SOLITUDE SKI PATROL
First published in the United States in 2015 by:
580 California Street Suite 300 San Francisco, CA 94104 www.blurb.com All content created and designed by: Jameson Clifton www.jamesonclifton.com Used with permission from Solitude Mountain Resort. About the author: Australian-American content creator, specializing in developing and executing brand marketing strategy through visuals across digital, print, and display advertising. Specialties include snowsports, surf n' skate, lifestyle, fitness, tourism, active-wear, outdoor fashion, hunting/fishing, and tactical brands. Taking advantage of dual citizenship, Jameson currently maintains a client base in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. A diverse multicultural upbringing between both hemispheres has provided an advantageous creative and strategic perspective. With a passion for skiing, biking, surfing, and the great outdoors, combined with a journalistic and commercial background, he's adept at capturing compelling, authentic visuals for a variety of international clientele. Copyright ÂŠ 2015 Jameson Clifton No part of this publication may be reproduced or used in any form, or by any means - graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or information storage-and-retrieval systems - without the prior permission of the artist.
Preface from the author: In 2015, as part of a documentary project undertaken whilst studying at the University of Utah, I spent a week with a ski patrol team at Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort. Solitude was first developed for skiing by Moab, Utah’s uranium tycoon Robert M. Barrett, after being denied the use of the rest rooms at Alta, which where reserved for Alta guests only. Nestled high above the Salt Lake valley in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude today is one of Utah’s smaller, more family orientated resorts in terms of terrain and overall atmosphere. Spending day after day in hazardous alpine environments, this same notion was clearly apparent with the resort’s ski patrollers; many of whom moved from elsewhere to experience Utah’s “Greatest Snow on Earth”, and consider their colleagues part of their own kin. This book seeks to pay homage to their extraordinary efforts in keeping the mountain safe, seven days a week, throughout the winter season.
Pictured on previous page: A lone skier at the end of the day begins their decent down the Diamond Lane from Powderhorn lift.
Great things never came from comfort zones.
Solitude Mountain Resort’s terrain includes 64 trails, 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) and 2,047 feet (624 m) of vertical. One the resort’s most prominent features includes Fantasy Ridge. Towering over Honeycomb Canyon and topping out at 10,500 feet (3200 m), the ridge provides skiers and boarders with plenty of hearth pounding couloirs, cliff drops, and untouched powder. When open, it can only be accessed through the Highway to Heaven gates next to the Summit ski patrol lodge. The 20 minute hike up is often considered the most intimidating part, with sheer cliff faces, rock scrambling, and cable ascending. To ease the journey, a boot pack is set in the morning by ski patrol if the ridge is given the green light to open. Honeycomb Canyon represents some of Utah’s finest bowl skiing, with 3.5 miles (5.6 km) of excellent skiing to the bottom. Relatively un-tracked, it’s not uncommon to find untouched powder days or even a week after a storm. While Fantasy Ridge and Honeycomb might represent the more extreme end of skiing, Solitude is also a popular destination for it’s abundance of green and blue runs, with 70% of its slopes graded “beginner” or “intermediate,” the highest such ratio in the Salt Lake City area.
Work at ski resorts starts early. Every morning ski patrollers make there way from the locker room to breakfast, and the morning meeting, at Last Chance lodge. By 8:30 am they off to their daily assignments. Here a single lone ski track from Solitude Village to Last Chance leaves a trace of this journey.
This book is dedicated to the extraordinary men and women who work tirelessly throughout the season to keep our mountains safe. To early patrol mornings, last sweeps, and everything in between, we thank you for your selfless service.
A ski patroller hangs the American flag at Powderhorn lodge on a snowy winter morning.
Pictured clockwise left to right: Ski patroller Jon Lange, makes the first pot of coffee for the day at Summit lodge (image 1). Contemplating the route for the morning ridge line patrol, Jon references his terrain chart (image 2).
A fellow patroller Trevor recommends taking a different line which promises some fun turns, and hasnâ€™t yet been skied that morning (image 3).
Laura Hudecek, 32 years old, has worked at Solitude for 9 years, and is currently the only female patroller.
with many similar professions, the ski patrol industry tends to be primarily dominated by men. That’s not to say that there aren’t some incredibly strong and talented women who also play a critical role in keeping the mountain safe though. Laura Hudecek is one of these women. Originally from Washington D.C., Laura started at Solitude Mountain Resort nine years ago, and began patrolling in the last two and a half. “I really like the medical aspect; but I can’t work in an ambulance, because I get super carsick. I also really like working outdoors and helping people. Patrolling is where all those things intersect,” she said reflecting on what drew her to becoming a patroller. From the outside, to those with an affinity for alpine environments, ski patrolling looks like the perfect job. The reality of it though involves long hours in harsh environments, strenuous physical effort, for oftenminimal pay. While skiing ability is an obvious pre-requisite, that alone doesn’t make a good patroller. Other attributes, including leadership, teamwork, and communication skills are critical. “Our motto is team before self,” said Laura, “We’re part of a unit that has to work together, and care for one another. We also have fun together too! That is my favorite aspect of the job.” With a current crew of 23 full time, and 7 part time staff, the Solitude ski patrol is a relatively small and close-knit community. The family aspect is a very obvious part of the team, where people feel comfortable to share how they’re doing, and when to ask for help if needed. “Our dependency with each other reaches beyond work,” said Laura.
