill captain arrives in the early morning to open the mountaintop patrol building. At 8 a.m. the hill captain patrols the mountain, making sure the trails are secure and safe. After that, members of the patrol go out regularly to survey the mountain, with another trail check done around noon.
Vosburgh said as soon as an injury is reported, members of the patrol search the trail and escort the victim to the base lodge, which has a nurses office.
"We respond to that area, and if there is an injured person, we take them down here and either send them off in a car or, unfortunately, in an ambulance," Vosburgh said.
Many of the injuries are minor but there are more serious injuries, such as head injuries and fractured femurs or pelvises, Vosburgh said.
"Every incident here has been fairly successful," Vosburgh said.
This isn't done for any reward, materially. But Vosburgh and her patrol said they find enjoyment in their task.
"Everybody is motivated in a different way, but I don't think anyone here can do this without having a reason of wanting to be there for people," Vosburgh said.
Being able to ski while patrolling aside, Vosburgh said there are reduced rates through some equipment dealers for the patrol.
According to Patrol Member Jerry McGraw, it's for a simpler reason.
"We're scarce," McGraw said.