Bluewood Ski Patrol fills many roles

Patrolling the slopes, from upkeep to rescue

Monty Robbins brings a 6-year-old skier who got separated from her group down by ski lift.

Monty Robbins brings a 6-year-old skier who got separated from her group down by ski lift. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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They work in Kennewick, Walla Walla and Lewiston as firefighters, EMTs and even teachers, then spend their weekends patrolling the slopes outside of Dayton.

Though they’re most likely to be in the news when they respond to a serious injury, Bluewood’s ski patrol does far more than trauma care. The patrol acts as both the police force and medical service of the mountain, helping to set up warning signs, enforce rules, shovel snow and treat injuries.

The force has about 30 members and all but about 10 are volunteers. In addition to being able to comfortably ski the entire mountain, each member must have, at minimum, an Outdoor Emergency Care or Wilderness First Responder certification. Most are EMTs, and some are nurses or paramedics.

“We bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the table from our full-time jobs,” said Bluewood’s ski patrol director, Brandon McKinney, who also works as a paramedic for the Walla Walla Fire Department.

A ski patrol day starts about an hour before the mountain opens, when members look out for hazards that need to be marked. Last weekend, that meant moving the foam pads on chairlift posts up to account for new snow.

A minimum of four patrollers are on duty at all times, with one member running dispatch from a hut at the top of the Skyline Express chairlift. At the end of the day, they stick around after the lifts close to sweep the mountain to ensure no stragglers are left behind.

McKinney said serious accidents on the mountain are rare. Most customers actually walk themselves in to the ski patrol office, which sits just below the lodge, to get patched up for everything from minor scrapes to broken collarbones. On an average weekday, the team treats two or three guests; on weekends, it’s about five.

Beyond those injuries, patrol members get called to retrieve gloves dropped from the chairlift or bring tired skiers down the mountain in a toboggan. They’re also responsible for evacuating lifts in the event that they stop working, and carry a harness and rope in their backpacks just for that purpose.

McKinney and his staff do without some of the resources that larger ski resorts enjoy, like mini-hospitals set up at the base of the mountain.

But dozens of thank-you letters line the patrol’s office doors from grateful customers who had an injury treated — and sometimes a life saved — by Bluewood’s team.

“I’d put our patrol up against any other patrol in the Northwest,”said McKinney.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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