If you enjoy helping people, and getting paid to ski or snowboard sounds like a sweet gig, then you’re a prime candidate for the National Ski Patrol (NSP). This elite organization is comprised of more than 27,000 skiers and snowboarders, and new recruits are welcome to apply for paid and/or volunteer positions.
But if you want to boost your chances of landing a permanent job with the NSP, here are a few preliminary steps to take.
Tip #1: Study up
Every ski and snowboard patroller must be certified in both basic and wilderness first-aid, and first responder/EMT course experience will only improve your chances. All of these courses are readily available in most sizable towns and cities lying within reasonable proximity to ski areas, and many resorts offer them as well. But these are just the beginning.
The NSP-mandated Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC) Course and Challenge lasts anywhere from 80 to 100 hours, depending on the experience level of the student(s). The OEC explores topics such as treatment for common injuries, high-altitude conditions, wilderness extrications, and avalanche recovery using written materials and scenario-based exercises. Students must pass several exams, as well as a final evaluation at the conclusion of the course; the course typically costs $300, but the certification is valid for three years. To beef up on your ski patrol knowledge, check out the various online courses offered by the NSP (log-in name required); they are relatively inexpensive ($10–20), and the topics they cover will be reiterated during the OEC.
Tip #2: Get in shape
No-brainer, right? But according to the NSP, the trick is conditioning your body away from the slopes. ‘Pre-season conditioning’ at home or a local gym is the best way to adequately prepare for the physical demands of ski patrolling. Dave Merriam, head coach of the PSIA and AASI Demonstration Teams, warns against initially getting in shape by skiing or snowboarding — regardless of your skill level. “These are demanding activities, and if you haven’t conditioned your body accordingly, you tire quicker, become sore more easily, and also stand a greater chance of getting injured,” he says.
Merriam notes that outdoor activities in general require aerobic training to condition the body for long-distance travel and help prevent fatigue-related injuries. However, he adds that skiing and snowboarding are also anaerobic activities because they fluctuate between intense energy output and prolonged rest periods. For this reason, aspiring ski and snowboard patrollers should build their aerobic and anaerobic strength. One way to accomplish both goals, he says, is to incorporate brief sprint sessions into long runs, and then follow with a rest period. In addition to these routines, he recommends exercise activities that condition the body for continuous skiing and snowboarding, such as hill- or stair-climbs, cycling and inline skating.
Strength and flexibility training are also crucial. Dave Mannetter, a member of PSIA’s Alpine Demonstration Team and the head staff trainer at California’s Mammoth Mountain Ski School, urges patrollers to focus on all major muscle groups in the upper body (chest, back, shoulders, arms) and legs (calves, quads, glutes and hamstrings) in order to effectively build strength. “It just makes sense that the stronger you are, the less you have to try to hold yourself up to make the moves,” Mannetter says. For increased flexibility, many patrollers utilize the INFLEX program pioneered by Adrian Crook. This course builds five core components of flexible movement: focus, balance, strength, range of motion and longevity.
Tip #3: Understand the responsibilities
Michelle Longstreth, a ski patroller at Washington’s Crystal Mountain, recently blogged that her job entails much more than simply cruising the slopes and looking for injured people — though that is typically the public perception of her profession. “We provide first aid and transport injuries to the base area,” she wrote. “This is maybe our most high-profile job, and one where we interact the most with the skiing public. Helping an injured skier or rider is the most rewarding part of the job.”
However, she notes that additional duties include securing perimeter rope lines; raising or lowering tower pads; creating and installing warning signs; and, when necessary, performing avalanche blasting techniques. While ski and snowboard patrollers do spend their days on the slopes, the job is hardly recreational — so applicants should not expect a paid winter vacation.
For more information, please visit the NSP official website.