Tracy and Paul Amidon are volunteer ski patrollers at Ski Apache. Photograph courtesy of Tracy Amidon.
INJURED SKIERS OR SNOWBOARDERS often catch a ride to the aid room on toboggans placed throughout the ski area. It’s no fun for the passenger, but the task can be demanding for a patroller, too. Only about 25 percent of National Ski Patrol members are female; many are deterred by the physical demands of the work, says Tracy Amidon, who patrols at Ski Apache and serves as an outdoor emergency transportation supervisor for the National Ski Patrol’s Rocky Mountain Division. As the number of female professionals grows, they’re crafting strategies for guiding a toboggan downhill in ways that are easier—and may make passengers more comfortable.
My parents were patrollers at a small ski area in Ohio, so I grew up as a patrol rat. It really got into my blood. I wanted something that felt like I could be part of a community that was doing really good work. It was in an environment that I loved—outside, active, and challenging.
On a beautiful day, it’s just great to be outside. Ski Apache has a lot of those days. The way the mountains look is just different. There’s something about New Mexico that’s definitely very different from Colorado and other places.
Pulling a sled with a 200-pound person in it is not easy work. One of the things I teach now, which really wasn’t talked about when I started 20 years ago, is that women are going to use different techniques to bring a sled down a mountain. We’re going to find ways to finesse it that don’t involve brute strength. I’m not going to pull a person through the mogul field. I’m going to allow gravity to bring the sled down, maybe use its nose to ease up on a bump that’ll be a natural brake, then I’ll pivot off of that.
We’ve often found that a patient has a much smoother ride with a female patroller—but that’s maybe more of an industry joke. What ski patrollers are finding is that females actually have really good skills and technique, but we still have to be strong.