Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ski Patrol: Snowboard Skills Assessment

The weekend of 21 November I joined the European Division of the National Ski Patrol in Hintertux, Austria for my snowboard skills assessment.  The rest of the Division was there for their annual medical refresher, on the hill training, and awards banquet.

Buckling in at the top of the hill
The valley below the glacier was green and warm but when we took the two gondolas to the glacier it was cold and white with temperatures hovering around zero.  Visibility was in places down to 20ft with blowing snow and low clouds.  Forecasts called for a foot of snow both Saturday and Sunday but only about half of that was deposited on the frozen glacier by the end of the weekend.  The nice thing about the glacier was the ice beneath the snow was black so it was easier to see the icy patches  when the powder was skied off.

Part of the exposed glacier
On Saturday I joined a group of six snowboarder candidates from all over Europe but at the top of the lift the first one quit due to the conditions.  Keeping together as a group was tough because it was hard to see the instructor through the fog.  The skills we had to run through were pretty simple: traversing left and right across the slope, simple skidded turns, carved turns of different sizes (small, middle, and large radius turns), and snowplows.  The hardest thing to do was sudden stop without chattering.  All skills had to be done regular and fakie/switch.

We finished the skills portion before lunch then headed into the crowed lodge for roasted chicken and fries.  After lunch we had some free-ride time and the clouds cleared so you could see down into the green valleys below.  At the end of the day only three of the candidates (including myself) passed and the two remaining candidates were encouraged to take lessons.

While the candidates were out on the slopes testing their skills the rest of the ski patrollers were undergoing refresher training.  Once certified as a patroller, members of the Ski Patrol are required to pass a test on a third of the Outdoor Emergency Care curriculum each year.  The trainers arranged a series of stations that tested skills such as administering oxygen through a rebreather mask, applying traction to a femur, and immobilizing a spine on a backboard.

That night in a hotel the Division Directors handed out service awards, training awards, and awards for the best patroller and candidate from the previous year.

Start of Day 2
The next day the candidates joined the regular patrollers on the hill to observe sled training.  The clouds rolled in again overnight and the winds picked up, making it even colder than the day before.  We stuck with the snowboarders and followed a team as they controlled a sled down a steep icy black run.  I was amazed as they were able to stop on a steep icy section and switch from the front handles to the back anchor rope position.   For the snowboarders it seemed pretty easy to control the sled as they mainly snowplowed down the steep or bumpy sections on their heel edge.  For the icy parts they switched to their toe edges for a little more control in stopping the sled.
Broken toe strap
I only got in a half day as right before lunch the toe strap of my left foot snapped as I was buckling in at the top of a lift.  I think the cold was too much for the plastic piece and it was unable to stretch as I ratcheted down my boot.  Thankfully I was able to get down the hill and negotiate a boot deep powder section with reasonable control.
End of the Weekend

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