As I exit the ski patrol building, I’m hit with freezing temperatures and blustery winds.
Conditions aside, the crisp alpine environment that is Lake Mountain is as beautiful as ever. Gaining grip in the packed snow and ice, thanks only to my trusty boot chains, I begin a patrol of the toboggan slopes.
Less than 15 metres into the sweep, I spot a senior patroller assisting a man lying on the snow. As I get closer to help, the very first thing I do is put on nitrile gloves. It is clear that the man isn’t in great shape, his face has a grey pallor and his eyes aren’t able to focus. While the senior patroller keeps the man’s airway open, and vacates any remaining vomit, he explains the man was vomiting and has just regained consciousness. I get further information from his wife; she tells me he is a heavy alcohol user, has a history of heart conditions and is on medication. An ambulance has already been called by ski patrol dispatch. A defibrillator, oxygen and the ‘red bed’ is also on their way.
The red bed is a portable stretcher filled with beads; after the patient is loaded a special pump is used to suck out the air. The end result is a rigid stretcher that is relatively warm and comfortable.
Working with ski patrol members and mountain staff, we carry the man back to the ski patrol base. He leaves the mountain by ambulance.
This is just one example of life as a ski patroller at Lake Mountain. As a kid I distinctly remember the very brightly coloured red jackets worn by the ski patrollers, with the bold white crosses emblazoned all over. They always seemed to be the fastest on the trails, and I was impressed by their skidoos that raced through the snow. The tired kids in the group would always try and hitch a ride back to the resort at the end of the day.
Nearly two decades later, I am one of those patrollers. Many of my weekends are spent helping the thousands of people who visit Lake Mountain during the snow season. I signed up in 2014, not really knowing what to expect. At the time I had the required minimum of Level 2 in First Aid, and having grown up in nearby Taggerty I knew the mountain trails well and was a keen cross country skier.
Throughout my first season on patrol I was always buddied up with someone experienced, but before my second season I completed the Australian Ski Patrol Association (ASPA) Advanced Emergency Care qualification. It is without a doubt the best training course I have ever done. The course is a mix of theory and lots of practical sessions that provides patrollers with skills and knowledge to treat injuries and illnesses in an alpine environment (it is also regularly taken as a refresher course by more experienced patrollers). It is a challenging course, but by the end of it I felt confident in dealing with any incident that may occur. In a worst-case scenario, ambulance care may be hours away, and we could be on a remote trail kilometres from anyone.
There is no such thing as a typical day on the mountain. At Lake Mountain, patrollers rotate between ski patrol’s radio dispatch and medical centre, the toboggan slopes, snowshoe trails and the network of more than 30 kilometres of ski trails. One minute we could be tending to a missing child, the next a dislocated shoulder; in between there are cuts, sprains and bruises. I enjoy remaining calm under pressure, and as a patroller we gain invaluable experience in this. I also feel fortunate to work with the amazing volunteers in ski patrol. Between them, they offer decades of experience to learn from.
There is a great diversity in the work backgrounds of volunteers. I am an environmental supervisor for Melbourne Water, while some of the other volunteer patrollers include paramedics, doctors, teachers, firefighters and information technology personnel. One of the perks of the job as a volunteer is that, at the end of a long day, we can stay in shared mountain accommodation. It’s a great way to get to know everyone. And, if you’re keen, you can go for a ski at night with a head torch and a radio, just in case!
An added advantage of being a patroller, and completing the ASPA course, is that it has helped me in my personal life, and at work. Often I am working in remote areas for my job, and I carry a pack similarly stocked to the patrol ones. In fact, soon after I completed the ASPA course, I was the first responder to a car flipping off the road in Melbourne. The victim had an altered state of consciousness, many superficial cuts and a suspected broken collarbone. Following the patrol first aid methodology, I was able to treat the patient until an ambulance arrived.
For me, there is nothing better than being out on the trails with my first aid pack and radio. Occasionally I carry snowshoes as well, just so I can try out shortcuts between the trails. I also love helping people, whether they are hurt, lost or just need a spare map to get them back to the resort car park. Working with a great bunch of people makes it even better. In terms of volunteer work it can be physically and mentally demanding, but ski patrol at Lake Mountain is, above all, rewarding.
Lake Mountain Ski Patrol (LMSP) is currently on the lookout for new volunteers for the 2016 winter season and has a pre-season training weekend scheduled for the 4th and 5th of June. For further information please contact LMSP secretary, Cathy Sutton or visit the group’s website.
Jesse, 29, was the recipient of the inaugural (ski patrol) Captain’s Award in 2015. The award acknowledges Jesse’s contributions as one of the younger and newer members of patrol, his enthusiasm, ability to work independently and as a member of a team, as well as his love of the environment and cross country skiing.