The best-kept secrets of Ski Patrol

ski patrol and patrol dog

Behind the scenes of ski resorts worldwide, a hive of activity takes place to keep the mountain operational.

You may have noticed the brightly coloured ski patroller adjusting fencing, or replacing piste markers – but did you ever consider what else their job involves?

At the beginning of this winter season, Amy Marwick spent a day with the patrollers and avalanche rescue dogs in Whistler Blackcomb to find out what goes on between jumping the chairlift queue and riding the skidoo.

ski patrol pulls a blood wagon, taking some air off a roller
What we think goes on…

After spending a day with Whistler’s ski patrol, I’m hankering after a job offer. Not only did I get the rollercoaster ride of my life aboard Shawn’s rescue toboggan (we took some serious air), I got to meet some four-legged friends and watch them make a (pretend) rescue at lightning speed, I skied some super steep and exciting terrain, I handled dynamite, and I explored the slopes of Whistler without another soul in sight. 

Here are my top six discoveries and the reasons I’d leave the UK tomorrow for a place on their Patrol…

ski patrol and skier look out over mountains

Ski patrol pull all the strings

The real art of ski patrol is how much input they have on our day on the slopes, and how little we realise it. Constantly corralling skiers away from danger and towards the best conditions, instantly on the scene if something goes wrong – the ski patrol team are always on the watch. Experts in snow science, weather, medical first aid, dog handling, and avalanche control, this is a team of highly trained individuals who are constantly plugged-in to the day’s changing conditions, and whose hardest work on the mountain goes virtually unnoticed. Quietly directing the day’s proceedings, they’ve removed the dangers and set up the mountain for us before we even step foot on the first lift. 

Ski patrol get the best runs of the day, every day

Whether it’s crisp corduroy, deep powder, or a layer of fresh on a perfectly manicured piste, the ski patrol team will always be first to get the goods. Every morning, before hordes of skiers and snowboarders descend on the resort, they will have already enjoyed at least one or two private runs on the mountain. And when it comes to sunsets, they’ve always got the best view in the valley. When they make their final sweep of the slopes checking for dawdlers or anyone left behind, they also get to enjoy a peaceful slide with nobody about (and yes, so did we).

skier makes sweet turns on a low-lit flat and steep piste

Ski patrol is one big family

When I started with patrol, one of the guys said to me: ‘Welcome to the Patrol family. We’re dysfunctional, but we’re here for you’,” said Sarah, an ex-professional bumps skier and Whistler ski patroller. Unwavering support can be a rare thing to find in a workplace, but the patrollers at Whistler (and no doubt around the world) have always got each other’s backs when things go sideways.

“To have a team that you can spend a full work day with, go have beers with at the end of the day, and then be like, ‘So do you want to go ski touring on the weekend?’ I think I’m pretty lucky,” she says.

Ski patrol carry dynamite like you or I carry a Kit-Kat

I’d always thought the bombs that control the avalanches in resort were triggered remotely, but as it turns out that’s often not the case. The team in Whistler carry cartoon-like bombs, sticks of dynamite that have a long fuse that the patroller will light by hand and then toss into a snow-laden face. After exactly two and half minutes the bomb will explode and hopefully take the questionable snow layer with it.

“They’re really, really safe,” says Shawn, an explosives specialist on the Whistler patrol team.

“It sounds kind of ridiculous, for the most part what we do is ski around with them in our backpack and just kind of throw them over the edge…”

Ski patrol’s avalanche rescue dogs are trained like secret agents

Riding skidoos, hanging from helicopters, or clinging to their handler’s shoulders while they speed down the slope to somebody’s rescue, the Whistler avalanche rescue dogs are the 007s of the ski resort. Starting as puppies, they’re introduced to every aspect of the mountain and before long, they’re the fastest tool for finding avalanche victims. The dogs are trained to use their hunting drive to find live human scent and then are rewarded with play.

Ski patrol finish the day with popcorn

At the end of every day at Whistler ski resort, the team gather at their main station, have a brew, and kick back with freshly made popcorn (usually made by the newest recruit). It’s a casual get-together but it’s clear how much this ritual means for the team’s camaraderie, catching up on the day’s events, and roasting each other for that time they rolled the skidoo (plus buttery popcorn is an excellent end of the day snack after a wild day on the mountain).

Today is 10 February, which is now recognised as International Ski Patrol Day. It’s a day to appreciate the hard work that goes in to keeping the mountain open and safe for everyone to enjoy.

In support of ski patrollers everywhere outdoor clothing brand Helly Hansen will donate 5% of e-commerce sales and select retail store sales to various ski patrol organisations internationally. So, if you’re on the mountain today, share a high five with your nearest patroller, thank them for all they do to keep our slopes safe, and maybe, enquire what time the popcorn will be ready.

ski patrol leads a transceiver search

Helly Hansen celebrates ski patrollers worldwide on International Ski Patrol Day 2024 

Inviting all mountain-goers to honour and recognise their local ski patrol. 

On 10 February 2024, Helly Hansen, the global ski and outdoor brand trusted by professionals, will take part in the third annual International Ski Patrol Day (ISPD) to recognise ski patrollers and their extraordinary work to keep resorts open, safe and fun for people of all ages and skill levels.

All mountain-goers are encouraged to come together on this day to show their appreciation for patrollers; from sharing a high-five to thank you messages and donations, there are endless opportunities on how to celebrate International Ski Patrol Day. 

“At Helly Hansen, we take pride in outfitting over 55,000 professionals globally, including the unsung heroes of the mountain – ski patrollers,” says Joumana Løvstad, Chief Marketing Officer at Helly Hansen. “International Ski Patrol Day is our opportunity to express heartfelt gratitude for their unwavering dedication to safety.”

“As we approach ISPD 2024, we’re thrilled to extend our support to ski and safety organisations through the ISPD kickback. Partnering with organisations globally, including FIPS and NWAC, our goal is to actively contribute to the vital work of ski patrol in ensuring a safer mountain for all.”

In support of ski patrollers everywhere, Helly Hansen will donate 5% of e-commerce sales and select retail store sales on 10 February 2024, to various ski patrol organisations internationally.

To further celebrate, the brand is also sharing additional resources featuring stories of patrollers around the globe – sharing a glimpse into their daily lives on the slopes, what it takes, and why they love it.  

Helly Hansen encourages you to celebrate ski patrollers in your region this ISPD, using #skipatrolday on social channels.