This is the face of Sun Valley Ski Patrol you probably recognize — one of uniformed, highly capable men and women keeping you safe on Baldy and Dollar. Ski Patrol boasts a team of more than 50, including firefighters and paramedics, explosives experts, mountaineers and some of the fittest, most determined, most amazing skiers on the map. I love seeing Ski Patrol on the hill, which I do numerous times each day I am up there. Just a glimpse of their jackets makes me feel safe and cared for.
Here is another face of Sun Valley Ski Patrol, one that makes me feel safer yet. Yesterday, under a typical Idaho bluebird sky, three weeks before the slopes officially open to the public, members of Ski Patrol were preparing for any and every inevitability. Like the safety announcement made before a plane taxis down the runway, Ski Patrol has to consider many “in the unlikely events,” including gondola evacuation.
The methodology? Climb a tower carrying a 10-pound titanium “cable glider.” Position the wheels of said cable glider onto the high wire. Clip in and attach yourself in about 20 different ways. Do not tangle your ropes. Swing your body onto a small bike seat. Release the brake and “ride” down the cable to the first gondola car. Unhook. Evacuate occupants. Repeat.
When Mike Lloyd and Mike Davis of Ski Patrol explain the process, they make it sound quite matter-of-fact. From below the tower, looking up to the platform dozens of feet overhead, surrounded by the stunning panorama of mountains, to me, it looks intimidating at best. But that’s why they are the pros.
The pros featured in these photos are ‘Whiz’ McNeal and Troy Quesnel, who both look forward to this training. “The Patrol does this drill a few times each year and they like to get as many ‘touches’ on the equipment as possible,” said Lloyd. “Everyone gets to practice riding, belaying, climbing, opening the doors. It’s a great time to get hands on and make sure it becomes second nature.”
Rest assured, all these skills do become second nature to Ski Patrol. The gondola training exercise is only one of many that go on year-round. Ski Patrol’s motto is “Haulin’ the Fallin’ since 1936.” I guess a list of all the other things they do doesn’t rhyme.
When you see a Patrol member on the slopes, be sure to give him or her a big smile. They are there for you and are, collectively, some of the nicest people in Sun Valley.
And they know how to evacuate you from a gondola – bonus!