"A slight glow on the eastern horizon beckons to me and I anticipate the brilliant splashes of intense color that characterize our spectacular Yukon mornings—an incredible visual feast to welcome the day!
"We knew with certainty it was going to be a great day! And like magic, we snapped into our skis, glided to the loading carpet for the lift and were scooped and taken ever higher into the heart of the winter landscape.
"As we rose, an intense palette of oranges, pinks, purples and a multitude of hues in between painted the sky and took my breath away. And then... well, it got better!!"
This is how Nicola Pritchett, a rookie ski patroller with the Yukon Zone of the Canadian Ski Patrol, described her first day volunteering at Mount Sima.
The Canadian Ski Patrol System is a volunteer organization that provides first aid and education services across the country at ski hills and other sporting venues.
The Yukon Zone is responsible for patrol activities at Mount Sima, Mount McIntyre, in the backcountry, and at various sporting events such as the Kluane Chilkat Bike Relay, and Trail of 98 Road Relay.
Pritchett is one of 45 volunteers who keep ski patrol running smoothly in the Whitehorse area. Although patrolling is a lot of work and a large time commitment (including training sessions every weekend for a month for rookies in the fall and patrol shifts every week or two) she says it's a wonderful experience.
"You get to work with amazing people from all walks of life and meet new people all the time as you carrying out your patrol duties; you get to help others and contribute, making a difference with regard to safety and first aid," Pritchett says.
"You are continuously learning and constantly challenging yourself. And of course doing the first sweep of the hill before it opens to the public, appreciating the incredible skies and play of light on the mountains can't be beat. It's a fabulous program to be involved in."
Shaun Bryant, another rookie patroller agrees.
"My first thought would be, 'Wow what an incredible opportunity it is to be a ski patroller. It's pro patrol only back home in New Zealand, so I wouldn't get the chance to do something as exciting as this. Makes me stoked I immigrated to Whitehorse.'"
He stresses that there are so many positive elements of the commitment.
"Beyond the selfish enjoyment of having a run to yourself in the quiet hours of the morning, the big bonus of ski patrol is the friendship of fellow patrollers. Being a greenhorn immigrant, it's been fantastic to get to know so many awesome people so quickly.
"Then there's the training. My god, I've learned so much in such a short time. First aid, ski technique and avalanche safety. Sure, avalanche safety was through the Avalanche Association, but it was free because I was ski patrol."
Bryant goes on to outline the typical day in the life of a ski patroller working at Mount Sima.
"We gather in the hut before 9 a.m. for a briefing, get geared up and test our radios. Yep, a radio. I know everyone secretly wants to be able have one of those—some patrollers even have their own earpieces— how cool is that?
"We take a moment to sign up for base hut duty. Then we hit the slopes for that first run, checking for rocks on the run or other problems. Nothing beats fresh snow and a run to yourself!"
During the day, he explains, patrollers take turns serving duty in the base hut.
"This is where I've had to put my first aid skills into practice so far—a suspected broken wrist. Tough kid, though. Didn't even blink when I applied the splint.
"The rest of the day is spent patrolling the slopes, repairing fences and generally helping out the pro patrollers where needed. Plus, we usually get in a bit of training as well, first aid scenarios, toboggan work and ski technique work. Day ends with a clearance run, making sure everyone is off the hill safe and sound."
Tim Sellars, the Yukon Zone president, says ski patrol was first established in the territory in 1983.
Since then, the Yukon Zone has been awarded a national Outstanding Zone award in 1999, has hosted the Mountain Division (10 zones throughout Alberta and Yukon) first aid competition in 2003 (something they plan to do again in 2013), and has contributed to the success of large multi-sport games such as Canada Winter Games in 2007 and Arctic Winter Games this year.
Asked what the best part of being a ski patrol member is, Sellars laughs.
"There are so many great things. Meeting other skiers and being part of a team are awesome, but the best part may be getting first tracks at the hill on a powder day."
Each fall, Yukon Zone recruits new patrollers. If you are interested in being on the list to be contacted, you can reach Sellars at email@example.com.
Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.