IN RED As Solitude’s only female patroller, Laura has faced a series of extra challenges on top of an already demanding occupation. “Jobs like this tend to have more men in them; philosophically that’s challenging,” she noted, “Women working in male dominated jobs can be pretty hard on themselves. It’s easy to feel like you’re the representative for the whole gender, so when you mess up, all women mess up. I’ve had to develop a different mental attitude in that regard.” Fortunately, more women are entering the ski patrol community today than ever before, with an overall shift in the outdoor industry as a whole. “We need to continue to ask the outdoor community in general how we can be more inclusive,” said Laura, “Women tend to have a different approach or style to solving a problem or communicating, which can be invaluable in certain situations.” During Summer seasons, Laura also coaches leadership courses with the National Outdoor Leadership School. “If I wasn’t doing that or ski patrol,” she said, “I’d be in the circus for sure!”
“Our motto is team before self.” Pictured right: Ski patroller Laura Hudecek double checks her avalanche beacon before going on patrol. Patrollers carry an assortment of safety and medical equipment on their person or in their kit, often upwards of 30-40lbs in total (16-18 kg).
Pictured below: Ski patroller Laura Hudecek, checks a snow monitor station at Solitude Mountain Resort, recording depth, and water content.
Pictured above: Jon Lange (left) and Scott Livingstone (right) prepare for a morning patrol hike up Fantasy Ridge. The duo strap their skis to their packs and double check avalanche safety equipment, in preparation for the 20 minute hike up the ridge line, an altitude of approximately 10,500 ft (3,200 m).
Three ski patrollers begin their ascent up Fantasy Ridge, entering through the Highway to Heaven gates at the top of Summit. Each patroller carries approximately 30-40lbs (16-18 kg), of avalanche safety gear, and first aid equipment, including a beacon, shovel, and probe, checking each piece before they begin the 20 minute hike up the ridge line. Highway to Heaven gates close at 3:00 pm and back country access is by permission only, administered at the Summit ski patrol lodge.
Ski patrollers, Jon Lange and Scott Livingstone, ascend Fantasy Ridge in preparation for some morning avalanche mitigation work.
: a mass of snow, ice, and rocks falling rapidly down a mountainside.
On top of the ridge patrollers assess conditions, before dropping in. As one watches from above, ready to attempt a rescue if needed, the other cautiously skis their intended line.
The objective is to ski wide lines in order to break up the snowpack and mitigate potential avalanches before the general public climb the ridge.
As the second patroller finishes their line on a different entry point, the distinctive zig zag pattern is apparent, along with some minor snow slides.
Ski patrollers carry explosive charges in the packs, for use in triggering avalanches after heavy snowfall. Pictured above are two Pentax BC canisters with attached fuses.
Avalanche control mornings start earlier than usual, generally around 6 am. In order for the resort to open to the public, the team are tasked with assessing snow conditions and triggering avalanches in key areas before a skier or snow boarder can. Thereâ€™s a lot that happens behind the scenes to ensure a safe and secure powder day for resort goers. One of the best perks of getting up so early though - first tracks and bagels!
Two patrollers begin their ascent up Fantasy Ridge for some early morning control work.
Fantasy Ridge is daunting enough on a warm, sunny day. The ascent becomes even more treacherous after heavy snowfall.
Once on top of the ridge, patrollers begin to drop explosive charges in order to trigger avalanches, that could otherwise potentially catch out a skier or snow boarder. The process takes most of the morning, and sometimes later in the day. Keeping the ridge and more demanding terrain open is a full time job.
Ski patrollerTrevor John rides the chair lift with avalanche rescue dog Zozo.
POWDER HOUNDS Mans best friend plays an integral roll in mountain and avalanche rescue. Trained to find victims buried deep beneath the snow, theyâ€™re an indispensable part of any ski patrol team. Pictured right, Zozo, an avalanche rescue dog participates in an avalanche rescue scenario at Solitude Mountain resort. The dogs are trained to sniff the air to track the scent of the potential victims, as opposed to the ground. Because the snow is porous, the scent wafts to the surface, before dispensing in a cone pattern. In real avalanche situation, where every minute counts, the dogs ability to pinpoint a victim quickly can be the difference between life or death.
After pinpointing the victims location, the patroller gets to work with his beacon, and probe. Upon locating the exact location of the victim, the patroller will attempt to dig out the victim as quickly as possible. If rescued within the first 15 minutes, the survival probability is 92%. This figured drops dramatically to only 30% after 35 minutes, with most deaths other than trauma, caused by acute asphyxiation.
Avalanche rescue dog, Zozo, tracks the victim buried underneath the snow in a rescue scenario at Solitude Mountain Resort.
A furry face pokes through the surface of the small man made snow cave used during the mock scenario. Good girl Zozo!
Zozo, 12 months old, Border Collie.
Rio, 6 years old, Labrador.
Bridger, 12 years old, German Shepherd.
An evacuation on the mountain is a team operation. Ski patrollers are first responders, often stabilizing the victim and administering first aid, but in serious cases the situation doesnâ€™t stop there. Pictured above a smoke flair is lit to indicate the landing zone to the helicopter pilot, which is marked off and secured by a team of resort staff. Upon landing, a ski patrol member will meet with medical personnel to bring them up to speed on the situation of the victim, before escorting them to the medical clinic.
At the end of the day, patrollers sweep the mountain, making sure no one is still out there.
Pictured above, Jon Lange â€œbumps the linesâ€?, a process of checking and resetting the roped off boundaries.
Ski patrol isnâ€™t for the faint of heart by any means. It takes considerable mental and physical stamina to perform the duties day in and day out. Itâ€™s all part of the job though, and certainly beats sitting in a cubicle.