An Ode to a Patroller

One husband reflects on being married to a ski patroller and her sheer love of doing good and doing it well.

It is still dark out and the winter cold is strongly suggesting that remaining under the covers would be extraordinarily prudent.

 Nevertheless, my wife puts on so many layers of clothing it will take several minutes to peel them off at day's end. Then she heads out to work. At a job that pays her nothing. And never has for more than two decades.

Snow making in the early morning. Photo courtesy of Ski Butternut. 

 Butternut is a small family owned mountain located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The vertical drop approximately 1000 feet. Moguls normally nowhere to be found.  Powder days an anomaly. Just another dot on the ski industry's map. But not to us.

What do you do when your children no longer ski with you but have gone off to find their own adventures on the slopes? You become a ski patroller, or so my wife and I planned. But one chapter into the OEC (Outdoor Emergency Care) course I remembered just how much I hated both the rigors of learning and the sight of blood. And thus, two suddenly became one as my wife joined Butternut Ski Patrol on her own.

It was a serious undertaking both on and off trail, endless hours of study followed by months of on hill sled training and imagined scenarios, like so many puzzles, presented for analysis and solution. But through perseverance and skill, a patroller was born in our family in just about the time it takes to go from conception to baby naming.

"Butternut may be but a tiny venue when compared with their very distant cousins out West, but having seen the care, attention and calming presence of the patrollers with the injured, I would as happily (or unhappily) find myself in the warm embrace of a patroller's sled here as anywhere else I could possibly imagine."

I have literally followed my wife throughout her journey. Hanging out in the small two room building that serves as home for the patrol, booting up, heading out and taking runs with her whenever possible until duty calls and she rushes to assist the fallen. 

I have seen her professionalism and dedication matched by every one of those who patrol alongside her. Butternut may be but a tiny venue when compared with their very distant cousins out West, but having seen the care, attention and calming presence of the patrollers with the injured, I would as happily (or unhappily) find myself in the warm embrace of a patroller's sled here as anywhere else I could possibly imagine.

Some days in patrol are thankfully quiet, my wife able to finish the daily crossword as is her custom, time permitting. Others, at least the worst of them, like "bloody Sunday", are a seemingly continuous triage center, struggling to find needed beds for examinations, an exhausting and unending scene, the local ambulance more like a shuttle bus in constant transport.

I am beyond proud of my wife's accomplishments. She has through the years become a much better skier, now relegating me to fourth place among our four family members. But even more than the joy in watching her improved turns, I love what she continues to give of herself to a place that has long since become our second home.

 My wife has actually made a small concession to age. Concerned that a fall might prove small disaster for one with brittle bones, she has now stopped taking sleds down the trails. But that does nothing to diminish her ability to assess injuries on the mountain or address them in base.

Photo of Joanne carving a turn while on-duty. 

 So, if you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in an unfortunate position on the slopes of Butternut anytime in the future, know that you will be receiving "big mountain" treatment from an amazing group of dedicated, highly skilled and thoroughly trained men and women, ranging in age from 16 to 80 and beyond who toil tirelessly on your behalf.

 And if there is a petite woman, looking much younger than her years, maybe in pigtails, tending to your needs, just tell her you know her story, and if you are able, through the discomfort, give her a little smile.

For tomorrow morning, when it is dark and cold once more, my wife will arise to perform this dance yet again. For the sheer love of doing good and doing it well. 

As for me, I think I will just roll over and catch a few more winks. 

. . . . . 

Robert Nussbaum is a full-time lawyer, a part time writer (with letters appearing in the NY Times on more than 65 occasions and more than a dozen non-fiction tales having been published) and an avid, if decidedly mediocre skier.  Blessed with a great wife, two wonderful children and, recently, an equally wonderful son-in-law. He says while his skiing continues to go downhill, he hopes, at least for a little longer, that he can also (not figuratively, but literally).

 

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