Skiing over snowboarding an advantage for most patrol situations


Photo Credit: Kyra Kliman

Diamond Peak patroller Nate Hyske setting up the boundary line at Diamond Peak Ski Resort.

Kyra Kliman, Editor

When snowboarding came onto the winter sports scene, the traditional ski industry rejected the new idea. The sport represented the unknown; resorts didn’t know how it would impact their business. “The distinctive tastes and styles embodied by many young snowboarders during the 1980s and early 1990s contributed to the general public’s negative stereotyping of snowboarders,” wrote author Holly Thorpe in in “Snowboarding: The Ultimate Guide.”

“Snowboarders Come to the Rescue of Skiers,” Barbara Lloyd wrote in a 1993 New York Times story. Steve Draisey, a snowboarding pioneer, “cuts an unusual figure on an alpine slope. Despite his official navy blue and purple jacket, the ski patroller is not wearing skis. His boots instead are buckled to a snowboard, that wide, single-stance snow surfer adopted by the young and snubbed by the old.”

Draisey, formerly worked on the National Ski Patrol for 17 years, when he decided to switch to snowboard patrol at Jiminy Peak, a smaller ski resort in Massachusetts. Draisey was the first snowboard patroller that made it possible for other snowboarders to become patrollers.

Nate Hyske, a snowboard patroller at Diamond Peak Ski Resort, stated, “when people see me at the mountain, and when I arrive on a snowboard, it raises a lot of questions like, ‘Oh I didn’t know snowboarders could do this job.”

Hyske believes it’s going to take time for snowboarders to prove themselves because they’re a minority in the ski industry.

According to the National Ski Patrol, the steepness of terrain determines whether the mountain is operated by only ski patrollers or ski and snowboard patrollers. Slopes above 25 degrees are considered avalanche terrain. In resorts with terrain above 25 degrees, only ski patrollers do AC Avalanche Mitigation work.

“Being on a board, in general, is kind of limiting as to where you can go” Hyske, said. According to Hyske, most mountains in the basin, including Squaw Valley, Heavenly, and Alpine Meadows, only hire ski patrollers because those resorts do avalanche control.

Adam Korenblat is a ski patroller at Aspen Snowmass Ski Resort. The mountain hires only ski patrollers. A significant portion of the terrain is in avalanche terrain.

Skis are a multi-faceted tool for Avalanche Mitigation work. Frequently, when patrollers are doing avalanche control work, it’s on their skis.

“They’re stomping and cutting cornices to a specific area height, setting a bomb, then hiking back up with their skis on,” Korenblat said. Many of those actions just can’t be done on a snowboard.

He believes that many ski patrollers are not expert skiers but are well trained medically. A snowboard patroller must be an expert snowboarder to handle most rescue situations.

Jordan Gaines is an avid backcountry split-boarder and a snowboard patroller at Diamond Peak. On mountains like Diamond peak, he doesn’t see a difference between snowboard patrollers and ski patrollers.

“Having to sidestep up on skis versus having to walk up holding your snowboard isn’t an issue” Gaines said.

A significant portion of avalanche mitigation work is repelling into avalanche terrain. When a ski patroller repels, they’re often repelling into chutes, where they use their skies to control their descent.

“When a snowboarder repels down a chute, their snowboard is on their back because they can’t push off the wall with their board, so it is more likely for them to get stuck or start spinning when their feet have nothing to grip onto,” Korenblat said.  Also, at steeper resorts with flat areas, it can be difficult for snowboard patrollers, to take a patient down in a toboggan.

According to Korenblat, in steeper terrain, ski patrollers have more advantages having four edges.

He believes it is easier for a ski patroller to keep an edge while traversing, pulling a toboggan across flats terrain, and can use their skis as a tool for avalanche work. At the same time, snowboarders can have the success as a ski patroller on less demanding terrain.