Why we support ski patrol unionization

As the number of patrol unions grows, we outline why we support them, and why you should too.
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Why we support ski patrol unionization

When most people look at Ski Patrol, they see a glamorous job. Being able to ski or snowboard all day, all while being paid to do so. Folks forget, or happily ignore, the qualifications that are required to even apply to be a patroller. Yes, a lot of time is spent skiing and snowboarding, but there are still the same workplace responsibilities and stresses of a job. Things that don’t come from a hobby. You have to live somewhere away from your family, work through Christmas every year, and “getting a better job” means spending thousands of dollars to relocate. This isn't as straightforward as you think it is, and reducing it to simplistic terms is quite frankly insulting. Just like it would be insulting if someone reduced your hardships to “I don't know anything about your life, but I know the obvious answer that you're too stupid to figure out.”

Your basic patroller has their EMT. This is because they treat myriad conditions from broken bones and heart attacks, as well as concussions and the occasional blunt force trauma of someone hitting an immovable object. Do this job long enough and you'll have someone die on you or even just ski up to a body. A friend of mine told me about a call he went on where the individual had basically been turned to jelly due to an impact they sustained. These events are always followed by explaining to someone that a person who meant the world to them is dead, a day of fun ruined by a most tragic event. Experiencing such a traumatic event is not easy, and most patrollers I know have been through something similar. These working professionals are essentially paramedics without the convenience of an ambulance, who have to be able to ski your broken body through whatever terrain it is you broke yourself in. Even if it's double black trees.

If you want the people who assess deadly terrain to be paid less than a living wage, we don't know what to tell you...

And who do you think is responsible for all of those controlled avalanche explosions? The fact North America can ride avalanche terrain – without the knowledge of beacons or backcountry training – is taken for granted. Understanding snowpack is a scientific job, and it's a science that is not fully understood. The string of inbounds avalanches in open terrain the last few years should really give you pause about telling ski Patrol they don't deserve a living wage. Why would you want to trust your life to the hands and minds of people who can't be successful anywhere else? This is essentially what you're saying by telling them to “go get a better job.” I'm really not sure why you value your life so little that you would trust avalanche blasting and paramedic jobs to the bottom of the barrel job pool applicants.  Especially because if something goes wrong and an avalanche breaks off, they work their ass off to do everything they can to make sure no one dies. Seeing the response to an inbounds avalanche, even in closed terrain, is both frightening and impressive. I promise you've never seen an entire mountain staff move that fast in your life, and search so desperately to make sure no one is buried and dying. Anyone who can work a probe line is called in along with the dogs and their handlers. The training for those dogs comes out of the pockets of the ski patrollers who own them, not the resort owner.

Even if you're fortunate enough to make it into employee housing, you can't build equity and have little to no hope for retirement. Deed restricted housing means you can't sell it for more than 3-5% of what you paid even though your interest rate on the loan is more than this. You're losing money to buy your house instead of building security for retirement. And if you have kids, there is no familial help to raise them. While most can rely on grandparents, this isn't an option when you move to a remote location in the wilderness in order to advance your career opportunities. Or even moved out for a season or two and decided “Hey, I'm going to make a career out of this. I want to be a professional ski patroller.”

It's easy to forget that these are extreme sports we participate in, and every time Patrol steps onto their skis or straps into a snowboard, they take on the same risks you do. Most of the time, the risks are higher: If you break yourself off somewhere in double black terrain, patrol must first locate you, and be able to ski themselves, and you, down that terrain. Good Patrollers – of which there are many – can out ski you because they have to. It's the same reason they have to know the mountain like the back of their hand. These multi thousand acre resorts take years-upon-years to learn well enough for someone to find you off the description of trees and rocks alone. This is why I want a staff of 15 to 20 year tenured patrollers, which only comes from a stable living situation, good pay, and proper employer support.

You're right, if this was such an easy, glamorous job, everyone would want to do It. But the fact of the matter is, ski patrol is anything but once you look under the surface. Day after day of being on snow breaks down the body, the stress of the job breaks down the mind. The least they deserve is a wage that allows them to have a dignified place to call home. So here at Kicker, we will always support any unionization effort of any ski patrol department. We know too much not to.