First On, Last Off: The Butternut Ski Patrol

February 4, 2010 at 8:31 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on First On, Last Off: The Butternut Ski Patrol

In the chilly early morning hours, before the first chairlift roars to life, members of the Butternut Ski Patrol are already at the mountain, piling on layers of synthetic clothing and donning their distinctive red jackets, strapping on 2-way radios and packs stuffed with gear, and beginning the morning checklist: Ice chest full? Check. Bandages and splints and tape and sundry other supplies well-stocked? Check. Patroller attendance taken and tricks assigned? Check!

Then, before a single customer boards a lift, patrollers snag the first chair and quickly spread out across the mountain in a precisely-coordinated and efficient dance, following their assignments: Make sure that open trails are open and closed ones are roped off. Check that each rescue toboggan is where it belongs and with all the appropriate accessories. Look for obstacles or snow condition issues. Radio it all into base.

Moments later, the slopes are open to the public.

Throughout the day, patrollers follow ‘tricks,’ assignments that place them all over the mountain. Most vitally, patrollers respond to calls for on-mountain assistance, whether due to an injury, a safety issue, or even just a ‘psych out,’ a skier who has perhaps selected a trail a little above his ability level. But patrollers do a lot more. In their eye-catching uniforms and with their centrally-located hut, patrollers are the highly visible face of the mountain, serving as ambassadors, answering questions on everything from trail selection, to where to find rentals, or lessons, or food, or misplaced equipment and people. They keep in touch with group leaders, so that visitors who arrive by the busload are always accounted for. And they work closely with the ski school and mountain operations to make sure that safety always comes first.

And at the end of another glorious Butternut day, as an early winter sunset draws near, the shadows cast on the snow grow long, and the very last hardcore skier has caught the very last chair, ski patrol keeps on working. In another well-choreographed routine, patrollers ride up the lift and once again fan out to the far corners of the mountain for sweep, checking that every last customer is off the mountain safely.

During each season – and the time in between – Butternut’s patrollers, all of them members of National Ski Patrol, undergo hours and hours of training and certification, ensuring that they are both excellent skiers and well-trained outdoor emergency care providers.

To top it all off, most of Butternut’s patrollers, like those at countless other mountains, are volunteers, doing it for love of the sport and camaraderie with other like-minded snow enthusiasts.

So, next time you’re on the slopes, be sure to thank a patroller for helping to keep the mountain a safe and fun place for everyone.

And if all this sounds interesting to you, patrol is always looking for new recruits. There are plenty of ways to get in touch with them: Step into the patrol room at the base of the mountain (the little white shack with the big red ‘SKI PATROL’ lettering on front), give them a call (413-528-2000 x115), send them an email (, replace AT with @), or just go up to any patroller and introduce yourself.


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