Some time ago, after I’d written about skinning up and skiing down most of Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks in March of last year, I received a brief but welcome note from Bill Schweikert, who sent me links to web pages of the Western Massachusetts Region of the National Ski Patrol (www.nspwmr.org) and the Northfield Mountain Nordic Ski Patrol. "Ever hear of Nordic patrolling?" he asked, "The backcountry aspect of patrolling includes many outdoors skills."
Up until that point, the only "backcountry" ski patrol I’d ever encountered were the volunteers who patrol Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington in the later winter and spring. And, while many members of the various "Mountain Rescue" organizations in the White, and Green Mountains are also ski patrollers. Those organizations aren’t part of the National Ski Patrol. So, to answer Bill’s question, no, I hadn’t heard of Nordic patrolling. But I’m sure glad I have now.
I think the National Ski Patrol is one of greatest organizations on the planet; a bunch of really terrific people, both paid professionals and volunteers who help keep everyone safer on the ski slopes and do everything possible to help if someone gets hurt, lost or injured. In many ways, the rise of "sidecountry skiing" (skiers and riders riding up ski lifts, then leaving behind the marked and patrolled ski slopes, trails and glades to seek fresh powder in the trees), has been a nightmare for the Ski Patrol. More people taking to the woods has meant more people who need to be found or aided in difficult circumstances. Fortunately, injuries in the backcountry are fairly rare -- most such explorers are good skiers or riders and go slowly when they are in the trees. What usually triggers an emergency is someone getting lost and/or failing to make it back to the ski area before dark. Such incidents have become epidemic at some of the bigger ski areas in Vermont, notably Stowe, Mad River Glen, Jay Peak, Sugarbush, and Smugglers Notch in Vermont, and Sugarloaf and Saddleback in Maine, all of which have incredible "side country" opportunities and a subculture which seeks out that experience.
I think the world needs more ski patrollers with specific backcountry skills, and the world needs more ski patrol groups like the one on Northfield Mountain.
I’ve never skied there (I’ll definitely remedy that this winter!) but looking at the website for Northfield Mountain (www.firstlightpower.com/northfield/ccski.asp) I can see why a Nordic Ski Patrol developed there. Where most cross-country ski areas are on flat ground and very small hills, Northfield Mountain boasts over 800 vertical feet of rise on some of its trails. That’s more than you get at many small local ski hills, including the ones I grew ups skiing. In other words, you’ve got people tackling some Alpine-like ski terrain on Nordic-style skinny skis. Yup, I can see why they might need ski patrol.
If you are a good cross-country skier, are interested in backcountry skiing, do yourself a favor and live anywhere near Northfield Mountain, do yourself a favor and look into their Nordic Ski Patrol. Sounds like great fun and a great organization to me.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Wilderness First Responder training
One of the skills anyone should have for modern life in general, but certainly before they venture outdoors to have fun, is basic first aid. Accidents happen. There’s a hierarchy to First Aid training for the outdoors, starting with an ordinary First Aid course, advancing up the line to Wilderness First Aid (WFA), Advanced Wilderness First Aid (AWFA), and then to Wilderness First Responder (WFR). Wilderness First Responder (WFR) offers the medical training needed by outdoor educators, trip leaders, guides, search And rescue team members, and folks who leave the road behind in potentially hazardous conditions.
There are two major schools who teach these courses in a number of locations. If you want to start with WFA, there a half-dozen courses scheduled in Western Mass. this year offered by the AMC (www.outdoors.org), taught by Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities (www.soloschools.com).
Wilderness Medical Associates (www.wildmed.com), which taught the course I’ve taken, has courses scheduled at Adirondack Mountain Club (www.adk.org), Mahoosuc Lodge (www.mahoosuc.com) and other spots that are wonderful to visit.
But, if you want to jump right in, you don’t need any prior training to take the 70-hour WFR course over 7 days, and there’s on starting in just a few days at Zoar Outdoor (www.zoaroutdoor.com) in Charlemont. Dates are Jan. 8-14.