A Day in the Life of a Ski Patroller at Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Posted on Jan. 19, 2023
Being a ski patroller involves a lot of training and expertise at any ski resort. Here at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, with its extreme inbounds terrain and the variable weather conditions common in the Elk Mountains it is especially important to have talented, dedicated patrollers on staff. We sat down with two of our ski patrollers, Jay Plvan and Jack Morgan, to learn about how they work hard every day to keep us safe on the mountain.
Ski Patrollers Ascend Mountain at Crested Butte
A ski patroller's daily start time is determined the afternoon before based on the weather and conditions. A typical day usually starts around 7:30 am, although a big snow storm could be cause for a lift load as early as 6:00 am! That means early mornings for members of our lift maintenance and lift operations teams, too. According to Jay, coffee is essential for those early mornings — both for an energy boost and to stay warm while riding Silver Queen Express in the dark.

The day begins with a meeting at patrol headquarters where the team discusses the overnight conditions and their priorities for the morning. Getting the mountain open by 9:00 a.m. for the public is often the main focus of the patrol team. Patrollers are paired together to work through a progression of avalanche mitigation routes, using explosives that are carefully assembled in what Jack and Jay fittingly call “The Boom Room.”

On an avalanche mitigation route, patrollers assess the snow conditions and stability in each avalanche-prone section of terrain across the mountain. Their tools for avalanche mitigation include ski cutting techniques and explosives. ultimately, each patrol team reports to the snow safety manager whether their designated area can safely be opened to the public. Interior main mountain avalanche mitigation routes are always addressed first, and routes expand out from there, ending with the Peak and Teo 2. This process can take anywhere from several hours to several days to complete, and the patience of the public is rewarded with fresh snow for all to enjoy!

Generally, more-experienced patrollers are responsible for mitigating the more extreme terrain. Training for all ski patrollers includes snow stability assessments and navigation of steep terrain. Conditions can change not only day-to-day but also season-to-season; no two years of snowpack are the same.

Once Crested Butte Mountain Resort opens to the public for the day, many patrollers turn their attention to responding to guest calls. Patrollers continue to work on setting up signs and ropes and enforcing the Responsibility Code, and some continue mitigating avalanche hazard in terrain that is either not yet open for the season or that needs further mitigation work before opening for the day.

Every CBMR ski patroller is EMT-certified. Throughout the day, they circulate and monitor the open terrain, making sure to be positioned to respond to medical calls quickly at any location. If necessary, patrollers can transport or escort guests to the Gunnison Valley Health Mountain Clinic in the base area behind Silver Queen Express. Sometimes guests just need a little extra help from patrol to get back up and make their own way down the mountain to finish their day with confidence.

At the end of the day, patrollers conduct a “sweep” procedure. The process of sweeping is a courtesy to the public each day to announce the closing of the lifts and the terrain on the mountain. Sweep starts with the outermost areas accessed by the North Face and High Lifts. These lifts close to the public earliest in the day. After these farthest zones are clear of public, the sweepers work inwards toward the base of the mountain. Every day, one person is designated as the “Super Sweep.” This patroller has the important task of hiking the Peak to start the sweep process from the highest point. They then take over for the dispatcher at 4:00 p.m., and once they receive the final call that “Houston is clear,” they end the sweep process by being the last patroller to come down the mountain for the day, usually shortly after 5:00 pm.

One of the things Jay and Jack love most about being a ski patroller is that every day at work is different: snow conditions are always changing, and no on-mountain incident is the same. They both say that patrol work is fun. Who else can say they threw an explosive to start the workday? While they enjoy the work itself, Jack and Jay agree that their absolute favorite part about being on CBMR ski patrol is the ability to be a part of the fabric of skiing in this community. Skiing and riding is such an important part of life in the Gunnison Valley, and ski patrollers are integral to providing that experience for people. As Jay puts it, “we get to open terrain for our friends.” That, to them, is worth all the early mornings in the cold.

If you're curious to learn more about how CBMR ski patrol works to open the extremes to the public, click here. Those interested in joining Crested Butte Ski Patrol can email adam.caira@vailresorts.com or stop by patrol headquarters by the top of Silver Queen Express to learn more.