Ski Patrol: Behind the scenes of New Zealand’s ski areas

For many, a Ski Patroller sounds like a dream job.  As our ski season kicks off, we asked David Lundin, from our Wanaka ski patrol programme, what really goes on behind the scenes as the rest of us are coasting down the slopes.

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(Photograph by Zak Shaw. TPP Students Apline Skills Training)

Working in the mountains is unique – we all do it because we love it.  Sometimes, it makes me laugh a bit because we do strike people who think they are going to Disneyland, and that we can just turn the key and get things going. 

It’s a difficult natural environment to work in, with a number of challenging factors to be considered before we open each day. We’re making decisions about keeping ourselves and everyone else safe, and it’s not a responsibility we take lightly.

Every ski area is different – what happens at Mt Hutt or Cardrona will be different to what happens at Temple Basin or Cheeseman, but what is consistent are the responsibilities of ski patrol to control safety on the mountain.

Day to day, our work involves monitoring the weather, assessing snowfall and controlling avalanche risk, managing the slopes, and administering first aid to people who injure themselves. 

It all starts the day before, when we keep an eye on any approaching weather fronts so we’re prepared. 

If there’s a significant storm coming through, we make sure the lifts are parked up so they won’t cause a problem in the morning, gear is brought inside, and we have enough stock of explosives. At some ski areas, patrol staff will sleep on the mountain to keep an eye on snowfall overnight and get an early start.

Generally, though, we’re up there between 4am-7am to get ready, so that our control work can begin as soon as it gets light.

We’ll get the mountain ready to open, assessing the snow’s stability, and clearing it where needed so that we can open up for the groomer drivers and lifties to do their thing.

Then during the day, we’re always around, making sure any hazards are roped off, and ensuring it’s easy for people to find their way down the mountain.  There’s always some first aid to do, and we’re all trained in pre-hospital emergency care.  Surprisingly, sometimes when a ski hill is at capacity, fewer people tend to get hurt. I guess that’s something to do with slowing down to avoid each other!

There are some pretty clear trends – people in their mid-20s tend to hurt themselves the most, the most common injuries for skiers are lower leg problems, while with snowboarders it tends to be wrists and arms.

When you’re up skiing this winter, give the patrollers a wave or a smile. Your safety matters to us, but remember you’re in a mountain environment, often 2000m above sea level, and we can’t control everything. If your favourite slope is out of bounds, it will be for a pretty good reason!

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(Photograph by Zak Shaw. TPP Students Apline Skills Training)

Interested in a career in Ski Patrol?  Tai Poutini Polytechnic’s Ski Patrol programme is respected around the world, turning out work ready, practical professionals ready to face any crisis. You'll learn from industry pros, and train in real life environments. Our programme leaders enjoy a close working relationship with the New Zealand ski patrol industry, so that you’ll benefit from up to the minute best practice training.